CBT Exercises for ADHD: An Overview

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ADHD is a common developmental disorder diagnosed as early as four years old that often persists into adulthood. If you have a loved one with ADHD, they probably have trouble focusing on tasks for long periods and are easily distracted. They may also have trouble sitting still or waiting their turn to speak. ADHD can be managed with medication, therapy, or a combination. Cognitive behavioral therapy exercises for ADHD help alleviate symptoms and provide long-term benefits.

A Cognitive Connection wants to help you understand how your brain works and why you exhibit certain behaviors. We offer therapy and sensory training to help you confidently face life’s everyday challenges. In addition, our compassionate team of mental health professionals can help you improve multiple brain functions, from memory to building healthy relationships.

How Does CBT Work for ADHD

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is a psychotherapy technique that helps change our behavior by addressing the thoughts and emotions behind it. CBT assumes that unhelpful thoughts and behaviors partially cause psychological problems. If you can replace negative and unhelpful thoughts with more positive alternatives, you can alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression, and, yes, ADHD.

CBT is an effective form of ADHD talk therapy. Since many children with ADHD also have symptoms of anxiety and depression, it can improve overall mental health. CBT for ADHD will focus on behavior modification and developing organizational skills. Specific treatment plans will vary, however.

CBT and ADHD Medication

Combining CBT and ADHD medication is usually the most effective treatment plan for ADHD. A 2016 study on 46 adolescents with ADHD showed that CBT helped alleviate symptoms of ADHD that persisted despite medication. ADHD medication improves attention by adjusting the chemicals in the brain but doesn’t necessarily help with organizational or behavioral skills.

CBT is also a great choice for young children who aren’t on medication. Parents who are worried about side effects can help their child with behavior management techniques and decide on medicine later.

How Can CBT Help with ADHD Symptoms

CBT techniques for ADHD provide tools to help the individual stay organized and overcome distractions through practicing new thought patterns. A 2018 study of 88 college students showed long-term improvements in ADHD symptoms and the ability to complete additional credit hours after two semesters of CBT treatment. CBT treats the secondary symptoms of ADHD like procrastination and feelings of low self-worth, which is why medication can still be helpful. 

Common CBT Techniques for ADHD

CBT techniques for ADHD involve life skills training, such as time management, organization, and social skills. A therapist will decide on a treatment plan after they meet with the adult or child with ADHD. They may also recommend other types of therapy or medication in addition to CBT. Here are a few standard techniques mental health professionals can use with ADHD patients:

Planning and Scheduling Activities

Individuals with ADHD often struggle to be on time for activities or forget deadlines. Their therapist might give them strategies to keep track of important events and tasks, like using a digital calendar or planner. 

The patient may initially struggle with this, so the therapist will help them create a routine around the planner. For example, they may have an assignment to check the planner in the morning, at noon, and before bed, or it could be tied to an activity, like checking the planner when they brush their teeth.

A calendar for the month of August with a to-do list printed on the side. There are colored pencils sitting on top of the calendar.

Successive Approximation 

Successive approximation is a technique that helps with procrastination. Individuals with ADHD often procrastinate because a project feels too big. This technique teaches the patient to break down the task into more manageable steps. 

For example, instead of the task being to write a five-page essay, there would be smaller checkpoints, like choosing an essay topic, finding three sources, writing a thesis statement, etc. The individual can then schedule the tasks over a few days, allowing them to do a good job and turn the assignment in on time.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals

A cognitive behavioral therapist will probably encourage their clients to set S.M.A.R.T. goals. S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. 

An example of a S.M.A.R.T. goal for a child might be picking up their toys every day before bed. It’s specific because the child knows what they are supposed to do. It can be measured by counting the days the child puts away their toys. It’s attainable because the therapist will provide tools to help the child remember, like giving them a mantra or tying it to another bedtime activity. The child can accomplish this goal, so it’s realistic. Timeliness would just involve setting a deadline.

Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring is a common CBT technique for any diagnosis. It involves identifying specific negative thoughts and replacing them with more useful ones. For example, if a child or teenager fails a school assignment because they waited until the last minute, they might think, “I failed because I’m stupid. It’d be better not to try.” 

Their therapist might suggest an alternative like, “I wasn’t able to do my best because I waited until the last minute. I know I can do better if I plan ahead next time.” In addition to encouraging the child to try a different behavior, this alternative doesn’t lead to self-hatred or other negative emotions.

Distractability Delay

Distractability delay is a technique that encourages the individual with ADHD to complete a task before moving on to another. The therapist might suggest timing how long the client can focus on a task before getting distracted. If the client can focus for 10 minutes, they should try to keep tasks within that window as much as possible. If they think of another task or activity during that time, the therapist will instruct them to write it down, so they can address it later. 

When Can I Expect to See Results from CBT

You may start to see some results in your life or the life of your loved one within a few sessions, but CBT essential retrains your brain to think and act differently. It takes time to establish new thought patterns. An average treatment plan for CBT is between 12 and 20 sessions. At this point, the patient should be comfortable enough with CBT techniques to continue using them independently.

Ask A Cognitive Connection About CBT for ADHD

Here at A Cognitive Connection, we work with people of all ages to improve their focus and give them the tools to succeed in life. If you or a loved one has ADHD and would like help training your brain to think differently, we’d love to talk with you. Depending on your situation, we may recommend a behavioral assessment to decide on the best strategy for you. Our team has helped countless individuals create healthier mental habits, and we can help you too. Contact us today to get started.

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