Adult ADHD

The Journey of Therapy

A grove of Aspen trees near Aspen Colorado. The image focuses your attention on the tree in the foreground. New skills can help you focus your attention on the important things and see the forest through the trees - like reading this text clearly even though the trees are bleeding through and make it less readable. Did you notice it takes more focus and concentration to read this versus the text on this page?

Attention Deficit Disorder in Adults


ADD/ADHD is typically viewed as a childhood disease. If you were diagnosed as a child, you likely have some of the symptoms as an adult. If you were never diagnosed with ADD/ADHD as a child, you might still experience symptoms as an adult.

While often similar, symptoms Attention Deficit Disorder in adults often look different than in children. As you read through the list of symptoms below, you'll notice that many of these symptoms might apply to anyone, and do not necessarily constitute a medical diagnosis of ADD/ADHD. Such a diagnosis is more important if you're considering medication.

When considering therapy, it is less important to substantiate a definitive diagnosis for ADD/ADHD and more important to consider the negative impact these symptoms are having on your work, relationships, and overall quality of life. Therapy for adult ADD/ADHD is not to lessen the symptoms, it is directed at managing them and their effects on your life.

Symptoms of Adult ADD

A recent ADD article in American Medical News stated:  "Long-considered a childhood problem, the condition increasingly is being diagnosed in adults.  If untreated, it can lead to trouble with jobs and relationships."

ADD/ADHD symptoms can lead to many issues.  They can strain your family relationships as well as those at work.   They can cause career issues and trouble keeping a job.  Financial problems can occur from that and issues with unpaid bills, late fees, lost paperwork, or debt due to impulsive spending.   Health issues such as substance abuse, chronic stress and tension, low self esteem, compulsive eating and anxiety can also occur.  Symptoms include:

Disorganization and Forgetfulness

  • Poorly organized - home, office, desk, or car is messy and cluttered
  • Tendency to procrastinate
  • Trouble starting and finishing projects
  • Chronically late
  • Frequently forget appts, commitments and deadlines
  • Constantly losing or misplacing things (keys, wallet, cell phone, etc.)
  • Underestimating the time it will take to complete tasks

Emotional Difficulties

  • Sense of under-achievement
  • Doesn’t deal well with frustration
  • Easily flustered and stressed out
  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Trouble staying motivated
  • Hypersensitivity to criticism
  • Short, often explosive, temper
  • Low self-esteem and sense of insecurity

Hyperactivity and Restlessness

  • Feelings of inner restlessness, agitation
  • Getting bored easily
  • Trouble sitting still; constant fidgeting
  • Talking excessively

 

  • Tendency to take risks
  • Racing thoughts
  • Craving for excitement
  • Doing a million things at once

Therapy for Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder

Therapy can help adults with ADD/ADHD in several ways. By achieving greater insight into one's symptoms there can be a sense of relief and hope. Knowing what you're up against and that your symptoms likely stem from a chemical problem in your brain and not a character flaw or lack of will power, can relieve the hopelessness, embarrassment, loss of confidence, and frustration you've been experiencing.

Once we establish insight, there are two basic directions we can go in therapy. The first is perhaps more of a counseling role. Using our understanding of the signs and effects you personally experience - the neurological aspects of your ADD/ADHD - becomes starting point for learning how to compensate for areas of weakness and take advantage of your many strengths and talents.

The second direction is using traditional approaches of psychotherapy to address the areas that are negatively affected by your ADD/ADHD. Given the fact that you're now seeking help for your symptoms there are likely issues in your relationships, at work or with your career, or with your finances. You might also have symptoms of depression or anxiety, or issues with low self-esteem. Therapy can help in all these areas.

Approaches include:

  1. Treatment focused on improving cognitive functioning,
  2. The development of strategies to compensate for cognitive challenges, and
  3. Environmental modifications - both physical and social environment - to enhance daily functioning.

In general, therapy for Adult ADD / ADHD takes a different approach by first interpreting behaviors in the context of the neurological disorder. For example, being chronically late could be viewed as resistive or oppositional behavior, but for individuals with ADD, it is more simply a time management issue stemming from ADD symptoms. A history of angry outbursts in non-ADD adults might typically lead to an exploration of psychological causes such as early childhood experiences that contributed to the excessive anger. For adults with ADD, the cause is typically neurobiological. Another example is low motivation and disorganization. These can be symptoms of depression, including in adults with ADD, but they could also be caused by the neurobiological issues of ADD and not from depression.

This is not to say that all issues experienced by adults with ADD/ADHD are based on neurology. There is often "collateral damage" from the symptoms. Growing up feeling constantly criticized, looked down upon, embarrassed, or ashamed - or despite putting forth your best efforts in school not achieving the same success as your peers - ingrains an unhealthy pattern of thinking that therapy can change.

Messages from parents and teaches that you are lazy or stupid or just don't try hard enough become internalized and can fill you with self-doubt and self-accusation that interferes with healthy functioning. It's common for adults with ADD to give up on themselves, bounce from job to job and relationship to relationship, or to cling to one at a level below their level of ability, and never reach their full potential. Traditional therapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, in conjunction with an understanding of your ADD/ADHD, can address these areas and guide you to more constructive and positive thoughts, taking you from self-blame and the expectation of failure, to a place of hope and living to your true potential.