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ADD / ADHD Therapy for Children and Adults


Therapy—that is, help from a professional trained in ADD/ADHD—can be helpful treatment for both the emotional issues related to attention deficit disorder and for practical, day-to-day issues. Learn about the options available for both children and adults.

Behavior therapy for children with ADD / ADHD

Behavior therapy, also known as behavior modification, involves reinforcing desired behaviors through rewards and praise and decreasing problem behaviors by setting limits and consequences.

For example, one intervention might be that a teacher rewards a child who has ADHD for taking small steps toward raising a hand before talking in class, even if the child still blurts out a comment. The theory is that rewarding the struggle toward change encourages the full new behavior.

Behavior therapy has been shown to be a very successful treatment for children with ADD / ADHD. It is especially beneficial as a co-treatment for children who take medications for ADHD and may even allow you to reduce the dosage of the medication.

Patience is key with behavioral therapy. One day, your child may behave beautifully, and the next, fall back into old patterns. Sometimes it may seem as if the training is not working. However, over time, behavioral treatment can improve the symptoms of ADD/ADHD in kids.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there are three basic principles to any behavior therapy approach:

  • Set specific goals. Set clear goals for your child such as staying focused on homework for a certain time or sharing toys with friends.
  • Provide rewards and consequences. Give your child a specified reward (positive reinforcement) when he or she shows the desired behavior. Give your child a consequence (unwanted result or punishment) when he or she fails to meet a goal.
  • Keep using the rewards and consequences. Using the rewards and consequences consistently for a long time will shape your child's behavior in a positive way.

Social skills therapy for children with ADD / ADHD

Because kids with attention deficit disorder often have difficulty with simple social interactions and struggle with low self-esteem, another type of treatment that can help is social skills training.

Normally conducted in a group setting, social skills training is led by a therapist who demonstrates appropriate behaviors and then has the children practice repeating them. Many kids with ADD / ADHD are not skilled at identifying and interpreting social cues, which are communicated by facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language. A social skills group teaches children how to “read” others’ reactions and how to behave more acceptably.

Make sure that your child’s social skills group also works on transferring these new skills to the real world. Much of the problem for children with ADD / ADHD, because they are so impulsive, is that they have trouble applying what they know about social skills to the real world.

For a social skills group near you, ask for a referral from your school psychologist or a local mental health clinic.

Therapy treatment options for adults with ADD / ADHD

Talk therapy for ADD/ADHD

Adults with ADD/ADHD often struggle with issues stemming from longstanding patterns of underachievement, failure, academic difficulties, job turnover, and relationship conflict. Individual talk therapy can help you deal with this emotional baggage, including low self-esteem, the feelings of embarrassment and shame you may have experienced as a child and teenager, and resentment at the nagging and criticism you receive from people close to you.

Psychotherapists, psychologists, counselors, and even some psychiatrists offer talk therapy. The goal of talk therapy for ADD/ADHD is twofold: to help you solve current problems in your life and better understand past difficulties and behaviors.

Marriage and family therapy for ADD/ADHD

Marriage and family therapy addresses the problems ADD/ADHD can create in your relationships and family life, such as conflicts over money problems, forgotten commitments, responsibilities in the home, and impulsive decisions.

Therapy can help you and your loved ones explore these issues and focus on constructive ways of dealing with them and communicating with each other. Therapy can also improve your relationships by educating your partner and family members about ADD/ADHD.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy for ADD/ADHD

Cognitive-behavioral therapy encourages you to identify and change the negative beliefs and behaviors that are causing problems in your life. Since many individuals with ADD/ADHD are demoralized from years of struggle and unmet expectations, one of the main goals of cognitive-behavioral therapy is to transform this negative outlook into a more hopeful, realistic view.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy also focuses on the practical issues that often come with ADD/ADHD, such as disorganization, work performance problems, chronic stress and anxiety, and poor time management.

Support groups for ADD/ADHD

A support group not only gives you the human encouragement you need to keep working on your issues, but also gives you frank feedback on how you come across to others. A support group for ADD/ADHD:

  • reduces the isolation of struggling with your disorder
  • gives you a place to express your feelings to others who truly understand, and
  • lets you share strategies for success.

Usually a therapist or other mental health practitioner leads an ADD support group, making sure that you feel supported and that others listen to your feelings and reactions.

Coaches and professional organizers for adults with ADD/ADHD

In addition to physicians and therapists, there a number of other professionals who can help you overcome the challenges of adult ADD/ADHD.

Behavioral coaching for ADD/ADHD

Coaching is not a traditional form of therapy, but it can be a valuable part of ADD/ADHD treatment. In contrast to traditional therapists, who help people work through emotional problems, coaches focus solely on practical solutions to problems in everyday life. Behavioral coaches teach you strategies for organizing your home and work environment, structuring your day, and managing your money.

In contrast to therapists, who help people work through emotional problems, coaches focus solely on practical solutions to problems in everyday life. ADD/ADHD coaches work with you on areas such as:

  • prioritizing
  • motivation
  • time management
  • procrastination

ADD/ADHD coaches may come to your home or talk with you on the phone rather than meet with you in an office; many coach-client relationships are long-distance.

Professional organizers for ADD/ADHD

A professional organizer can be very helpful if you have difficulty organizing your belongings or your time.  A professional organizer helps you:

  • reduce the stress that clutter creates
  • save time by organizing your belongings more efficiently
  • get organized and stay organized

A professional organizer comes to your home or workplace, looks at how you have things organized (or not organized), and then suggests changes. In addition to helping you to organize your paperwork and bill paying, a professional organizer has recommendations for memory and planning tools, filing systems, and more. A professional organizer also helps with time-management: your tasks, your to-do list, and your calendar.

Locate an ADD / ADHD specialist

Search the CHADD Professional Directory for treatment professionals and organizations that offer help for children and adults with ADD / ADHD.

Related Articles

ADHD Tests & Diagnosis

ADD / ADHD Tests & Diagnosis – ADD/ADHD can look different in every child, so there are a variety of diagnostic tests to help determine if your child’s symptoms really point to attention deficit disorder.

ADHD Treatment

ADHD Treatment and Help – There are many effective treatments that can help your child manage the symptoms of ADD/ADHD, improve their organizational skills, and foster better relationships.

ADHD Treatment

Treatment for Adult ADD/ADHD – There are many safe and effective treatments that can help improve the symptoms of ADD, boost your job performance, and improve your organizational and relationship skills.

ADHD Medication

ADD / ADHD Medication – Medication can help reduce your child’s symptoms of ADD but there are side effects and other treatment options you also need to know about.

Resources & References

Types of therapy for ADD/ADHD

Psychosocial Treatment for Children and Adolescents with AD/HD – Includes information about behavioral therapy at home, social skills training, and classroom interventions. (National Resource Center on ADHD)

Behavioral Treatment for ADHD: An Overview – Introduction to the behavioral treatment of ADD/ADHD in children, including parenting tips. (athealth.com)

Find an ADD/ADHD therapist

CHADD Professional Directory – Once you accept the CHADD agreement, choose a type of professional from the dropdown menu beginning with Any Category. (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder)

Attention Deficit Disorder Resources – A directory of providers for professional help with ADD/ADHD. Broaden your search if you don’t get enough providers in your initial search. (Attention Deficit Disorder Resources)

National ADHD Directory sponsored by ADD Resources – Helps you to find an ADD/ADHD coach or a professional organizer. (ADDResources.org)

ADD/ADHD coaches

Coaches for Adults with ADHD – Learn about behavioral coaching for ADD/ADHD. Includes tips for choosing a coach. (National Resource Center on ADHD)

Coaching and ADHD in Adults – Discusses how ADD/ADHD coaches are trained and how to select the right coach for you. (ADDResources)

Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Robert Segal M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated: May 2013

©Helpguide.org. All rights reserved. This reprint is for information only and NOT a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. Helpguide.org is an ad-free non-profit resource for supporting better mental health and lifestyle choices for adults and children.

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