Updated on 04/24/2023

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that affects how the brain works in terms of attention, self-control, and focus. People who live with ADHD often have trouble with impulsive behavior, time management, organization, prioritization, and multitasking. They tend to have a very low tolerance for frustration. Having attention deficit disorder can impact your life at work, in relationships, and at home.

The good news is that clinical research suggests that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) offers promising benefits for adults and adolescents with ADHD. More specifically, cognitive behavioral therapy for ADHD can help you improve self-esteem, increase productivity, and be notably happier.

If you’re living with ADHD, keep reading to learn how online cognitive behavioral therapy with a CBT therapist can potentially help you learn how to unravel cognitive distortions that prevent you from living a productive, satisfied life. 

How Can CBT Help People with ADHD?

ADHD is often linked to emotional dysregulation (ED), which is characterized by inappropriate reactions, rapid emotional changes, and fixations on sensitive, sometimes disturbing stimuli.

CBT is a therapeutic approach that focuses on patterns of behavior and thoughts that might lead to difficulties in life. This type of cognitive behavioral therapy can teach you how to concentrate on the present moment so you can optimize your performance in real time.

If you’re living with attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder, you might find that you often deal with negative thoughts that sometimes:

  • Make it difficult for you to focus your attention and concentrate
  • Cause you to struggle to find motivation or remain productive
  • Make it challenging to accomplish even simple goals

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), ADHD is a chronic condition that negatively affects self-regulation and impedes executive functioning. There are several core ADHD symptoms as well, including:

  • Emotional dysregulation
  • Inconsistent motivation
  • Disorganization
  • Inability to manage time effectively
  • Procrastination
  • Impulsivity

Adults who live with undiagnosed and untreated ADHD are more likely to have serious life setbacks, including underperformance in their jobs, awkwardness in social situations, a general lack of organization, unrealistic cognitive distortions, and uncontrolled negative emotions. They also might often become overly pessimistic and self-critical. They can begin to experience persistently destructive emotions and develop damaging beliefs about themselves.

Some people with ADHD believe they’re at fault whenever a situation doesn’t turn out as expected. They can feel that other people are against them and become suspicious about the future.

Addresses negative thought and behavior patterns

Cognitive behavior therapy can help with all of these symptoms. If you’re struggling with ADHD, CBT talk therapy sessions can teach you how to address the unhealthy and negative thinking and behavior patterns you’ve likely developed, including:

  • Being excessively self-critical
  • Feeling resentful toward others
  • Believing everything is either 100% good or 100% bad
  • Seeing single negative incidents as parts of larger conspiracies
  • Believing that you understand what people are thinking about you
  • Forecasting that the future is bound to turn out badly
  • Exaggerating small negative problems while minimizing major accomplishments

Teaches you to focus on the present moment

CBT for ADHD also teaches you how to focus on the present moment, stop self-blaming for every small negative event, begin seeing the positive side of all experiences, and understand that negative emotions, like disappointment, can eventually self-resolve.

Replaces impulsive negative actions with positive ones

You’ll learn how to use various ADHD coaching strategies designed to help you anticipate, recognize, and act to correct negative thoughts and behaviors, even as they’re starting. You’ll also focus on replacing impulsive or negative actions related to your ADHD with positive behavior and thoughts that enhance your life, instead of taking away from it.

Helps you understand your self

CBT for ADHD helps you explore how and why you think the way you do, which is a critical step in changing your life. It’s a therapeutic approach that can help you learn to effectively manage your ADHD symptoms.

Effectiveness in Treating ADHD with CBT

CBT can be an effective ADHD treatment. Though a large body of research has been conducted on the efficacy of ADHD therapy, more work needs to be done. Research done in 2021 determined that further studies about self-regulation would be beneficial. They can likely offer additional opportunities for the development of alternative therapies based on an enhanced understanding of ADHD treatment.

It’s also important to look at the benefits of CBT vs medication for ADHD treatment. While both can be effective, they likely offer help in different areas

ADHD medication can help you address core symptoms of ADHD, such as impulsive behaviors and attention deficit issues. CBT, by contrast, can be useful in developing the skills needed to focus on interpersonal self-regulation and emotional aspects of the disorder. Still, research does show that CBT is effective treatment for ADHD, though it also suggests that CBT plus the use of ADHD medication can offer even more benefits.

Additionally, there are other forms of treatment including some other types of ADHD coaching, therapy and lifestyle changes that can add to the success of CBT in treating ADHD.

“CBT is an effective therapy for unraveling cognitive distortions, which are anxiety provoking stories that we tell ourselves. These cause us to react in ways that don’t serve us. Therapy helps identify triggers for these cognitive distortions.”

Talkspace therapist Dr. Karmen Smith, LCSW, DD

CBT Techniques for ADHD

As we’ve discussed, living with ADHD can result in difficulty paying attention to the tasks at hand. You might find that you’re often fidgety, or unable to remain still. You might tend to have trouble controlling your impulses. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be an effective tool to help you develop more control over your behaviors. At this point, you’re probably wondering: how does this ADHD therapy do that?

CBT for ADHD typically involves cognitive restructuring, behavioral modification, and skills training. Looking closer at each of these therapeutic methods can give you a better idea of how these pieces all come together. 

  • Cognitive restructuring — This CBT technique involves learning how to replace irrational thought processes with more rational ones. A lot of people with ADHD have comorbid (meaning more than one at a time) mental health conditions. CBT is also available to several of these mental health conditions such as CBT for depression, CBT for anxiety or even CBT for insomnia. Cognitive restructuring can teach you how to explore your environment in a more positive, encouraging way that can address symptoms of more than just ADHD.
  • Behavioral modification — While cognitive restructuring helps you control your thoughts better, behavioral modification is another important approach to cognitive behavioral therapy for ADHD. It works by teaching you to notice and change unhealthy behaviors, so you can replace them with more appropriate ones.

    Research from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine notes that behavioral activation can offer a framework to engage in parts of your life that give you a sense of pride and accomplishment, which can be helpful particularly if you’re experiencing depression related to an ADHD diagnosis.
  • Skills training — CBT also typically involves teaching skills that you might struggle with if you’re living with ADHD. Such life skills can include an emphasis on:
  • Socialization
  • Organization
  • Proper etiquette
  • Time management
  • Healthy lifestyle choices

Other valuable skills that you can learn through CBT might include:

  • Breathing exercises
  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Healthy dieting
  • Journaling
  • Exploring creative outlets, like singing, dancing, writing, taking pictures, or listening to uplifting music

When Will I See Progress?

It’s important to understand that cognitive behavioral therapy is not a magical cure for ADHD. Rather, it’s a powerful technique that can teach you new skills and how to reform thoughts and behaviors that cause you to struggle. While there’s no definitive timeline or one-size-fits-all approach, many people find that results come quite quickly. Typically, 12 to 15 one-hour-long sessions are required to see benefits emerge.

It’s not uncommon for people to continue with cognitive behavioral therapy for longer than 15 sessions, though. Many people are so satisfied with their progress after practicing these new skills and techniques that they continue with therapy.

Others find it beneficial to return to therapy occasionally to keep their new skills sharp.

Finally, it’s extremely important to practice any homework your therapist assigns. Spending one hour in therapy is a great first start, but there are many times in between sessions where you can implement what you’ve learned. Practicing the CBT techniques you learn will help you better manage your ADHD in all aspects of your life.

“Practicing techniques that challenge the thoughts, using affirming statements that increase self-esteem, and seeing favorable outcomes indicates progress.”

Talkspace therapist Dr. Karmen Smith, LCSW, DD

Finding a CBT Therapist with Talkspace

There are many excellent therapists out there, but it’s worth it to take the time to find one that you connect with who specializes in treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Finding a therapist who has deep knowledge and experience in cognitive behavioral therapy for ADHD can ensure your work progresses as quickly and effectively as possible. ADHD is a complex condition, but you can learn to manage your symptoms. 

Talkspace is an online therapy platform that makes therapy easy and convenient. You can find the right therapist, who can help you implement CBT techniques specifically for ADHD. 

Medically reviewed by: Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, MSW

Reviewed On: May 23, 2022