Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Although the disorder is often associated with children and adolescents, ADHD persists into adulthood for around 50% of those who are diagnosed in their youth (Gallo & Posner, 2016).
ADHD tends to present differently in adults than it does in children, however. Adult ADHD is less associated with hyperactivity, for example, and more associated with restlessness, impulsive behaviour, and an inability to plan or manage time, finances, or emotions (Ahmad, 2019). It is also associated with frequent changes in jobs or relationships, forgetfulness and disorganization, and a variety of other factors (Canela et al, 2017), many of which can cause substantial hardships for those living with the disorder.
If you are interested in pursuing a career in counselling, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind when working with clients living with ADHD.
Help Clients Distinguish Between Helpful and Unhelpful Coping Strategies
In many cases, adults with ADHD develop coping skills in order to limit the negative effects that their disorder has on their work, home, and social life. These might include organizational strategies, such as using checklists and electronic devices to plan tasks or provide reminders; attentional strategies, like restricting the stimuli they’re exposed to; or social strategies, such as avoiding firm commitments (Canela et al, 2017).
Coping skills like these can be effective in helping individuals with ADHD achieve their goals and manage their disorder. However, some coping skills, such as self-medicating through drugs and alcohol, can be harmful (Canela et al, 2017). As a counselling therapist, you can help clients become more aware of the strategies they use, and help them distinguish between those that truly help and those that do not.
Be Aware that ADHD Can Increase the Risk of Substance Use Disorders
Adults with ADHD face a higher risk for other psychiatric disorders, including depression, anxiety, and in particular, substance use disorder, which is approximately twice as common among adults living with ADHD compared to the general population. This could be due to a number of factors, including increased novelty-seeking or impulsive behaviours, or as mentioned above, efforts to self-medicate (Katzman, 2017). Regardless of the causes, professionals who have graduated from counselling therapist schools will want to be mindful of this correlation when working with clients who have ADHD.
Help Dispel ADHD Myths When You Become a Counselling Therapist
Much like those living with other commonly misunderstood mental illnesses, adults living with ADHD face harm not only from the direct effects of their disorder, but also from the many myths and misconceptions that surround it. Some common myths about ADHD are that it is not a real condition, and that it’s caused by bad parenting. Of course, these myths are not true: ADHD is a well-documented disorder, and it is not caused by bad parenting (HealthLinkBC, 2017).
Information can be an important tool when counselling individuals living with ADHD. Dispelling harmful myths and misconceptions can help clients develop effective coping strategies, and increase their self-esteem (Gentile & Atiq, 2006). It can also help to reduce the stigma surrounding ADHD, and pave the way towards greater understanding and support within your community.
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Ahmad, S. (2019 Mar 19). What Adult ADHD Looks Like. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/balanced/201903/what-adult-adhd-looks
Canela, C., Buadze, A., Dube, A., Eich, D., & Liebrenz, M. (2017). Skills and compensation strategies in adult ADHD – A qualitative study. PloS one, 12(9), e0184964. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0184964
Gallo, E. F., & Posner, J. (2016). Moving towards causality in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: overview of neural and genetic mechanisms. The lancet. Psychiatry, 3(6), 555–567. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(16)00096-1
Gentile, J. P., & Atiq, R. (2006). Psychotherapy for the patient with adult ADHD. Psychiatry (Edgmont (Pa. : Township)), 3(8), 31–35.
HealthLinkBC (2017 Dec 7). ADHD Myths and Facts. Retrieved from https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/hw164660 Katzman, M. A., Bilkey, T. S., Chokka, P. R., Fallu, A., & Klassen, L. J. (2017). Adult ADHD and comorbid disorders: clinical implications of a dimensional approach. BMC psychiatry, 17(1), 302. doi:10.1186/s12888-017-1463-3