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How Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Help ADHD Children?

written by: Jeff Braid • edited by: Daniel P. McGoldrick • updated: 5/30/2011

Do you have a child with ADHD and want to help improve their behavior? This article explores how Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help ADHD children through problem solving and examining thoughts and feelings to help improve behaviors.

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    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and ADHD Children

    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be a helpful way to treat ADHD children. Learn about the concepts of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and how it can help alleviate symptoms of ADHD such as impulsivity and disruptive behaviors through problem solving and behavioral rehearsal.

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    What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a common treatment model that can be used to help children, adolescents and adults. The basic concept of CBT is that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interrelated. One form of CBT is Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, which is a way to examine our responses to situations in terms of behaviors and consequences. Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy is an easy way to stop and think about our beliefs, feelings, and consequences about a specific situation. Cognitive Behavioral and Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy can help change behaviors by stopping and thinking about thoughts and feelings. There are several other variations of CBT that are useful and all involve stopping, thinking about thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

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    How Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Help ADHD Children?

    A symptom of ADHD is impulsivity. CBT can help kids with ADHD stop and think before they act. The thinking piece involves examining the specific thought that the child is having as well as the feeling that is associated with it. Next, after working through the feelings associated with the situation, the child can begin problem solving the situation by developing solution behaviors. This process involves examining all of the possible solutions and the positive and negative outcomes associated with each solution. The child then chooses the best solution to the problem. This CBT strategy involves examining thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, as well as basic problem solving.

    In its truest form, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helps ADHD children to stop, think and problem solve. More intercut forms of CBT that involve the processing of higher level of thinking are not as successful as basic problem solving strategies. Further, CBT can be even more successful with the combination of psychopharmacological treatment. If a child with ADHD has no impulse control and focus, the child is not able to learn the basic Cognitive Behavioral Therapy strategies.

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    What Happens in a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Session with ADHD Kids?

    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy sessions are usually structured in a way that includes just the child, just the parent(s) and both the child and parent(s). Individual sessions focus on teaching self-control through verbal self-instructions, problem-solving strategies, modeling, self-monitoring, and self-evaluation. Sessions often begin with a warm up activity to begin the engagement process and create a shift in thinking. This shift in thinking allows the child to be able to begin to start learning. Sessions then involve structured play, role play, behavioral rehearsal and other creative ways to teach problem solving.

    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with ADHD kids is most successful when the strategies that are learned in therapy are also used at home and school. Kids with ADHD have troubles sorting information, so having a structured routine involving similar behavioral interventions will make it easier for children to understand.

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    Resources

    Pelham, W.E., Greiner, A.R., & Gnagy, E.M. (1997). Children’s summer treatment program manual. Buffalo, NY: Comprehensive Treatment for Attention Deficit Disorder.

    Pelham, W. E. (2002) Psychosocial Interventions for ADHD. In P.S. Jensen & J.R. Cooper (Ed.), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: State of the science • best practices (pp 12-1-12-24) New Jersey: Civic Research Institute, Inc.

    Phelan, T. (1995). 1-2-3 Magic. Illinois: Child Management.

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