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Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), previously referred to as attention deficit disorder (ADD), is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a chronic, neurological disorder. ADHD is characterized by three main symptoms: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) further describes attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder as an inability to control impulsive behaviors, difficulty focusing and/ or paying attention, and/ or being overly active. Although the cause for developing ADHD remains unknown, research has indicated that genetic factors, environmental factors, and developmental delays may all contribute to its potential development. ADHD is extremely common, as the worldwide prevalence of ADHD is estimated to be around 2.2% in children and 2.8% in adults. According to the CDC, nearly 3.3 million children between ages 12-17 have been diagnosed with ADHD in America. If left untreated, the symptoms associated with ADHD will interfere with one’s ability to function optimally in his or her daily life.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based psychotherapeutic approach that is founded on the principals of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and is rooted in mindfulness practices based on Zen Buddhist teachings. DBT was developed in the late 1980s by Marsha M. Linehan, who was at the time a psychology/ suicide researcher at the University of Washington, as a means to help better treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Currently, DBT is not only considered to be the gold standard form of treatment for individuals diagnosed with BPD but has become an effective and relied upon psychotherapeutic method in the treatment of many other mental health conditions, including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The DBT process is carried out in three distinct therapeutic settings: weekly individual psychotherapy sessions, weekly group DBT skills training sessions, and as-needed phone coaching. Psychology Today explains that the “goal of DBT is to transform negative thinking patterns and destructive behaviors into positive outcomes.” Dialectical behavior therapy focuses on providing therapeutic skills in four areas, known as the four behavioral skill modules, that make up the pillars of DBT, which are:

  1. Core Mindfulness: skills focused on improving an individual’s ability to accept, become more aware of oneself and others, and be attentive to the present moment.
  2. Distress tolerance: skills focused on increasing an individual’s tolerance of negative emotions instead of reacting impulsively.
  3. Interpersonal effectiveness: skills focused on increasing an individual’s communication strategies.
  4. Emotion regulation: skills focused on helping an individual identify, name, and understand the function of emotions, and increasing one’s ability to regulate emotions. 

DBT can help with ADHD as research has found its focus on emotion regulation and distress tolerance to be highly effective in the treatment of certain symptoms that commonly present with ADHD, such as emotion dysregulation and impulse control issues.

The information above is provided for the use of informational purposes only. The above content is not to be substituted for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment, as in no way is it intended as an attempt to practice medicine, give specific medical advice, including, without limitation, advice concerning the topic of mental health. As such, please do not use any material provided above to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.