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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 (ADHD) 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.

CBT vs. DBT

Treatment for ADHD is typically comprised of medication paired with various behavioral therapies, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Cognitive-behavioral therapy was developed in the 1960s by a psychiatrist, Aaron Beck. It is a structured, short-term, goal-oriented form of psychotherapy. The way CBT works is that through therapy, an individual will learn to understand that the way they behave has a direct correlation with their personal attitudes and emotional problems. It is essentially brain training for ADHD. The idea behind CBT is to help people break unhealthy behavioral patterns by identifying and replacing dysfunctional patterns with positive thinking patterns. In treating ADHD, cognitive-behavioral therapy aims to shift negative patterns of thinking and reframe the way a person feels about him or herself and his or her symptoms of ADHD.

Dialectical behavior therapy is an evidence-based psychotherapy approach. It 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). DBT is based on the principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy but places greater emphasis on the psychosocial aspect of treatment. Psychology Today explains that the “goal of DBT is to transform negative thinking patterns and destructive behaviors into positive outcomes.” It combines standard CBT techniques for emotional regulation and reality-testing with concepts derived from Buddhist meditative practice such as awareness, mindfulness, and attentiveness to current situations and emotional experiences to encourage acceptance. Like cognitive behavioral therapy, DBT focuses on the social and emotional challenges associated with ADHD and other neuro-psychological disorders. It is impossible to indicate which type of psychotherapy, DBT or CBT, is more effective in treating ADHD, as each person is unique and will present with nuanced needs that directly inform which type of therapy may yield the most successful outcome. 

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.