ADHD and ACT

What is ADHD?

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. It is widely characterised by symptoms such as inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity but It’s important to note that experiences associated with ADHD can vary widely among individuals. Some people may face significant difficulties while others may find effective strategies to manage their symptoms and leverage the positive aspects of ADHD.

Core characteristics of ADHD

ADHD presents a diverse range of strengths and challenges, making it a complex condition. On one hand, individuals with ADHD often possess notable strengths such as spontaneity, courage, resilience, hyperfocus, empathy, and sociability. These strengths can be so advantageous that they are sometimes playfully referred to as ‘superpowers,’ leading many ADHDers and professionals working with them to question the labelling of ADHD as a ‘disorder.’

However, alongside these strengths, there can be significant drawbacks associated with ADHD, particularly concerning issues related to memory, attention control, impulse control, and cognitive flexibility. These challenges, if left unaddressed, can have a profound negative impact on various aspects of one’s life. It is crucial to recognise and address these difficulties to ensure people with ADHD can navigate their lives effectively.

 

How it can help

Hyperfocus: People with ADHD often have the ability to hyperfocus on tasks that interest them. This intense concentration can lead to high productivity and exceptional performance in certain areas.
Creativity: Many individuals with ADHD possess a unique and creative perspective on the world. They may think outside the box, make unexpected connections, and come up with innovative ideas.
Energy and enthusiasm: People with ADHD can exhibit high levels of energy and enthusiasm, which can be contagious and inspiring to others. They may bring a sense of vitality and excitement to group settings or projects.
Spontaneity: ADHD individuals often have a spontaneous nature, which can lead to exciting and adventurous experiences. They may be open to taking risks, trying new things, and embracing novel opportunities.
Ability to multitask: Some individuals with ADHD are skilled at multitasking. They can manage multiple tasks simultaneously and switch between them with relative ease, which can be advantageous in certain situations.

How it can hinder

Distraction: One of the primary challenges associated with ADHD is difficulty sustaining attention and keeping focused, especially on tasks that are not inherently stimulating or interesting. This can lead to decreased productivity and performance.
Impulsivity: Individuals with ADHD may struggle with impulsivity, acting without thinking about the consequences. This can result in hasty decision-making, impulsive purchases, and difficulties with self-control.
Hyperactivity: Hyperactivity is a common symptom of ADHD, and it can be disruptive and distracting to both the individual with ADHD and those around them. It may lead to restlessness, fidgeting, and difficulty sitting still.
Organisation and time management: People with ADHD often struggle with organisational skills and time management. They may have difficulty prioritising tasks, meeting deadlines, and maintaining an organised work or living environment.
Social challenges: ADHD can impact social interactions and relationships. Individuals with ADHD may struggle with impulse control, interrupting others, and maintaining focus during conversations. These difficulties can lead to misunderstandings and strained relationships.

 

Understanding the relationship between ADHD and ACT

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) offers a valuable approach for ADHDers who might be struggling to manage some aspects of their ADHD experience and want to improve overall well-being. By practising acceptance, mindfulness, and values-based actions, individuals can develop psychological flexibility and enhance their ability to navigate the challenges associated with ADHD. These may include:

  • Self-awareness and acceptance: ACT helps ADHDers develop a deeper understanding of their internal experiences, enabling them to recognise and manage their symptoms more effectively. By cultivating self-awareness, individuals can make conscious choices rather than reacting impulsively. Rather than struggling against or trying to suppress ADHD symptoms, ACT promotes accepting them as a part of one’s experience. This acceptance can reduce self-criticism and increase self-compassion, allowing individuals to develop a more positive and compassionate relationship with themselves. Treating themselves with kindness and understanding is crucial for ADHDers, who may face frustration, self-blame, and feelings of inadequacy. With self-compassion, individuals can build resilience and develop a more positive and adaptive mindset.
  • Improved emotional regulation: ADHDers  can sometimes experience negative self-judgment, self-criticism and emotional dysregulation. ACT offers strategies to observe thoughts as passing events rather than absolute truths, enabling individuals to distance themselves from unhelpful thinking patterns. For some ADHDers, this can be particularly helpful in managing racing thoughts, impulsivity, and negative self-talk.
  • Goal-directed behaviour: ACT helps individuals clarify their values and identify what truly matters to them in life. This process allows individuals to align their actions and behaviours with their core values. For individuals with ADHD, understanding and living according to their values can provide a sense of purpose and direction, leading to increased motivation and overall well-being. ACT emphasises the importance of taking committed action toward valued goals, despite the challenges and discomfort that may arise. This is particularly relevant for ADHDers, as they often face difficulties with motivation, organisation, and follow-through. ACT helps individuals set realistic goals, break them down into manageable steps, and develop strategies to overcome obstacles along the way.
  • Mindfulness: ACT emphasises the practice of mindfulness, which involves paying attention to the present moment without judgement. Mindfulness can help individuals become more aware of their thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. Through mindfulness, individuals can develop a greater sense of self-awareness and learn to observe their ADHD symptoms without getting caught up in them. It also helps ADHDers increase attentional control, reduce impulsivity, and enhance self-regulation skills.

While ACT should not be seen as a standalone treatment for ADHD, it can be a complementary therapeutic tool, augmenting existing interventions and empowering individuals to live meaningful and fulfilling lives, despite the ADHD-related obstacles they may face. It’s important to note that ACT therapy is highly individualised, and the specific techniques and strategies employed will need to vary based on the needs and preferences of each person.

For individuals:

Working with a trained therapist can provide guidance and support in applying ACT principles to manage ADHD symptoms and improve overall well-being. Our psychological therapy page provides further information and explains the process for referral.

For professionals:

We offer a range of workshops covering ACT therapy and ADHD to support extended learning on this topic. Also take a look at our free resources and blog for additional reading and insight.

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