COGNITIVE-BEHAVIORAL THERAPY FOR CHILDREN WITH ATTENTION DEFICIT DISORDERS
When a parent calls to discuss counseling for their child or teenager, I am often asked about Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Cognitive Behavior Therapy or CBT is a therapeutic approach that helps our clients understand the thoughts and feelings that influence their behavior. I find that CBT is particularly useful for our clients with Attention Deficit Disorders because of how it helps to develop the reflective and sequential thinking which can be impacted by the executive function difficulties in ADD. For example, by guiding children to verbalize to their therapist how they see a problem they are beginning the proactive process of solving a problem independently by thinking through it first instead of reacting impulsively. Children may be guided by their therapist (and parent!) to say these steps to themselves:
1. What am I worried about?
2. What are some different ways to think about this?
3. What’s the best plan to help me?
4. Do the plan.
5. Did the plan work?
We also favor a family systems approach so as to teach parents along with their child how to handle issues when they come up during the week and to foster independence with our clients. It is important to remember that while every child with ADD may share some similar characteristics, differences in personality, school underachievement and family stressors require a therapeutic approach that is not “one size fits all” but individualized to work within the child’s strengths so as to develop both self confidence and new skills.
CBT also addresses the emotional tangles that ADD children can get caught up in by reducing the tendency to perseverate about a problem obsessively. This is accomplished by guiding and teaching children to develop some of the following skills:
Teaching children to recognize different types of problems are, and what they do that causes problems.
Teaching children to generate more than one possible solution to a problem.
Teaching children to anticipate the consequences of their behavior.
Teaching children to think of new “plans” if they encounter obstacles.
Teaching children to utilize self—instruction strategies to improve interpersonal relationships with other children and adults.
Teaching children to utilize self—instruction strategies to control anger/frustration and to manage negative self-depreciating thinking.
Teaching children to reduce stress and anxiety through simple relaxation techniques.
Ultimately, our goal is to empower our clients with the tools and strategies to handle whatever challenge comes their way by developing the self confidence to utilize the techniques they have learned and be able to apply them successfully in their lives.