Everywhere one looks, whether on social media or in the news, it seems that the hot topic is ADHD and its treatment. Talks focusing on understanding this long-misunderstood diagnosis and recognizing the full spectrum of presenting strengths and challenges associated with the condition abound. Some information is wildly inaccurate, while others are genuinely helpful. But how does one precisely distinguish what is relevant, true, and helpful? That journey, to a large extent, relies on a comprehensive approach to ADHD treatment.
Finding a therapist who specializes in ADHD is key
For years, ADHD was considered something one grew out of that only impacted those humans born male. As culture has expanded and evolved, and more people learn the indispensable art of self-advocacy, we are witnessing more adults show up for themselves in ways generations prior did not, particularly women in this case, as it relates to ADHD assessment and diagnosis. After realizing that perhaps their brains work differently, most folks with a late ADHD diagnosis will go through a period marked with every emotion from relief to joy to confusion to grief to doubt to elation to acceptance. That’s all part of the journey, and that’s where the support and education of an ADHD specialist comes in.
While I believe that every therapist means well and genuinely wants to help their clients, not every therapist knows about ADHD. In grad school, we are taught about it during the 30 minutes we discuss neurodevelopmental disorders (read: childhood disorders rooted in genetics), so those with information on the disorder often looked for outside resources or training to better equip themselves to tackle a thing they did not learn in school. I, as an ADHD adult myself, began specializing in the treatment because no one I spoke to had the answers to my questions about my brain and how it works.
All this to say, a well-rounded approach to ADHD treatment will look like a Venn diagram of education, lifestyle, medication, and therapy, with each approach overlapping and bolstering the others.
The components of a well-rounded ADHD treatment plan
Let’s break these down quickly to understand what to look for and why!
Living and thriving with ADHD requires knowledge and understanding about how the unique Ferrari engine of your brain operates in the Corolla body it resides in. In addition to a knowledgeable therapist, there is a wide range of resources available from books/audiobooks to podcasts to social media content creators that can all offer insight, education, humor, and normalization to life with ADHD. There are unique strengths and challenges to existing as a neurodivergent supermodel in a world designed for neurotypicality. Education is key to understanding these things and how to best equip yourself for a balanced, enjoyable life.
As I mentioned, there are unique strengths and challenges to walking the world as a neurodivergent supermodel, hence there are certain lifestyle considerations to consider. Nutrition, exercise (and exercise type), sleep, work environment and career choice, home environment: all these factors, and more, are impacted by and can impact ADHD symptom presentation. Knowing what foods are best to mitigate ADHD symptom presentation and what foods can boost dopamine in the brain is as important as understanding the environment and roles an ADHDer best thrives in personally and professionally. Additionally understanding the impact of over/under-stimulation, burnout, and sleep disruptions is crucial to navigating the world with ADHD.
I understand that the topic of medication can be polarizing. Everyone knows someone who has a horror story about being over-medicated and the negative impact it had on them. It is an unfortunate reality that I acknowledge; however, the psychiatric profession has made significant progress in addressing the challenges individuals face in managing ADHD since the early 80s. I am not here to tell you what to do Your life and how you manage it is your choice. That said, stimulant medication is a front-line treatment for the management of ADHD symptoms, simply because it works. Stimulants in an ADHD brain limit distractibility and boost dopamine, a mood-regulating neurochemical that is deficient, along with 3 other major neurochemicals, in ADHD brains.
If stimulants are not your thing, some other medications and supplements are prescribed and recommended to help manage ADHD. As with most things in life, finding the right fit and balance is a completely personalized journey and one where a good prescriber and therapist working in tandem is the best treatment option.
Remember the spectrum of emotions I mentioned earlier following a late diagnosis? Addressing and processing those, along with the associated negative beliefs about oneself, is crucial for thriving with ADHD. As individuals with ADHD, many of us internalize negative beliefs and assumptions about our worth, self-efficacy, relationships, and more. This is largely due to a lack of understanding of what is happening within us and the realization that the cultural standards that society cherishes and values were not created with neurodivergent folks in mind. Through supportive collaboration with a therapist, people with ADHD can unpack the garbage that does not serve them and learn new ways of framing and understanding themselves and their place in the world.
While this post summarizes the necessary facets of a well-rounded ADHD treatment approach, it is important to note that just as ADHD symptoms present on a spectrum, so too do the needs of the ADHDer. What works for some, will not work for all. My hope is that this gives anyone looking for direction a good starting place on their journey from disarray and despair to thriving with ADHD. Good luck to you and we’re here if you need us!