One of the central components of my counselling practice is the work I do with adults with ADHD / ADD. Many adults have been living with ADHD / ADD all their lives without being fully aware of it.
However, they might well have noticed that they feel, and seem, “different” to non-ADHD/ADD people in some ways. For example, they might have noticed that it takes them longer to complete certain kinds of tasks than others such as filling out forms and applications, attending to paperwork, doing their taxes, responding to email and completing various other kinds of desk work or studying.
They might have noticed that it takes them longer to launch into tasks at work, longer to complete the task than others and then difficulties transitioning between tasks. They might have noticed that they bring a far greater attention to detail to the task than others, and perhaps even see that they do “a much better job than others” although it takes them five or six times as long – time which often they do not have at their disposal – which can then lead to stress, frustration and possible conflict.
Some of the ADHD / ADD clients who come to meet with me have been formally diagnosed, and some do not have a formal diagnosis. Some were diagnosed when they were children, or as teenagers, while only a few may have been diagnosed as adults.
For those without a formal diagnosis, some are wondering if they might be living with some form of ADHD based on feedback or comments from others. Some have read about it and feel that ADHD describes them quite accurately, and some just know they are living with it and identify themselves as ADHD or ADD. Since ADHD / ADD is inherited through genetics, some clients can see expressions of it in various family members, and now see those traits and behaviours in themselves. Further, some clients have children who have been formally diagnosed with ADHD / ADD, and then realize that they, as a parent, are actually living with it as well, and have been their whole lives.
Whatever the individual’s background knowledge or assessment of their ADHD / ADD is, clients who come to see me are interested in exploring their own experience of their ADHD / ADD.
They might want to get to know themselves better.
They might want to explore how they tend to communicate with others within various kinds of relationships across varieties of situations. Communication, they realize, involves listening, and with ADHD / ADD, they may have noticed how challenging it can be to sustain attention when others are talking. They wish to find ways to stay with conversations, to listen more effectively, and be able to respond more adequately to the matters at hand.
They might want to identify how they are distracted and create strategies for sustaining attention, enabling them to complete tasks more efficiently, improve on performance and be more productive at work.
I would prefer that this disorder be simply called “AHD” – “Attention Hyperactivity Disorder” or “AD” – “Attention Disorder” – as opposed to including the “Deficit” idea – because for many people with both ADHD / ADD, there may or may not be a “deficit” of attention at all, depending on what they are doing. At times the person is focused to the point of obsession and can not remove themselves from their project for hours and hours on end, and at times that same person can not even sit through ten minutes of any Netflix program no matter how many they try on a given evening.
Some people with ADHD / ADD are tripped up by their tendency to procrastinate, and wish to find ways to harness their inherent skills and abilities to support areas of their life they struggle with, such as procrastination. Developing strategies from core strengths can be a very effective and powerful way to improve overall quality of life for people with ADHD / ADD, and can help with other issues besides procrastination, such as forgetfulness, the tendency to lose things, disorganization, and difficulties making plans.
Some expressions of ADHD / ADD that clients are interested in exploring and addressing may include the following:
Being easily distracted
Living with a sense of being restless
As an adult, might feel the urge to move often – between apartments, cities, countries
Love rearranging the furniture
Starting new things and not following through or seeing them to completion
Talking too much, interrupting others
Not listening enough, difficulties sustaining attention while listening
Feeling “driven”, multitasking, working too hard and too much
Scattered due to having “too many interests”
Not being able to develop any specific interest to full fruition despite often above-average expertise
Having not much to show for hugely incredible amounts of work and effort
Recognition that what they do “doesn’t amount to anything”
Some feel that they get bored very easily
Difficulties transitioning between tasks
Paying too much attention to detail: overfocused, obsessive
Not paying enough attention to detail, trouble paying attention
You may notice that some of these expressions of ADHD / ADD seem contradictory, and indeed they can be. There are different kinds of ADHD / ADD, not just one kind. Dr. Daniel Amen describes seven kinds of ADD, and many of them overlap.
Other expressions as per the various kinds of ADHD / ADD might include:
A love of devising to-do lists, sometimes to the point of obsession
Feeling the compulsion to document everything
Composing epic documents related to various projects and interests
Inconsistent: sometimes totally on, sometimes totally off…
Sometimes raring to go, sometimes can hardly get out of the pyjamas
Eccentricities – with the ADHD / ADD person often loving the way they are and enjoying how they live, albeit with struggles and frustrations
Feeling “at odds” with “most people” – which as times is a good thing and at times leads to distress
Feeling like an outsider
Emotionality – with “small things” often carrying heavy emotional clout
Moods that are very changeable, from highs to lows and back up again
Experiencing conversations and interactions with others through a negative emotional filter
Feeling “spaced out”, excessive daydreaming
Anxiety and worry
Automatic negative thoughts, sense of hopelessness
Thoughts going round and round in circles – a lot of “repetitive thoughts”
Difficulty “switching off” and transitioning from being awake into a sound and fitful sleep
Living with a sense of pot-boiler, low-grade, background angst
Poor handwriting, difficulties controlling fine motor movements
Feeling like a clutz, knocking into things, dropping things
Poor time management, showing up too early or too late or missing appointments entirely
Difficulty getting going – may take a long time to get organized to leave the house
Really set on routines, to the point of being quite thrown if forced into a change of routine
Rigid thinking, rigid living, set in one’s ways, opinionated
Irritation that might build into explosion, or quick temper
Very sensitive to sounds, noise, light, flashing lights, vibrations
When clients come to see me with ADHD / ADD as a focus of their sessions, they bring their individual hopes, concerns, struggles, plans, dreams and goals. Together, we tailor-make the sessions, there is definitely no one-size-fits-all. Even clients with a formal diagnosis of ADHD / ADD all present in their unique and individual ways, and they bring their unique and individual needs into their sessions.
I steer clear of working with ADHD / ADD individuals from an agenda of changing or fixing the ADHD / ADD “in order to live a more effective life”. Instead, I work with ADHD / ADD individuals from a gentle and open stance of “Let’s explore how you naturally are as a whole person. Let’s look together at what it is like – for you – to be living with ADHD / ADD, in your own experience. Let’s see what areas of your life, or behaviours, or states-of-mind you deem valuable to get to know, or to shed some light on, or to tweak, or to change, or to celebrate – depending on what is relevant and meaningful to you as a unique individual.”
Here are some of the many things we can work with, from a whole-self approach that includes mind, body and spirit:
Developing ways to actually leverage the tendency to distraction and get it working for you, not against you
Goal setting and achievement
Building awareness that “turns the volume down” on environmental stimuli and supports improved quality of life
Morphing the negative emotional filter into a neutral or positive frame
Optimizing speaking, listening and communication skills
Emotions: finding various ways to step off the emotional roller-coaster – or not get on, in the first place
Anxiety, stress, irritability, angst, worry
Learning to discern between appropriate and inappropriate stress responses to the environment
Thoughts going round and round… discovering ways to interrupt cyclic thoughts, break the pattern and successfully shift attention
Perfectionism – exploring the structure of the perfectionist stance in life and taking steps to restructure it in favour of the achievable
Tweaking coping skills
Organization of living spaces and work environments
Exploring eating and exercise patterns and preferences that support quality of life
Developing sound and consistent sleep routines that support optimal functioning
Many of the clients I work with enjoy discovering how they can leverage their strengths – strengths that are both known to them as well as hidden strengths – to do the things they want to do with less hassle, less frustration, less mishap, and with greater confidence, effectiveness and sense of personal agency.
It is an empowering and heartening feeling to achieve the sense that you can be both the master and curator of your own life. Whole self counselling provides myriad opportunities for you to learn more and more about your ADHD / ADD. People tell me how they love the deepening process of self-acceptance – and that with the self-acceptance and self-understanding comes a feeling of relief. It is an engaging and rewarding exploration, and contributes to a sense of being grounded – present, happy, and at home within oneself.