ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders, characterized by symptoms such as inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. While medications are often used to treat ADHD, psychotherapeutic interventions like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) have also been found to be effective in reducing ADHD symptoms. In this article, we’ll explore how these approaches help in the treatment of ADHD in different ways. Understanding these differences is crucial to making the right choice when it comes to ADHD treatment.

ADHD And Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a therapy approach based on the assumption that our thoughts, emotions and actions are interlinked, so changing one of the three can cause a change in the other two as well. Thus, CBT focuses on modifying unhelpful thoughts and behaviours that might be causing or contributing to the issue at hand. 

CBT can help treat ADHD in the following ways
  • Cognitive Restructuring

Experiencing a condition like ADHD can cause a lot of distress in one’s daily life, leading to a lot of negative thoughts and a loss of confidence. CBT can help people with ADHD challenge these negative thoughts about themselves and replace them with more positive ones through cognitive restructuring. 

  • Skill Building

CBT not only works with thoughts but can also help people develop healthier habits with the help of skill-building, CBT teaches specific skills such as organization, time management, and problem-solving, which are crucial for people with ADHD as they are often likely to struggle with executive function.

  • Successive Approximation

Successive approximation involves dividing a big task into smaller tasks and doing them in a step-by-step process. This skill can be very useful for someone with ADHD, as they are likely to feel overwhelmed by a big task.

  • Behaviour Modification

This involves identifying unhelpful behaviours and replacing them with appropriate behaviours. It can be very useful in the treatment of ADHD to change impulsive behaviour.

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) for ADHD

DBT is another therapeutic approach that combines cognitive and behavioural strategies with mindfulness techniques. Initially developed to treat borderline personality disorder, DBT has been adapted and found useful for various conditions, including ADHD. DBT can help treat ADHD in the following ways

  • Emotional Regulation

Experiencing ADHD can bring up a lot of distressing emotions, such as sadness, frustration, etc. Dysregulated emotions can make ADHD symptoms worse. Emotional regulation can help people with ADHD cope with intense emotions effectively. This can have other positive effects, such as increased self-care

  • Distress Tolerance

As mentioned earlier, ADHD can cause a lot of distressing emotions. Distressing emotions can lead to impulsive behaviours. DBT encourages people to learn healthier coping mechanisms by empowering them with distress tolerance skills.

  • Mindfulness

DBT uses mindfulness exercises that promote awareness of thoughts, emotions, and sensations without judgment, helping people with ADHD improve focus and reduce impulsivity.

  • Interpersonal Effectiveness

DBT teaches communication and interpersonal skills, which are valuable for navigating relationships and social interactions, areas that can be challenging for someone with ADHD.


There is a lot of evidence to suggest that CBT can be effective in treating ADHD. A 2016 study involving 46 teenagers on ADHD medication showed that CBT can significantly improve ADHD symptoms that may not respond well to medication alone. 

Another 2018 review of 14 studies concluded that CBT, especially when combined with medication, was effective in reducing hyperactivity, inattention, impulsivity, anxiety, and depression, while also enhancing overall functioning compared to medication alone

Research suggests that DBT can be an effective treatment for ADHD as well. A study conducted in 2011 on adults with ADHD found that DBT skills training can help reduce ADHD symptoms in a group of patients

Another study conducted in 2014 on college students found that DBT skills training given in group therapy form can help reduce symptoms of ADHD among college students.

Thus, research suggests that both DBT and CBT can be effective in treating ADHD.


As research evidence suggests, both CBT and DBT can be effective in treating ADHD. While CBT can help by challenging negative thoughts and skill-building, DBT can help people with ADHD cope with distressing emotions. Both these approaches come with their strengths, ultimately, the right approach depends on individual needs and preferences. Using a combination of the two approaches might be helpful as well.



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  4. Hirvikoski, T., Waaler, E., Alfredsson, J., Pihlgren, C., Holmström, A., Johnson, A., Rück, J., Wiwe, C., Bothén, P., & Nordström, A.-L. (2011). Reduced ADHD symptoms in adults with ADHD after structured skills training group: Results from a randomized controlled trial. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 49(3), 175–185.
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Dhruva Koranne

Dhruva Koranne has completed his Masters in Applied Psychology from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, BALM. He has been practicing as a counsellor since 2020 and works to create a safe space for clients where they can open up. In addition to this, Dhruva loves researching and studying about upcoming theories in the field of Psychology. Connect with him on Linkedin