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A woman with orange hair smiles as she is able to manage her ADHD using DBT skills.

Using DBT Skills to Manage ADHD

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) teaches people how to manage and regulate emotions and impulsive behaviors—skills especially helpful for those with ADHD. Learn more about the benefits of DBT for ADHD here.


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How DBT treats ADHD

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is an effective treatment for managing symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). DBT combines elements of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with mindfulness techniques to help individuals develop coping skills and strategies for managing impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactivity, which are particularly helpful for those with ADHD. 

Through a combination of individual therapy, group skills training, and coaching, people with ADHD can learn to regulate their emotions, improve their focus, and develop healthy interpersonal relationships. DBT also helps people with ADHD build self-esteem and improve their overall quality of life by addressing the underlying emotional and relational difficulties associated with the disorder.

Skills taught in DBT for ADHD 

Skills taught in DBT for ADHD are as follows:


People with ADHD can use this tool to learn how to pay attention to the present moment without judgment. This skill helps them become more aware of their thoughts and emotions, which can decrease distress and improve their ability to respond effectively to difficult situations.

Distress tolerance

This skill teaches people how to manage intense emotions without resorting to harmful behaviors, a pattern otherwise sometimes observed in those with ADHD. They learn techniques such as self-soothing and distraction to help them cope with distressing experiences.

Emotion regulation

People learn how to identify and change their emotional responses. This skill helps those with ADHD reduce the impact of negative emotions on their behavior and decision-making, leading to improved overall functioning.

Interpersonal effectiveness

This skill focuses on improving communication and relationships with others. People with ADHD learn strategies for assertiveness, effective negotiation, and setting boundaries, which can lead to more positive and fulfilling interactions with others.

Benefits of DBT for ADHD 

Research has shown that people with ADHD can experience long-term benefits from DBT. As mentioned, this kind of therapy helps people develop skills in emotion regulation, mindfulness, and interpersonal effectiveness, which can help in managing the symptoms of ADHD. Over time, people may see improvements in their ability to focus, better control over impulsivity, and improved relationships with others. These long-term benefits can lead to a better quality of life for those with ADHD.

How quickly does DBT work for ADHD? 

People with ADHD often find that DBT can start to show results relatively quickly. The skills and techniques taught in DBT can help people manage their symptoms, improve their focus, and increase their ability to regulate their emotions, all of which can lead to noticeable improvements in their daily lives. However, it’s important to remember that everyone’s experience with DBT is unique, and the speed of progress can vary from person to person.

Coping skills for ADHD

In addition to DBT, some coping skills that can help improve ADHD symptoms are as follows: 

Deep breathing

When a person experiencing psychosis practices deep breathing, it can help reduce anxiety and calm the mind. By focusing on their breath, they can bring themselves back to the present moment and alleviate some of the distress associated with their symptoms.

Engaging in creative activities

Engaging in creative activities such as painting, drawing, or writing can provide a positive outlet for expression and help channel any overwhelming thoughts or emotions. This can serve as a form of distraction and also contribute to a sense of fulfillment.

Seeking social support

Talking to friends, family, or support groups can provide a sense of connection and understanding for those with ADHD. Sharing experiences with others who have gone through similar challenges can reduce feelings of isolation and provide valuable insight and empathy.

Practicing mindfulness

Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and grounding exercises, can help a person with ADHD stay grounded and focused. By paying attention to the present moment and observing their thoughts without judgment, they can lessen the impact of distressing symptoms and improve focus.

Other types of treatments for ADHD 

In addition to DBT and coping skills, some other types of treatments for ADHD are as follows: 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

This therapy helps individuals with ADHD recognize and challenge negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to their difficulties. Through CBT, they can learn practical coping skills and strategies to manage impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactivity, leading to improved daily functioning.

Family therapy

Family therapy involves working with individuals with ADHD and their family members to improve communication, understanding, and support. By addressing family dynamics and relationships, this therapy can help create a supportive environment and enhance the individual’s ability to cope with ADHD symptoms.

Art therapy

Art therapy provides people with ADHD a creative outlet to express their thoughts and emotions. Through various artistic activities, they can explore their experiences with ADHD, increase self-awareness, and develop coping skills for managing challenges such as distractibility and impulsivity.

Intensive outpatient program for ADHD 

An intensive outpatient program (IOP) may be used to treat ADHD when a person requires structured therapy and support for a co-occurring mental health condition but does not need round-the-clock care. IOPs provide therapeutic interventions, such as CBT and DBT, to help people manage their ADHD symptoms and improve their overall functioning. These programs typically involve regular group and individual therapy sessions, medication management, and education about ADHD and its treatment. The goal of IOP is to help people develop coping skills, improve their daily routines, and enhance their ability to focus and regulate their emotions.

Treatment for ADHD at Charlie Health 

If a young person in your life is struggling with ADHD, Charlie Health is here to help. Charlie Health offers a virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) that provides more than once-weekly mental health treatment for young people and families dealing with complex mental health conditions, including those with ADHD and co-occurring mental health conditions. Our expert clinicians incorporate dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) into individual counseling, family therapy, and group sessions. With this kind of holistic treatment, managing ADHD is possible. Fill out the form below or give us a call to start healing today.

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