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Published on May 24, 2024

Managing ADHD with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A Comprehensive Guide

Managing ADHD with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A Comprehensive Guide

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common condition that affects both children and adults, impacting their ability to focus, organize tasks, and regulate impulses. While medication can be an effective part of treatment, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has emerged as a powerful tool in managing ADHD. At Best Choice Counselling & Assessments in Calgary, Alberta, we specialize in using CBT to help individuals with ADHD lead more structured and fulfilling lives.

In this blog, we will delve into the core principles of CBT—Automatic Thoughts, Underlying Beliefs, Expectations, and Assumptions—and how they can be utilized to manage ADHD effectively.

Understanding ADHD

ADHD is characterized by symptoms such as inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. These symptoms can lead to challenges in academic, professional, and social settings. While ADHD is a lifelong condition, individuals can learn strategies to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

CBT is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. By addressing these cognitive distortions, individuals can develop healthier ways of thinking and behaving. For individuals with ADHD, CBT can help improve focus, organization, and emotional regulation.

Core Principles of CBT

The core principles of CBT—Automatic Thoughts, Underlying Beliefs, Expectations, and Assumptions—play a crucial role in managing ADHD. Let’s explore each of these principles in detail.

Automatic Thoughts

Automatic thoughts are the spontaneous, often subconscious, thoughts that arise in response to a situation. For individuals with ADHD, these thoughts can often be negative and self-critical, leading to increased stress and anxiety.

Example: A student with ADHD might think, “I’ll never be able to finish this assignment on time,” when faced with a looming deadline.

CBT Strategy: The goal is to identify these automatic thoughts and challenge their validity. Therapists help clients recognize these thoughts and replace them with more constructive ones.

Practice: Keeping a thought diary can help individuals track their automatic thoughts and analyze the situations that trigger them. Over time, they can learn to replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations, such as “I can manage my time effectively and complete this assignment.”

Underlying Beliefs

Underlying beliefs are deep-seated convictions about oneself and the world, often formed in childhood. These beliefs can significantly influence behavior and emotions. For individuals with ADHD, underlying beliefs might include feelings of inadequacy or incompetence.

Example: A person with ADHD might have the underlying belief, “I am not good enough,” which can hinder their efforts in various areas of life.

CBT Strategy: Therapists work with clients to uncover these underlying beliefs and challenge their accuracy. By questioning these beliefs, individuals can begin to adopt more realistic and empowering views of themselves.

Practice: Cognitive restructuring exercises help individuals identify and challenge their underlying beliefs. By examining the evidence for and against these beliefs, clients can develop a more balanced self-view.


Expectations are beliefs about what will happen in the future. Unrealistic expectations can lead to disappointment and frustration, especially for individuals with ADHD who may struggle with planning and time management.

Example: Someone with ADHD might expect to fail at a new task because of past experiences of difficulty.

CBT Strategy: Setting realistic and achievable goals is crucial. Therapists help clients develop a positive outlook and set manageable expectations for themselves.

Practice: Goal-setting techniques can be useful. Breaking down larger tasks into smaller, more achievable steps can help individuals with ADHD build confidence and track their progress. Rewarding themselves for completing tasks can also reinforce positive behavior.


Assumptions are beliefs about how the world works and how others will behave. Negative assumptions can contribute to feelings of isolation and misunderstanding in individuals with ADHD.

Example: A person with ADHD might assume, “People will think I am lazy if I ask for help.”

CBT Strategy: Therapists encourage clients to test these assumptions and gather evidence to either support or refute them. This process helps individuals realize that their assumptions may not always be accurate.

Practice: Social experiments, where individuals test their assumptions in real-world scenarios, can be enlightening. For instance, asking for help and observing the response can help challenge the assumption that others view them negatively.

Integrating CBT into Daily Life

For individuals with ADHD, integrating CBT strategies into daily life can be transformative. Here are some practical ways to apply CBT principles:

  1. Structured Routines: Establishing a daily routine can help manage time and reduce anxiety. Use calendars, planners, or digital apps to keep track of tasks and appointments.
  2. Mindfulness Practices: Mindfulness exercises, such as meditation and deep breathing, can help improve focus and reduce impulsivity.
  3. Self-Monitoring: Regularly monitor progress and reflect on achievements. Keeping a journal or using apps designed for self-monitoring can be beneficial.
  4. Positive Reinforcement: Reward yourself for meeting goals and completing tasks. Positive reinforcement can motivate continued effort and progress.
  5. Problem-Solving Skills: Develop problem-solving skills to handle challenges more effectively. Break down problems into manageable parts and brainstorm potential solutions.
  6. Social Support: Building a support network of friends, family, and professionals can provide encouragement and assistance. Don’t hesitate to seek help when needed.

The Role of Professional Support

While self-help strategies are valuable, professional guidance can provide a more structured and tailored approach to managing ADHD. At Best Choice Counselling & Assessments, our experienced psychologists and counsellors are dedicated to helping individuals with ADHD through personalized CBT programs.

We offer a supportive environment where clients can explore their thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. Through individual sessions, group therapy, and workshops, we equip our clients with the tools they need to manage their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives – Contact us Today to book a free consultation and start your journey to living a better life.

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