If you’re looking for information about ADHD and how psychologists can help, we’ve put together a Q&A blog with one of our clinical psychologists, Dr Patrice Friars.

What are the key symptoms of ADHD?

While most people think of a little boy climbing the walls or being aggressive, the picture of ADHD that we have seen in the media up until recently has been very misleading. These more extreme examples are actually more likely to be conduct disorder rather than simply ADHD.

There are three different types of ADHD – Inattentive, Hyperactive and Combined Inattentive-Hyperactive.

The Inattentive subtype of ADHD tends to be about holding attention – keeping attention on the task at hand rather than activity or noises outside and being able to work through tasks that require a lot of mental effort. It also includes organisational skills. Most people with this subtype have trouble remembering appointments, birthdays, materials for tasks and various other commitments.

People with the Hyperactive subtype of ADHD tend to be on the go all the time or experience a continuous restlessness or impatience. They find it hard to wait their turn and will often interrupt conversations or blurt out answers.

People with Combined Inattentive-Hyperactive ADHD experience challenges related to both subtypes.

Are there coexisting conditions that overlap with ADHD?

Anxiety is very much present with ADHD, sometimes because of that internal restlessness but also because of worry about forgetting things or getting things wrong or getting in trouble for not following social rules.

Depression is also very common, sometimes because people with ADHD can get into trouble with authority figures and even close friends and family. This can often lead to a negative view of themselves and a sense of defeat that they can’t get anything right. There is also a high level of exhaustion that comes from living with ADHD – the level of energy expended is massive compared to neurotypicals and the mind is always ‘on’ and firing at 100-150%.

How does adult ADHD work? Can adults develop ADHD later in life?

ADHD symptoms tend to first emerge in childhood, even if a diagnosis is not made at this point. ADHD is sometimes diagnosed in adulthood for the first time though because as people get older life gets more complicated with work, family and other responsibilities, which can make the ADHD symptoms less manageable. Former ways of coping no longer work, and it can sometimes be at this point that a person begins to explore a potential diagnosis of ADHD.

How can a psychologist, counsellor or social worker help with ADHD?

The primary advantage of seeing a psychologist is learning how your brain works when you have ADHD and what is reasonable to expect of yourself. People with ADHD do need to manage things differently to neurotypicals, even in terms of how they and their psychologist approach therapy together. Quiet meditation for example is rarely going to work for someone with ADHD – generally something more active but still focused tends to work better – think yoga, strength training or craft. A psychologist can also assist with managing potential co-occurring symptoms of anxiety and depression with sensitivity to the person’s experience of having ADHD while growing up.

What sort of changes do you see when people seek psychological treatment for ADHD?

As people with ADHD get to know themselves better through therapy, they often experience quite a lot of relief, and a sense of control over their life and how they work. Generally, there is also some grief to work through about how life could have been with an earlier diagnosis or better understanding of the symptoms of ADHD. One of the main changes is taking the pressure off, appreciating the strengths of ADHD and working with the limitations.

What are some of the challenges or obstacles in therapy for ADHD?

Things like organisational difficulties can really interfere with therapy. For example it can be hard to remember appointments and life can be very full for people with ADHD, making it difficult to set aside time for reflection and change. Remembering what has been discussed after the session can also be difficult. It is really helpful to write things down in session, or have your therapist email you a summary after the session. Scheduling in time for reflection and to make changes can be useful too.

Can you tell us a bit about why you enjoy helping clients with ADHD?

I love the energy and enthusiasm that people with ADHD possess, as well as a rich imagination and the ability to think outside the box. Sessions are rarely linear, but the lateral thinking involved can create some really interesting connections and generate novel solutions.

Can ADHD be managed without medication?

Yes. Not all people with ADHD will see a benefit from medication – estimates are that around 70-80% of people who take medication report an increased ability to focus and a sense of achievement with their work. The medication only works while a person is taking it, which is about 6-8 hours a day. Many people find that medication is essential to assist them to stay on task and organised. For others, more practical strategies such as scheduling realistically, setting up reminders that work and managing their energy levels can make a big difference without the need for medication.

What is the impact of ADHD on daily life?

Huge. Anything that requires memory, organisation and impulse control can be affected. ADHD can have an impact socially, emotionally and occupationally. Simple everyday things like brushing your teeth or deciding what clothes to wear (and have them washed and ready to go), eating and judging how much time to get somewhere and what you need when you get there can often feel like insurmountable tasks. Knowing how to conduct a conversation or manage emotions can be really difficult – there are so many different ways in which attention can steal away. On the flip side, people with ADHD tend to be very creative and interesting to be around, although their energy can be hard to match sometimes.

Can people with ADHD lead successful lives?

Absolutely. Most of the people I see in my psychology practice in Melbourne are successful both academically and professionally. Their creativity and energy can be a huge advantage in a wide range of industries, as long as it is harnessed appropriately, and enough time is given to self-care and pacing.

How can people support a family member or friend with ADHD?

Acceptance and working together with the person with ADHD are a huge thing. The person may always need reminders and alerts when something is coming up, but their company will be amazing. Not reacting to bluntness in speech or comments and seeing blurted answers as just needing to get it out before they forget is helpful too. For parents and partners of people with ADHD, external organisers are often key – calendars, whiteboards and a place for everything can be very helpful.

Do you have any books, podcasts or other resources that you recommend for people with ADHD?

Looking for support for ADHD?

We have psychologists, counsellors and social workers who can support you to navigate ADHD, including Dr Patrice Friars, the author of this blog post. If you’d like to chat about booking an appointment call our friendly Support Team on (03) 9376 1958 or fill out our online booking form here and we will be in touch.