CBT/DBT skills training for adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Psychiatr Danub. 2016 Sep;28(Suppl-1):103-107.


Background: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is associated with marked impairments in familial, social, and professional functioning. Although stimulant treatments can be effective in adult ADHD, some patients will respond poorly or not at all to medication. Previous studies demonstrated that cognitive behavioural therapy- (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy- (DBT) oriented interventions are effective in reducing the burden of the disease, which is mainly marked by depression, interpersonal difficulties, low self-esteem, and low quality of life. In order to determine the effectiveness of this intervention, we assessed the benefits of a CBT/DBT programme to reduce residual symptoms and help patients improve their quality of life.

Subjects and methods: 49 ADHD-patients, poor responders to medication, were enrolled in a one-year programme where they received individual therapy, associated with weekly sessions of group therapy with different modules: Mindfulness, Emotion Regulation, Interpersonal Effectiveness and Distress Tolerance, Impulsivity/Hyperactivity and Attention. Each subject was assessed at baseline, at months 3 and 6, and at the end of the treatment for ADHD severity (ASRS v1.1), depression severity (BDI-II), hopelessness (BHS), mindfulness skills (KIMS), anger expression and control (STAXI), impulsivity (BIS-11), quality of life (WHOQOL-BREF), and social functioning (QFS). The 49 ADHD patients were compared with 13 ADHD subjects on a waiting list. Linear mixed models were used to measure response to treatment.

Results: Overall, the psychotherapeutic treatment was associated with significant improvements in almost all dimensions. The most significant changes were observed for BDI-II (b=-0.30; p<0.0001), ASRS total score (b=-0.16; p<0.0001), and KIMS AwA (b=0.21; p<0.0001), with moderate to large effect sizes. Compared with the waiting list controls, ADHD patients showed a better, albeit non-significant, pattern of response.

Conclusions: Individual and structured psycho-educational DBT/CBT groups support existing data suggesting that a structured psychotherapeutic approach is useful for patients who respond partially or not at all to drug therapy.