The symptoms of adult ADHD can seem specifically designed to undermine your professional life. What job doesn’t require punctuality? What job doesn’t demand the ability to take on projects and finish them in a timely manner, with a minimum of mistakes? How many supervisors have the time to support an employee who struggles to stay on task?

ADHD Challenges on the Job

An adult with ADHD can find even the simplest workplace requirements challenging, such as:

  • paying attention in meetings
  • listening to and retaining detailed instructions
  • communicating with colleagues and clients in a polite and productive manner

Many adults with ADHD have trouble holding down a full-time job. When they do, poor work performance undermines their earning potential. Bouts of performance anxiety, shame, frustration with hampered earnings, and the ever-present fear of being fired can take a toll on your quality of life.

While medication can offer tremendous relief in the areas of attention span and focus, someone who has carried ADHD into adulthood has accumulated years of behavioral patterns that don’t just vanish once the medication kicks in.

Performing in “chaos mode” may be the adult ADHD sufferer’s only method of navigating the workplace. You may continue functioning this way out of habit. Because of the psychological challenge of breaking destructive habits, medication alone is rarely the answer for managing adult ADHD.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for ADHD

Psychotherapy in conjunction with medication has proven much more effective at improving job performance than medication alone. Your doctor or your company’s health insurance carrier can help you locate a qualified therapist. Some companies have a human resources specialists who can help you find a therapist specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). 

CBT is designed to help patients recognize specific problems areas, examine the emotions and thoughts attached to these conditions or tasks, and pinpoint any related negative thoughts and responses they may have. A therapist can help you develop more positive, productive thought patterns, which in turn will encourage more positive and productive responses. 

The inability to complete tasks in a timely manner, for example, is one difficulty for an adult with ADHD. The cognitive behavioral therapist can help you pinpoint negative thoughts and emotions about difficulties in this area. Do you tell yourself, “I’m just not smart enough,” or “I’ll never get this done?” Such negative thinking typically leads to negative outcomes: either you fail to finish the project or you do so in a shoddy manner, fulfilling your own negative expectations.

By recognizing the power of your thoughts to direct performance, you can begin to see how negative thoughts have contributed to past “defeats.” Once that connection is made, you can try consciously replacing those negative thoughts with encouraging ones, perhaps by focusing on a past success as proof that you can succeed at the task at hand.

Practice Makes Perfect

Adults with ADHD can use CBT to help replace years of negative thoughts and behaviors with productive, self-affirming ones. However, it is unrealistic to expect overnight success from any type of therapy. After all, the behavior patterns that caused you to seek therapy did not develop overnight. It may take decades of conditioning to overcome habitual negative thinking.

However, CBT can help raise your self-esteem, teach productive coping strategies and empower you by identifying small victories and continuing to build on them.