ADHD News & Research

Study: CBT for ADHD Helps College Students Target Inattention, Executive Dysfunction

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) tailored to college students with ADHD effectively reduces symptoms of inattention and executive dysfunction, according to a new study.

September 23, 2020

A new cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) program for college students with ADHD was found to effectively reduce symptoms of inattention and enhance executive function (EF), according to a study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders.1 Cognitive behavioral therapy is a short-term, goal-oriented form of psychotherapy that aims to change negative patterns of thinking and change the way a patient feels about their self, abilities, and future. These findings validate previous research on cognitive-behavioral programs for college students, such as the Accessing Campus Connections and Empowering Student Success (ACCESS) program, whose participants saw significant improvement in behavioral regulation, medication management, and social adjustment.

“Without the structure and supports formerly provided by parents and teachers (which may have enabled them to gain admission to college), students with ADHD typically manifest difficulties in time-management,” the researchers said. “This results in procrastination; poor planning; missed deadlines; inadequate, incomplete, or inaccurate work; tardiness or non-attendance at class; and inefficiency.” To address these challenges, the study administered 12 weekly CBT sessions to 18 college students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD). This CBT treatment targeted time-awareness, distractibility, procrastination, and failure to plan, and included strategies to facilitate academic EF skills.

Students were re-assessed immediately post-treatment on the Adult ADHD Investigator Symptom Rating Scale (AISRS) and executive dysfunction was measured via the Barkley Deficits in Executive Function Scale (BDEFS) and The Learning and Study Skills Inventory (LASSI-3rd edition).

84% percent of participants attended nine or more of the 12 weekly sessions. Comparing symptoms before and after treatment, repeated measures demonstrated improvement in clinician- and self-ratings of inattentive ADHD, with robust effect sizes. Scores on standardized scales of time-management, concentration, and total EF also improved.

Little research exists on CBT interventions tailored to the needs of college students — the ACCESS program was only a small pilot study on 88 University of North Carolina at Greensboro students. Results on the empirical measures and narrative self-reports of participants in this study support the effectiveness of this cognitive-behavioral intervention in addressing the ADHD symptoms and executive dysfunctions that impair the performance of college students with ADHD. Further research is needed to establish definitive demonstration of efficacy and ascertain the maintenance of these benefits beyond the end of treatment.

View Article Sources

1Solanto MV, Scheres A. Feasibility, Acceptability, and Effectiveness of a New Cognitive-Behavioral Intervention for College Students with ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders. September 2020. doi:10.1177/1087054720951865