Choosing Professionals

There’s No Cure for Bad Therapy

The wrong therapist can do far more harm than good for an adult with ADHD. Here are 10 archetypes — from the Disciplinarian to the Drug Pusher to the Blame Gamer — that aren’t worth your time or money.

A good therapist taking notes from her patient during a session at her office.
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The Matching Game

Finding a good therapist is no easy feat. Depending on the time of your diagnosis, you may spend years searching for a doctor with the right combination of smarts, listening skills, and human emotion to match your individual needs. Here’s a list of the bad ones you may have encountered — and how to avoid them!

A good therapist listens to her patient with ADHD while sitting on the couch.
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The Disciplinarian

Somewhere along the line, this therapist got the idea that what adults with ADHD need is a good rap on the knuckles and a serious time-out. You’ll know you’re in a session with a Disciplinarian when homework-like tasks are assigned to you between sessions. Then come the rewards — usually in the form of approving nods and upbeat words.

A woman looks at her watch — something a good therapist would not do during a session.
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The Nervous Nellie

This therapist is usually new on the job, or has a practice that caters to calmer, more focused patients. She seems to find what you say confusing or unnerving. She spends most of your session asking you to clarify what you just said while she glances at her watch and scoots her chair closer and closer to the door. It’s clear that this therapist doesn’t have experience treating ADHD and is freaked out by the symptoms.

A therapist writes a prescription for ADHD medication for a patient.
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The Drug Pusher

This psychiatrist thinks medications will solve all your problems — and won't listen to you if you think they don't. Despite your objections, the Drug Pusher has prescribed you a large dose of an antipsychotic that has turned your whole world into incomprehensible pudding. Once you’re sedated, this psychiatrist just nods and hmmm-hmmms while making notes on his little pad.

A good therapist listens to her patient with ADHD and takes notes.
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The Researcher

The Researcher gives you the impression that you’re a lab rat being nudged through a maze of leading questions that seem to have right or wrong answers. He is only interested in you as a test case for his pet theories and has little interest in your welfare. When you find yourself pushed into a corner you don’t recognize and stamped with labels you don’t agree with, jump out of the maze, scamper for the exit, and find a doctor who doesn’t want to stick you in a box.

A comedian wears a fake nose and glasses on stage, and finds humor in ADHD symptoms.
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The Comedian

Therapists shouldn't find humor in your ADHD symptoms. If you start to suspect your psychiatrist is using your pain for new material (“I mean I’ve got some crazy patients, but what’s going on with this guy…?”), get out quick.

Man with ADHD pointing finger
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The Blame Gamer

Someone else is to blame for every messed-up thing going on in your life and you get to saunter out of each therapy session as the righteous victim. What's not to love? Watch out for this type: They’re seductive. You can’t find the strength inside yourself to discover ways to cope with, and understand, what’s going on in your head, if it's always everybody else’s fault.

Woman with ADHD at therapist.
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The Quick Fixer

This mental health professional has a packed schedule, and is most comfortable with the 15-minute visit. The uh-huhs and head nods are continuous and “that sounds good” follows whatever incomplete thought gushes out of your mouth. After each session you are hustled out the door with a rushed smile and a pat on the shoulder. Take the last pat, and walk away. You’re not getting any real help here.

A good therapist comforts her patient with ADHD by touching her arm.
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The Fuzzy Comforter

The Fuzzy Comforter has nothing but heart-felt compassion for you — no matter what. You could go into your session ripping the head off a squirrel with your teeth and screaming like a drunken pirate, and the only reactions you’d get would be sympathetic nods and gentle encouragement. And every visit ends with a hug. People with ADHD don’t need sympathy; you need some help finding solutions and practical ways to cope.

A woman with ADHD sleeping peacefully after establishing a healthy bedtime routine
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The Dream Dissector

If past ADHD treatments haven't helped, you might try a subconscious, deep-diving psychotherapy expedition with a Dream Dissector. You hope to find the source of your inability to focus lurking somewhere in the caverns of your sub-conscious dream life. But even when you manage to remember them, the fractured dreams of an ADHD-hypomanic-neurotic-insomniac, don’t have enough focus to even begin to be analyzed.

A judge reads a sentence — a metaphor for a therapist who makes incorrect assumptions about people with ADHD.
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The Distant Judge

Paintings, objects d'art and advanced degrees adorn every inch of his walls and the furniture is made of dark tufted leather with brass accents. He asks you about yourself and then takes notes, barely looking at you during the entire appointment. Shuffling into a weekly audience with a puffed-up poo-bah is no way to get help dealing with your problems.