Scholarly article on topic 'A neurobehavioral approach to the treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) in adult individuals'

A neurobehavioral approach to the treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) in adult individuals Academic research paper on "Art (arts, history of arts, performing arts, music)"

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{"ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder)" / "neurobehavioral model" / "behaviour therapy" / "cognitive therapy" / "drug therapy"}

Abstract of research paper on Art (arts, history of arts, performing arts, music), author of scientific article — Lois Gerbi-Pick

Abstract My theoretical knowledge about Attention Deficit Disorder in its various manifestations and my therapeutic experience with adult cases enabled me to develop a therapeutic approach and to construct a working model which has succeeded in helping many clients improve their behaviour, learn from life and derive greater satisfaction from relationships. The principles of the model are based on behavioural and occupational therapy models.

Academic research paper on topic "A neurobehavioral approach to the treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) in adult individuals"

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Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 5 (2010) 28-36


A neurobehavioral approach to the treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) in adult individuals

Lois Gerbi-Picka *

a Psychology, Psychotherapist, Senior Supervisor Address: 22 Lamed Hey #1, Jerusalem, 93661 Israel,, Received January 14, 2010; revised February 6, 2010; accepted March 29, 2010


My theoretical knowledge about Attention Deficit Disorder in its various manifestations and my therapeutic experience with adult cases enabled me to develop a therapeutic approach and to construct a working model which has succeeded in helping many clients improve their behaviour, learn from life and derive greater satisfaction from relationships. The principles of the model are based on behavioural and occupational therapy models. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords : ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder); neurobehavioral model; behaviour therapy; cognitive therapy; drug therapy.

Translation and editing by Jack Friedman, M.D.

I would like to present a neurobehavioral therapeutic approach to the treatment of adults with Attention Deficit Disorder that is the result of my long experience in the world of ADD .

It is a working model that was based on my triple experience:

1 .What I have learned in my studies and in Neurologic Conferences about Attention Deficit Disorder.

2 .What I encountered in my clinic and what I have learned from my colleagues in the last ten years.

3 .What I have learned from the world of occupational therapy and physiotherapy.

In the past ADD was connected primarily with intellectual behaviour and achievements (Williams & Thompson,1998), but the knowledge that has been accumulated over the years indicates that the syndrome of ADD is very pervasive and affects all aspects of life - cognitive, emotional, social, behavioural (Amen,2001).

For the past ten years, I have been treating adults who are trying to deal with problems in many fields of life -marriage, work, social relationships, etc.

Many times during these years, after several treatment sessions with new clients I began to see specific thinking processes.

At the same time I have also been immersed in my ADD studies, and so I began to see connections between the ADD prototypical thinking (Pentecost, 2000) and the approach to life of the clients in front of me .

I began to send more and more clients for ADD testing, and many times I realized that my hypothesis that these clients had ADD was verified.

At the time I understood that I could not continue to use the usual therapy as I did before and I had to make a change. I had to find techniques that could help them behave according to social codes and be successful in everyday life .

I began to develop more and more techniques that ultimately proved themselves very useful.

1877-0428 © 2010 Published by Elsevier Ltd. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2010.07.045

Space limitations prevent me from presenting the full range of techniques I have developed in order to approach the syndrome and I am going to discuss only three of them. For the same reason I am also going to restrict myself to three "constructs-symptoms" of ADD that influence many areas of life, and I will not relate to the whole syndrome.

The ADD symptoms I decided to relate to in this paper are:

1 . The tendency of adults with ADD not to make connections between the different events they experience in life.

2 . The tendency to see the world in 'black and white' and most of the time in 'black'.

3. The tendency to see things, people and the world as unfriendly or even hostile .

These three symptoms have a reciprocal influence.

A wise person once said to me: "When one sees the world in 'black and white', anything that is not white is 'black'!! and this of course brings the person to see mostly 'black'. From this perspective it is not unusual to get the feeling that the world is unfriendly, especially when one doesn't see any connection between events and doesn't apply standard rules in the process of understanding (cause and effect, before and after, etc).

I recall when I first started attending different Conferences on ADD and learning disabilities, I heard again and again neurologists discussing ADD and presuming that it could be the result of a "communication" disorder between neurons of the brain. I heard this many times, always followed by the caveat "BUT WE ARE NOT SURE YET- NOTHING HAS BEEN PROVEN."

At the same time, as I said before, for many years I have being treating adults with ADD. In my practice I noted that one of the most prominent difficulties for people with this syndrome is difficulty in learning from "the school of life", the school that does not have notes, and does not stop at 3 or 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Because of ADD, these people have difficulty behaving according to the norms of the environment in which they live.

Now I would like to give you some small examples from my practice, enough to help you identify this type of person:

Example no.1

An adult with ADD sits close to a friend in a public place. This could be a library, a church or a park. At a certain moment the 8 year old son of the friend arrives .

In such a situation it would be expected that the adult get up and move over a chair in order to let the child and his father sit next to each other. This behaviour does not occur to an adult with ADD as he does not connect the different events as happening at the same time.

If asked, the adult with ADD would move over a chair, but he would not initiate such an action.

Example no.2

Usually when a person gets the flu, he would think of the consequences and how he should behave in such a situation: i.e. to cancel the meetings of the day ;to go to see the doctor to check himself and not to get too close to people in order not to infect them . But if he has ADD, all these ideas usually do not occur to him.

The individual with ADD would go to see the doctor only if he thought the doctor could take the pain away. He would stay home only if he was dizzy and could not get up from bed or because it is a good excuse not to go to school or to work. He would not stay home for the sake of others or because he presents some possible danger to himself.

The common denominator of these two examples is that the actions of the people with ADD are very immediate and egocentric; they do not take into consideration any other parameters but their own immediate discomfort. They do not make connections to anything else they experience and know about themselves or others, (sciences, norms, rules, etc.)

The reality (psychological, physical, future, etc.) of a person with ADD is fragmented, i.e. in pieces, isolated one from the other. Every event is seen in isolation and is unconnected with what happened before or after. If connections are made, they are very superficial and simplistic.

At times this lack of perception can result in absurd situations.

Example no. 3

The ADD worker leaves the office in the middle of work even if he knows that the boss does not approve .

The boss, in this case, decides to turn a blind eye. The day afterwards, the worker decides to leave again in the middle of the day, even - as I said before - he knows that this is not allowed.

If this time the boss makes a comment or gets angry, the worker will be very frustrated because he feels the boss is being "unpredictable".

It does not occur to him to put the two events together and to reach the conclusion, that perhaps the boss decided to turn a blind eye in the first case but will not accept a repetition .

All these experiences with my clients as well as the things I have heard at the Conferences led me to think that a "communication" disorder between the neurons in the brain could actually be part of the cause, as the neurologists explained or at least an important etiological factor of the phenomenon . Perhaps we are talking about two sides of the same coin. The ADD itself could be the common underlying factor of the events and behaviours described above.

At that time I was also in close contact with occupational therapists and other professionals dealing with ADD. I realized that their treatments tried to compensate rather than correct the neurological deficit of ADD. The encounter with these professionals and their approach to the ADD syndrome led me to think that there may be a way to compensate the neurological deficit also using behaviour therapy.

To test my hypothesis I devised a behaviour therapy model to help people with ADD to overcome what is seemingly missing in their thinking, and subsequently in their behaviour and in their attitude to life .

As I have already pointed out I will present here only a sample of the model.

I am going to describe three techniques that have the purpose of helping people with ADD to see connections between the events they experience. At the same time they help to see more colours in the world around them and not only black and white. At the end of the process the clients usually become able to develop a more positive approach to life.

In the beginning I use a detailed analysis of literary material. I begin with very simple short stories and only afterwards we progress to analyze materials from their own experience .

First technique (Analysis of literary material) :

I needed very good short stories, made up of short sentences that allowed me to easily get to the critical points. After searching, I chose the book "Missing Kissenger" by Etgar Kerrett. The stories are constructed of very short sentences exactly as I needed.

Usually I begin working with the first tale: "To break the pig", and I explain to the client that we are going to review this story, but in a very different fashion from the one he is used to. We are going to analyze it sentence by sentence.

The first sentence says as follows:

"Father did not agree to buy me a doll of Bart Simpson."

After we read the first sentence, I explain to the client that now our goal is not only to understand the most from what is written in the sentence, but also from what is not written (and purposely we do not look at what comes after that). I usually say that we will search together for the "animal which is attached to the tail". We see a small tail beside the tree and we have to guess what animal is "behind the tree".

And we begin with a series of questions :

According to what is written - father did not agree to buy a doll of Bart Simpson- who is the writer of the story? A child? A boy? A girl?

What relationship does she or he have with the father? What kind of father does the writer have?

What can we understand from father's opposition? Is this a lack of money, stinginess or an educational principle?

What can we say about the mother? Where is the mother? What is her educational role ?

We spend a long time building up questions and imagining the answers. Of course each client needs more or less help and everyone gives his own questions and answers. Only after we have exhausted all the possibilities do we move on to the second sentence: The second sentence says: "Mother definitely wanted this ."

What can be understood from adding this "part of the tail"?

Does the mother understand the needs of a child better than the father ?

What does it mean that the mother has expressed a different opinion from the father? Is there conflict or openness?

Why does the writer want to reveal the disagreement between the parents?

Only after we have exhausted the second sentence we move on to the third one.

The third sentence says:

"Dad said that I am spoiled."

Here we get answers to some of our questions .

We discover more and more "parts of the "tail".

We realize that the father has educational reasons to say "no".

We learn that he provides strict education and he cares less about emotional needs .

This is the way I proceed with my clients sentence by sentence to understand the whole story and its various deeper layers.

Usually the clients need much more help to make up questions than to give answers.

The answers to the close reading are almost all ideas from the clients themselves.

We spend a long time to internalize this kind of analysis and avoid the danger of superficial reading and understanding.

Usually they are amazed by what they discover through such a reading and suddenly they discover nuances they were previously blind to.

Second Technique (analysis of unpleasant life events):

Slowly they master this technique, and usually they share with me that they have begun to use it to analyze everyday life events.

At this point I know that it is time to move on to the second technique that the client himself initiated.

As I said before, in addition to the fact that people with ADD don't make connections between different events in their life they also tend to see the world in 'black and white' and usually more in 'black' than in 'white'.

They have a tendency of seeing everyday events from a negative view point.

After they have learned to give more than one 'explanation-interpretation-derivation' to the same 'fact-event-detail ', I feel more comfortable in analyzing their life material.

As I said before they initiate the move and they bring to the room material from their own lives.

The clients express as well the desire to analyze their life events differently from the way they are used to, and my goal is to help them to identify more and more nuances in the life events they share with me.

I remember when a client said to me at the beginning of the session:

"My mother does not invite me for this weekend because she hates me ."

Immediately I realized the working potential in this sentence and I decided to write it on the board.

"Mother does not invite me for this week-end" with a circle around it and "because she hates me" in another circle with an arrow between them.

I requested the patient to ask himself the question- and not to answer- why his mother does not invite him for the week-end. Then to do an imaginary exercise and give me alternative reasons why his mother may not invite him. I wrote them on the board. Every sentence has a circle around it. (See the following illustrations.)

He was already familiar with this kind of mental exercise and found it easy to follow my instructions :

In the beginning he said : " because she does not like me," " because she cannot tolerate me," " because I make her problems."

I asked him if he could imagine more neutral reasons and slowly with my help the patient agreed to write alternatives to his original suggestions such as: " because she doesn't feel well" " because she has been invited to friends " " because my sister -whom I cannot tolerate- will be there."

These alternatives were also written on the board. In this way the client himself could see and appreciate the changes .

This is only one example of how I used this technique, but naturally this could be done with any statement the clients bring into the room .

At the beginning the clients agree to do it because it is clear that it is only an exercise. However after they do the same exercise many times with various unpleasant events something begins to change in their way of thinking. It becomes less 'black and white', more varied, more positive, more open and less egocentric (and at times he even comes back a week later to report that one of the positive options we have written is indeed correct!).

This exercise becomes routine work during each session.

I usually select a sentence that the clients bring into the room and I ask them to do the exercise and they always come up with new ideas.

After several sessions of these exercises the clients generally try to find more favourable interpretations of events. They begin to understand that there is a difference between an event and its interpretation.

An interpretation is not a fact, rather a choice, and this choice is personal and influences our feeling about the event .

At this point there usually arises a need for change and renewal of ideas.

Third Technique (development of positive approach) :

The progress from the second to the third technique stems from the need and the preparation of the clients to live in a more positive world.

This technique can be summarized as "not only to avoid the bad but also to be willing to look for the good and even to improve on it".

If in the second step (using the second technique) we can say that there is a hint of "how to get out of the bad situation I am stuck in", in the third step the goal is to look for the good in life, how to improve it, that is, getting more from all avenues of life .

Now the goal is acting like a "businessman" who is studying the situation before investing his money in order to obtain the maximum benefit .

Many of the suggestions emerge from the clients themselves.

During a session when I hear a sentence with working potential, I go back to it.

Once I heard: "yesterday I bought a gift for my wife" and I decided to explore it.

I wrote the sentence in the middle of the board and I put arrows in all directions and at the end of each one a circle. See illustration below.

I asked the client to try to draw conclusions - as many as he can - from his behaviour.

At the beginning he said: "because I love my wife". I asked the client what else could be learnt from this gesture, "what can you learn out of it?"" what does it mean about you?", "what does it mean about your wife?" etc.

Here he added "my wife is a good woman", but afterwards he began to be more sophisticated. For example he suggested "I express my love with presents", "I was successful in marriage".

When he ran out of ideas, I took one of his own suggestions, "I was successful in marriage" and I repeated the same exercise this time with the new sentence in the centre (See following illustrations).

Slowly we moved from one statement to another .

From each statement we progressed to the next level by asking - what are the additional meanings of the previous statement.

For instance from "I was successful in marriage" one could extract another statement: "I chose a woman who fits me".

When he had no more to add we went to another phrase and we put arrows around it in all directions as we did before with the previous one and we went again through the same process. (See following illustrations.) Usually we get to new conclusions and insights. Between one step and another I take breaks in order to check - what are the insights of the client and what he has gained from the exercise. I help him if he is not advancing. At the start he would require much more help and later less and less .

Figure 1. Associations level 1

I chose statement #4 to begin a new process as follows: I placed the sentence in the middle of the board and asked the client to give more new interpretations.

Figure 2. Associations level 2

1. I chose a woman who fits me

3. I always knew that my marriage is my first goal in life

2. We worked hard to succeed in our marriage

I had success in my marriage

4. I knew what to expect and what was expected of me in my marriage

This time I chose statement #2 to go to the next phase of the exercise:

Figure 3. Associations level 3

My experience has showed me that intensive systematic work with the help of these three techniques makes a big improvement in (their) social understanding and day-to-day functioning. The first technique helps them to "hear" the "unsaid" and/or to "see" the "unseen."

The second helps them avoid the effects of negative interpretations. The third teaches them to be willing to look for the good and to gain from the chance opportunities that life offers.

People with ADD appear to think principally in terms of "earning and losing" or "price to pay". The above techniques all help them reassess their fixed ideas .

In my experience those who agreed to take medication in addition to their treatment [e.g. Ritalin or Concerta] seemed to improve even better and faster than those who did not .

The obvious question I have been asking myself in the last two years is whether the exercises my clients do, make an actual neurological change in their brains enabling neurons to link better to each other ("overcoming the communication disorder") or whether pre-existing pathways are opened up with the training. Further research would be needed to clarify these issues .

Hopefully further advances in electro physiological study of the brain will teach us more about the neurological system. In the meanwhile we must content ourselves with the use of medication and techniques such as behavior therapy which can evidently be very effective in dealing with these difficult problems, even if we do not know exactly how.


Sears, W., & Thompson , L.(1998). The A.D.D. Book, Little Brown & Co. USA

Amen, D. G.(2001). Healing A.D.D. Berkley Publishing, New York

Pentecost D. (2000). Parenting the ADD Child .United Kingdom, JKP London, England