Adult ADHD Does Not Exist in Some Places
Here is a story I have heard too many times. I received an email message last week from a woman in East Tennessee who had suffered enough from effects of ADHD, only to suffer more from the disappointing and sometimes insluting responses from uninformed mental health professionals. I don’t blame the professionals, as we are all naive until we are not. Those of us who specialize in helping adults with ADHD need to reach out to communities who are not informed about the disorder and the complementary roles of different professional disciplines that can help. We need to insist that our local mental health professionals have access to education about ADHD. Recognition of adult ADHD is relatively new…just under three decades…and more work lies ahead to bring services to under-served communities.
For the sake of efficiency and privacy, I trimmed a little of K’s email message and deleted the name of a mental health agency. K gave me perimission to use her email message in this blog.
I am located in Jonesborough, TN (near Johnson city and Kingsport). I have been to many different counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists in this area, and I keep getting the same result. Mostly people who have information on ADHD that is decades old and have no clue what to do with it. I keep getting told things like, “You can’t possibly have ADHD because you did so well in school,” “Adults can’t have ADHD. It’s only a childhood disorder that you grow out of,” “Adult ADHD is very rare,” and many other ridiculous things. It is very frustrating to go to a professional and know more about your disorder than they do. I have done lots of research on Adult ADHD, read many books, etc. and I wish I could just treat myself, but that doesn’t work very well 🙂 It is also very frustrating because, everyone I call says that they treat adult ADHD, but then when I come for the appointment, they don’t have a clue. I have recently been asking if they specialize in ADHD, and you would be surprised at how many say they do before you make the appointment, and then when you come, it turns out that they have almost zero experience with it. I have had therapists tell me that if I would just “try harder”, I could do it, or “there is nothing we can do for ADHD except medication”. I even saw an ADHD coach in Asheville, NC, and after working with him for several months, mainly making lists and schedules that I could never seem to stick with, he said, “well, I gave you all of the tools, and you wouldn’t stick with it, so I don’t know what else to do for you”. It has been very frustrating to say the least.
I just recently made an appointment at _____ thinking that, since they are the largest mental health provider in this area, they would have at least one person who could help with ADHD. I called and asked for someone that specializes in ADHD, and they told me that they didn’t have anyone specialized, but that they saw a lot of adult ADHD, and many of their practitioners could help. So I scheduled an intake, and they said they would place me with someone who could help. I saw her yesterday, and she told me that ADHD in adults was practically nonexistent, because you grow out of it as you get older. She said that no one in their practice saw many patients with ADHD. She went on to tell me that she had never treated a patient who actually had ADHD, because they all actually have bipolar disorder. By the end of 45 minutes, she told me that I had bipolar disorder, and I “definitely don’t have ADHD”. She claimed that my “hyperfocus” was actually “goal directed behavior”, that my hyperactivity was hypomania, and that I need to be put on mood stabilizers. This was despite the fact that I was diagnosed with ADHD at age 7, and re-diagnosed as an adult about 5 years ago with combined type ADHD. After doing some research online, it turns out that ADHD is commonly mistaken for bipolar disorder, especially in women. It is very frustrating that, apparently, in our area ADHD is being commonly misdiagnosed as bipolar and that the knowledge level of practicing psychologists is so inadequate.
I have looked, and there does not seem to be any support groups for adult adhd here. It would be great to start one! Though there might not be very many people if they are all being misdiagnosed. I tried going to a support group in Asheville, NC for a while, but it’s about a 1.5 hour drive, and it just wasn’t feasible to go all of the time.
I have requested that the Tennessee Chapter of NASW (National Associatoion of Social Workers) offer training on adult ADHD for professionals in East Tennessee, as they did in West Tennessee in 2017.
I know know she feels.
We have not been able to find anyone who specializes in ADHD in the Tri Cities.
Both my son and I have been diagnosed and struggle to find any succesful treatment.
I approached the TN chapter of NASW regarding leading an in-service event for mental health professionals in your area. I got a positive response at the time, but nothing came to fruition. I would still like to help and will contact them again. Thanks for your comment.
Thank you for advocating for us! I have a full time job and a house to take care of and it’s so hard to keep my mind straight enough to even call and try to make an appointment with someone to get help, but I am in the same boat. There doesn’t seem to be much in the Tri-Cities Area. And when I do get with someone all they want to do is talk about generic strategies like making a list. 100 years of research and no one has tried telling people with ADHD to make a list. We don’t even make the list in the office, they tell me to make it at home. To my (limited) knowledge, ADHD treatment has to be done at the time of the event to be effective for most patients. At least, this is what Russell Barkley preaches on the topic. I have been tempted to buy both the client and therapist guide of Mastering Your Adult ADHD by Stephen Safren, taking it to a counselor, and saying “let’s do this, please.” But I assume that would be out of place for a patient haha.
Thanks Justin. I don’t think your idea is “out of place,” to borrow your words. But you might not need a therapist to guide you through it, especially if the therapist does not understand the disorder. Here’s an alternative to consider. Find an ADHD peer who has similar challenges and work with through your workbook together. Support one another and gently hold each other accountable. If one strategy doesn’t work for you, no problem. Just try another. One size does not fit all. What appeals to you might not appeal to another individual. You are more likely to sustain your effort when you find strategies that are personally appealing. The reward is inherent. That is, when something clearly works for you, the benefits of getting things done is like getting paid for your creative solutions.
This post is very easy to read and understand without leaving any details out. Great work! Thanks for sharing this valuable and helpful article.
I do specialize and I’m in Asheville and serve WNC. I am a licensed clinical mental health counselor, but also have ADHD and know its impacts and costs (as well as its strengths). It is absolutely possible to live well with it. Lists and strategies are just a little piece of the overall scaffold of supports. I usually have a couple of slots available. I won’t drop my information on another counselor’s site, but I’m easily findable via google.
Taylor Maxson, LCMHC
Thank you for mentioning that, according to online research, ADHD is frequently confused with bipolar disorder, particularly in women. ADHD has been identified in my sibling. I’ll track down an ADHD trainer to assist her in recovering and managing it.