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About Practical Parenting Strategies with Dr. Heller

Dr. Carey Heller is a licensed psychologist and founding partner with The Heller Psychology Group LLC, which is a small private practice located in Bethesda, Maryland near Montgomery Mall. He specializes in working with children, adolescents, and their families. Dr. Heller conducts play, individual, and family psychotherapy for a variety... Read more

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Having Trouble with Time Management and Organizational Skills? Have You Considered the Role of Emotions in Treating Executive Function Weaknesses/ADHD?

Executive functioning skills are essentially a set of mental processes that underlie much of what we do on a daily basis. They are involved in behavioral regulation (i.e., stopping us from acting on inappropriate impulses), emotion regulation (i.e., the expression of emotions), and cognitive regulation (i.e., planning, organizing, getting going on tasks). Many of these issues underlie common symptoms associated with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) such as trouble focusing and self-regulation (i.e., fidgeting).

When most people think about a child, teen, or adult with weak executive function skills, they think about someone who has trouble planning ahead to not leave tasks for the last minute, struggles to get places on time, has a messy room/locker, and is generally disorganized.

In addition, when thinking about how to help someone with these deficits, common views may include the idea to give a person a variety or practical tools to help them (i.e., fill out a planner, set a reminder to leave ten minutes before one actually needs to leave) or give them more oversight/accountability to improve the follow through.

While these ideas are generally helpful, what is missing from them and in many cases crucial is a greater focus on the role of emotions in how they are impacting executive function skills. For example, many children and teens, especially ones with ADHD/executive function challenges become overwhelmed easily when they have a lot to do or when processing a lot of information.

When someone is having to handle situations and is feeling anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed, they are likely operating from an emotional problem solving perspective. Thus, even the best set of practical tools may not be sufficient to fully help them unless they can learn to better manage their emotions.

Therefore, if you or a loved one are struggling with managing ADHD/executive function symptoms, think about the emotional piece when setting up a variety of interventions to help. Working with a mental health professional can be very helpful in many cases in making improvements in functioning related to executive function deficits/ADHD symptoms. Some people find working with a therapist and a separate ADHD/executive functioning coach to be most helpful. Others find working with a mental health professional who can provide the therapeutic work around emotions as well as the coaching piece together to be most helpful.

As a clinical psychologist who does both traditional psychotherapy as well as combined psychotherapy/ADHD and executive function coaching work within the context of individual treatment, each person is different in what would be the best fit. Thus, speaking with the right professional and getting their input on what modalities of treatment would be best to address your difficulties or those of your family member or loved one would be ideal.

I hope that this article is helpful in getting you to think more broadly about how to best address executive function weaknesses and ADHD symptoms to obtain more success academically, socially, occupationally, and in life in general.

Copyright 2017 Carey A. Heller, Psy.D.

*Disclaimer: The previous information is intended as general guidance based on my professional opinion, does not constitute an established professional relationship,  and should not replace the recommendations of a psychologist or other licensed professional with whom you initiate or maintain a professional relationship*


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Carey Heller, Psy.D.

About Carey Heller, Psy.D.

Dr. Carey Heller is the author of the blog Practical Parenting Strategies. He is a licensed psychologist with The Heller Psychology Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Heller specializes in the evaluation and treatment of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), executive function challenges, learning disabilities, and co-occurring issues such as anxiety. With treatment, he often blends traditional psychotherapy with practical coaching to help individuals improve time management, organizational, and related study skills as relevant.


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