5 Phases of Realization, Acceptance
Therapy is difficult. This is perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned in my time as a professional psychologist.
I see the stress and fear so clearly on the face of every new customer I meet when they tell me what makes life so difficult. I want them to believe that everything will be fine and that we will find an answer. But my assurances are only minimally helpful; they need time to discover these truths for themselves.
The path to discovery and recovery is especially difficult for those who have suffered from undiagnosed ADHD – those adults who, at a later age, learn that ADHD has preoccupied them for so long.
These people often come to therapy and seek as much hope as they can to clarify why their lives are so difficult. They want to know how to change and whether a condition really explains their problems.
Only when they finally get their diagnosis does the real journey begin – and a pattern emerges. I call it the five stages of ADHD awareness.
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Diagnosing ADHD: The Stages
Although I specialize in the treatment of ADHD, I cannot diagnose this condition. Still, I definitely analyze every symptom of my clients and refer them to psychiatrists for diagnosis.
When a client comes back to me with a diagnosis of ADHD, they almost always follow this discrete sequence of stages.
Phase 1: excitement / relief. During this phase I witnessed every emotion from exhausted relief to complete ecstasy. In addition, almost all clients say the same: “I would never have thought that ADHD would affect my life so much!”
Most people only know the disorder superficially, and they typically look at symptoms through the lens of pop psychology and completely overlook the core aspects of ADHD such as executive dysfunction.
[Read: Your After-Diagnosis Survival Guide]
In addition, many recently diagnosed people choose to keep the diagnosis to themselves. They avoid the topic because they fear that others around them who do not accept or believe the diagnosis will judge and criticize it.
While the newly diagnosed are indulging in the news, this phase is rather short-lived.
Phase 2: investigation. With basic explanations for their lifelong difficulties, the newly diagnosed want to know more. They want to understand their brain so that they can learn how to navigate life by applying some rules that they believe they should have followed all along.
In search of further answers, the newly diagnosed individuals eventually find a group or gathering of other neurodivergent people with whom they share stories, experiences, and information. While joining a community is a healthy and positive step, in these situations the details of the disruption are often neglected rather than camaraderie. This phase is also short-lived and quickly leads to the next.
Phase 3: frustration. All diagnosed individuals will eventually come face to face with the clear realization that ADHD is permanent, chronic, and relentless. There is no escape, no pause, and no cure.
I realize how daunting that may sound, but that is the harsh reality of the state. ADHD is hereditary and, especially if left untreated, it invades nearly every aspect of a person’s life.
This truth is sobering. The diagnosed person realizes that ADHD will never cease to distract and mislead their mind and life. You might feel hopeless and helpless.
Simultaneously occurring disorders such as anxiety or depressive disorders come into focus and make life more difficult.
My newly diagnosed clients are usually able to get through this phase productively and quickly; This does not always apply to patients with a longstanding diagnosis of ADHD. The most important thing I hear from them is, “I don’t know how to stop.” They are often misguided in their ideas about their future. Fortunately, with the right guidance and education, these beliefs aren’t difficult to refute.
Once you are finally on your way to awareness and management, you enter the next phase.
Phase four: acceptance. This phase is the hardest to spot. It is also the ultimate destination for most people with ADHD after diagnosis.
At this point the person has accepted ADHD and how it manifests itself uniquely to them. They know that there are methods – medical and other – that can be used to treat and even overcome some aspects of the disorder. They have created patterns, habits and processes that help them deal with the symptoms that they once found unbearably oppressive. They found a way to let go of their inner turmoil and find acceptance.
They have also resigned themselves to the fact that not everyone will understand or believe what they are going through – and they don’t take it personally. They have dropped their expectations and found some semblance of peace about their diagnosis. You no longer judge yourself based on the opinion of others.
Often times, for most of my clients, this is where growth and progress stop. However, some of them want to do more and become advocates. They speak out in defense and hope to educate others about ADHD. You want to motivate and inspire others with ADHD to understand themselves better. These are the ones who are in the next stage.
Phase five: application. Individuals at this stage view ADHD as a condition that can help them rather than an obstacle to endure.
Beyond simply understanding ADHD, individuals who have reached this stage have thoroughly researched the condition and identified all of its beneficial properties. They have taken steps to apply this education in their lives and use their strengths accordingly.
Even more impressive, these ADHD champions seek to empower those who are silent. You want to give them a voice, direction, and hope. All in all, their real motivation is to let others struggling with ADHD know that they are not alone.
You aspire to become the rare person for someone diagnosed with ADHD: a true, fully accepting friend.
Diagnosing ADHD: Next Steps
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