How can a specialist help diagnose ADHD in Adults?

In one of my pages, I talk about the role and function of an ADHD specialist in supporting ADHD folks working with their residual self esteem challenges, executive functioning challenges and as well any comorbid disorders that may be present along with the ADHD.  

What I didn’t talk about in this page was how a specialist can help diagnose ADHD in Adults and provide diagnostic help to ADHD adults. So, in this short post I will look at what kind of specialists can diagnose ADHD and how a good psychotherapist can support you in the process of flagging the potential ADHD symptoms and helping you find the right diagnostic specialist to provide you with the confirmation of the diagnosis.

What specialist can diagnose ADHD in Adults? There are essentially three professionals who would diagnose ADHD – two are medical doctors and the other professional is a psychologist.  The two doctors who CAN diagnose ADHD are your GP and a Psychiatrist. The challenge is that a lot of GPs who aren’t specialists in ADHD are uncomfortable making the diagnosis.

In these instances, your GP can refer you to a Psychiatrist who may be more specialized in this area.  The advantage of being diagnosed by the medical community is that there is no charge for the diagnosis and they can write a prescription for stimulants should they find a positive diagnosis.  

One of the disadvantages is that it can sometimes take awhile to find the right ADHD specialist to diagnose the ADHD.  Pediatricians are often very familiar with diagnosing ADHD in children, but GPs may not be as familiar in making the diagnosis in Adults.

To help with this situation, the Canadian ADHD Resource Alliance (CADDRA) has developed extensive guidelines to help with providing tools to the diagnostic community to establish a consistent set of practices in diagnosis and pharmacological treatment of ADHD. Any physician can access this resource to support them should they feel uncomfortable making the diagnosis without additional resources.

The other professionals who make the diagnosis are psychologists.  The benefits of using a psychologist is that typically you can find someone who is familiar in making the ADHD diagnosis and get an appointment within a reasonable timeline.  Additionally, when diagnosing ADHD, the psychologist will use a broader array of assessments than a medical doctor, which will assess learning styles, intelligence and other things.  This information can be extremely useful if you are experiencing challenges in the way you work or challenges at school.

The information garnered from this type of assessment can help feed into accommodations and modifications that you may need at home or at the office.  The down side of this assessment is that it does cost money. If you have benefits you may be covered for it but if not, you will have to pay out of pocket.  I believe that this is considered a medical expense and it may be tax deductible, so you need to check with your tax authority to be sure. Also, the psychologist cannot prescribe medication.  So, if medication would be an option for you, you will then have to find a medical doctor to prescribe medication for your ADHD symptoms.

How can a Psychotherapist provide help to ADHD adults and support them in finding a specialist to diagnose their symptoms?  I can’t speak for all Psychotherapists. I know that in my work with adults, I will usually screen most of my adults coming for ADHD. I will typically use a basic screener and after working with a client for a couple of sessions, if I see some flags in their narrative, we will usually complete the in session to see whether there are enough positive answers to seek a diagnosis.  By law, I cannot make a diagnosis. I will NEVER make a diagnosis – but I have the knowledge to flag the presence of potential symptoms of the disorder.  Then I will provide the client with some reading to educate them on ADHD and to see whether ADHD feels like it might “fit” what the client has been struggling with.  If we feel it is necessary to take the next step I will help the client find someone in the medical community to meet with the client and do the diagnostic process for ADHD.  

If the client is a student and we feel (the client and I) that there may be additional challenges such as some visual or auditory processing challenges, I may recommend the client consider a Psychological Education Assessment by a psychologist as it may be important to have the results of this for academic purposes.  Then, if the diagnosis is positive, I will provide ADHD help and support as the client adjusts to their diagnosis and possibly new medication.  After, the client and I will usually identify what executive functions they wish to work on using tailored strategies.

In summary, a psychotherapist can be specialized to help flag symptoms and support their client through the diagnostic process for ADHD and as well support and help their adult clients after the diagnosis. A psychotherapist can also work collaboratively in the medical diagnosis by working with the medical community (with signed off releases from the client) to provide client history and observations.