Adding Adventure and Play to Treatment of ADHD

To play is to have fun. A new article from the Journal of Mental Health Counseling proved that adding adventure-based activities to play therapy can enhance the counseling experience for children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The study suggests, play therapy when used a treatment for children with ADHD, helps regulates emotions, yet expands self expression. Furthermore, play therapy helps children with ADHD learn to focus and connect with other people. This treatment would best serve children between the ages of 3 and 10. The authors report that play therapy is better suited for children of this age range in lieu of talk therapy, as talk therapy may be too difficult and incompatible with their development readiness.

Currently, drug therapy is standard in treating ADHD, but only addresses it’s symptoms. Adventure based counseling encourages children to use their personal strengths and allows them to exert their energy, helping them channel their high-energy and attention-seeking qualities into successful, relationship-building skills and task completion. This integrative model fosters a less-demanding environment with less pressure for children to perform verbally, and increases self-expression, experiences of success and mastery.

The study explains how adventured based counseling builds upon Adlerian play therapy’s attributes. The authors describe how the four phases of Adlerian play therapy: building an equal relationship with child, exploring the child’s lifestyle, encouraging the child to gain Insight into his or her lifestyle, and reorienting and reeducating. These four phases provide a framework to integrate adventure based counseling treatment activities.

An example of an ABC activity is called Obstacles of Empowerment. In a group of children or family, an obstacle course is set up by each member and as the other participants run the course they are encouraged and helped by the others. This helps the children use their energy and leadership skills in a socially appropriate way.

The researchers explained “that a family-based, behavioral-oriented, multimodal, and multi-systemic approach is more effective than behavioral treatment alone, medication alone, or a placebo.” Mental health professionals could provide an integrative model combining adventure-based counseling (ABC) with Adlerian play therapy as an additional modality of treatment that goes beyond traditional talk therapy. The ABC approach enhances the counselor’s role, incorporates parental involvement and peer support, utilizing a holistic approach proven to be more effective. These findings could be great news for the two million children with this most frequently diagnosed childhood neurobehavioral disorder.

There are limitations to the integrative model, and further research is needed that specifically aims at the outcome benefits of integrating ABC with Adlerian play therapy. Parents should consult with a physician or mental health professional if they think their child has ADHD, as certain symptoms can be confused for other conditions such as bipolar disorder. Adventure based counseling may provide a new way of looking at the treatment of ADHD and provide some useful activities to build on the inherent strengths of the children who struggle with this issue.

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