ADD/ADHD: The Spiritual Component in Treatment

By: Debby Schwarz Hirschhorn, Ph.D.

I first encountered ADHD when my third child was born. That was 17 years ago and it went undiagnosed. He exhibited signs which, in retrospect, were classic indicators. At age two, a respected educator and psychologist tested him-and missed the diagnosis. In third grade, I knew what I was up against when his teacher told us that when he asks the class a really, really hard question, there would be silence for a moment until a voice would call out the correct answer from under a desk. That's when we took him to a pediatric neurologist and got the right diagnosis.

Enter, spirituality. We were confronted with the big questions that need to be answered in order to institute a behavioral/medical plan: What is this child to make of this "disorder"? Why was it foisted on him? Does that really make him a "disordered" person, somehow "less than"? What are his siblings to think of him and how should they treat him when it comes to school effort and chores? Why should he have to take medication that tastes bitter? What do we say to him in the evenings when the last dose was out of his system and he showed a rebound effect (even more hyperactivity than if he had not taken the medication in the first place)? What pieces of the problem would the medicine not address and how should we address them?

When more cosmic questions are answered, many things seem to fall into place, and often reveal the nature of the problem. Here is exactly what I said to my child: "You do not have a disorder. I don't care what the books/teachers/psychologists call it. You are a fine and beautiful person made in the image of God just like everybody else. Isn't it interesting that everyone is made in God's image and yet no one is perfect? That is the nature of being human. Even the excellent student who hardly has to study to get A's has challenges. Perhaps that kid must struggle to learn patience with people not as gifted as he is. Maybe that kid has to learn humility because his gift came from God just as your ADHD did and he must remember not to get arrogant.

"You are actually lucky in a way. Because when you struggle to concentrate on your work, when you force yourself to focus and get down to your task, you will have really accomplished something. You will have demonstrated great inner strength that other people may not have. There will be times when your medicine will wear off and it will be up to you to remember to get the next dose. It will be up to you to learn how to concentrate without it when it is too late in the evening to take another dose. That will make you quite a mature, responsible person who takes care of your health. And by the way, I need outside chemical help to concentrate too once in a while; that's why I have a cup of coffee sometimes. Like I said, no one is perfect." And, with minor changes, that is what I said to his siblings-who each have their own little quirks though I love them all dearly.

This explanation seemed to satisfy my little third grader. I never got rebellion over taking those pills. I will not say I never got a complaint; he hated the taste. But I never got rebellion. Chemically, this is very important: Attitude must work with the medicine or the meds won't work as well. For example, if you are depressed and you have negative thinking patterns, the antidepressants won't be as effective as if you learn to view life more positively.

This was driven home to me one afternoon when my son was in junior high. As he was going off to visit a friend, I reminded him to take his meds so he didn't drive his friend's mother crazy: "What's the point of that?" he asked. "I can take it but I can override it too." Woooo. How could he do that? The medication tells the brain which way to think. But if a person is hell-bent on going the other way, the brain and the meds both lose that battle. That's why with "difficult" children the dose has to be raised and raised-with poor results. A solution is to address the cosmic questions first. Address the spirit and the rest follows.

Debby Schwarz Hirschhorn, Ph.D. in Marriage & Family Therapy, specializes in recovering from the trauma of verbal and emotional abuse as evident on her web site.

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