Will Online Family Therapy Help Us Cope with Our Child's ADHD?

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With the busy lives families lead today, there is a lot of stress - especially if you have a child with ADHD. As a result, you may be considering online family therapy as a viable option. However, you want to make an informed decision to see if it works for your family first!

The Busy Lives of ADHD Parents

If you are a parent, you already lead a busy life. Between working, shuttling your kids to their various activities, and just trying to keep your house clean, your time is always stretched to the max. Now add in the fact that one of your children has ADHD. Managing the symptoms of childhood ADHD means your stress level climbs even higher. There are challenges that come from trying to help them be successful in school and issues with their impulsive and perhaps unpredictable behavior. Those behaviors can cause a lot of stress in your family unit.

Your child's physician may recommend behavioral or family therapy to help cope with your child's ADHD symptoms. However, you may be wondering: with my family's busy schedule, how can I ever make those appointments work? Online family therapy may be a viable option to help your family cope with the symptoms of ADHD.

What is Online Therapy?

Online therapy is technically known as 'telepsychological service' by the American Psychological Association. It can include therapy done via video conferencing technology, telephone, or even asynchronously through email. This method of therapy can be very helpful to families struggling to cope with ADHD who may have limited access to therapy due to geographical location, physical conditions, and/or financial constraints. For example, if you live an hour away from the nearest qualified therapist, choosing an online option may save you a lot of time and money.

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Important Considerations

However, before you plunge into it, there are some aspects of online therapy you will want to consider. First and foremost, ensure that the online therapist is licensed in your state. You will also want to contact your insurance company because online therapy may not be covered. In some instances they will reimburse you the cost, but you need to be knowledgeable about how that will work before you sign your family up. Some providers of online family therapy even offer monthly plans that give you more access to the therapist than you would normally get in a weekly session. It might be more affordable than multiple face-to-face family sessions each week.

Another consideration is privacy. When you are participating in therapy online, all of your information will be shared via the Internet. As a result, your family is left vulnerable to issues of confidentiality and security. You may be sharing information you wouldn't want to become public knowledge. Ask questions about the therapist's procedures for securing her online sessions and patient information.

Using Family Therapy to Deal With ADHD

When you have a child with ADHD, there can be a lot of strain in the family. Some of that may come between you and your spouse over how to manage your child's symptoms. Tension could arise between your child and their siblings over the amount of attention your child with ADHD needs. You may even have a strained relationship with your child just from trying to manage their behavior. As a result, your child's physician (or even your own) may recommend family therapy.

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The goal of family therapy is to help improve the functioning of the family unit and build family relationships. In this kind of therapy, you and your family can learn a lot of skills to help you cope with your child's ADHD. Initially, the therapist may meet with the whole family and even individual members of the family to get an idea of the problem itself and how it is impacting the family unit. From there, family therapy can continue with the therapist conducting sessions with specific family members or groups of family members to help improve the family functioning. For example, if you are struggling to communicate with your child and deal with their behavior, the therapist may have the two of you meet in sessions to work on the problem.

Research has shown that even if you don't engage specifically in family therapy, using online parent training has been shown an effective way to engage parents in the process of treating children with ADHD. Parent training involves training the parent about their child's ADHD, including the treatments and ways to manage behavior issues. A 2017 study looked at using online versus face-to-face parent training for ADHD issues. Like face-to-face parent training, the online version was found to increase parent knowledge of ADHD interventions. Parents who used online parent training were also more likely to implement ADHD treatments with fidelity, and their children showed reduced impulsiveness and improved self-control.

Does Online Family Therapy Help Families Cope with ADHD Symptoms?

If your child has ADHD, it is okay to say we need help coping with all of these symptoms together as a family. While the research is limited in regards to using online family therapy or family therapy to specifically treat ADHD, the American Psychological Association found in 2005, after analyzing clinical trial data, that family therapy is helpful in treating mental health disorders in children. The question is whether or not family therapy helps you cope when you do it online.

The honest answer is that the research doesn't present a clear answer. If your only option is pursuing online family therapy, then odds are it will have some positive impact on your family as opposed to doing none at all. Working with the therapist online can help your family work through the challenges and tensions having a child with ADHD in the family can create. It may also lead you to other types of therapy, such as parent training, to help you learn strategies to cope with your child's ADHD symptoms. In fact, if you have a young child between the ages of 4-5 diagnosed with ADHD, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that some version of behavioral therapy be the first course of treatment.

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Whether therapy will be effective in an online format depends on your family situation. It may turn out that your family is not comfortable with therapy sessions via the Internet. After all, not all of us are comfortable video chatting online. On the other hand, using online therapy may give you more frequent access to family therapy and that increased frequency can help your family cope better with the impact of ADHD on your household. There is no guarantee that online therapy will be effective for your family. However, it might be a good place to start.

By Rachel Tustin
December 2017
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