Believe it or not, I was recently diagnosed with ADD. The reasons I was never diagnosed before now are clear. I've always received very good grades, was a genuinely good kid who never caused any trouble, am generally a responsible adult and... I've always been great with paperwork at any job I held.
While receiving the diagnosis was a huge relief for me to explain reasons I've had difficulty with many other areas of life, I began to question how I've been so successful with documentation. Yes, ADD looks very different in each person, but paperwork is supposed to be an almost universal problem for people with this diagnosis! How come it was never a problem for me?
After reflecting on this for quite some time I realized that many aspects of my ADD actually worked to my benefit in completing therapy notes. For real. Let me explain.
Below are some common problems associated with ADD/ADHD that I found I have been using to my benefit this whole time:
Now, this may seem really counterintuitive, but the fact that I regularly (meaning, ALWAYS) procrastinate pushed me to create very firm deadlines for myself when completing paperwork. I know that I can put something off for a really long time. And in my early years as a therapist, I actually had very little supervision regarding documentation, so it was up to me to create deadlines or become extremely backed up.
While it wasn't easy, I focused on discipline and made sure that I scheduled in time for writing notes and completing assessments. I knew if I didn't schedule it, something else would inevitably take up that time and then, as described in the next reason, I would not be able to produce a quality note.
To put it bluntly, I have a horrible memory. So poor, in fact, that if I didn't write my notes within 24-48 hours, I would never be able to write them at all. The sooner, the better for me... and everyone else!
However, I do NOT write notes in between sessions. That just never worked for me. I need the break in between because I've just spent a good amount of energy keeping focus on my client and I need to recharge before the next one.
I either write notes in the session or the following morning, before starting the rest of my clinical day. That way I am able to feel ready for the day ahead and close out what was pending from before... and know it's accurate.
Here's where I truly used some ADD traits to my advantage. As many others with ADD/ADHD, I am able to hyperfocus for very long periods of time on things that are of interest to me. So, if I don't write notes in session, I write them in large chunks. That means I rarely sit down to write notes for 10-15 minutes. It's usually more like 45-60 minutes of getting everything done at once.
This means I don't have to pull attention away and I can get in the zone for writing. And because I know that distraction is around every corner, I'll often close my door and shut off things like email during these times.
I create an environment that encourages me to hyperfocus on the task and get it done.
Some of you may be thinking, sure you can hyperfocus if you like something, but what if you don't like a task... like writing notes?! Well, the key is to find something about it you do like. If you've taken my free Crash Course, you know I talk about creating meaning in your notes and preparing yourself for writing notes.
I literally choose to enjoy the task. First, I know it's a really important thing to do and that helps to motivate me in the beginning. Secondly, I look at writing notes as an opportunity for me to reflect on the clinical work. I view it as a time for me to sit back and see things from my client's point of view or to make sure I'm staying on track with our overall goals.
It's never a time to just sit down and write notes that mean nothing. This is the time for me focus on my client's session one last time and make sure I've closed any open doors.
Tips for Dealing with Paperwork for Counselors with ADD/ADHD
Maybe some of the things I've described above help you to see things a little differently or give you some helpful tips to try. But there are plenty more ways to deal with paperwork if you're a therapist with ADD/ADHD. You can also try some of these strategies below:
- Choose a time that works for you. Make sure the time you're writing notes works to your strengths. For example, I focus better in the morning so that's when I'll write notes... or blog posts ;)
- Get accountability. It's scary to admit to another professional that you've gotten behind in paperwork. However, all of us therapists know that talking about something when we feel fear and shame is the best way to overcome those feelings. Even if it's simply shooting me an email, tell someone about the help you need.
- Incorporate exercise or movement. If you tend to have difficulty sitting still for long periods of time, don't! Write a note, then do 10 push ups or squats. Write another, repeat. I've done this when reviewing paperwork for other people because it keeps me engaged and helps me focus.
- Try collaborative documentation. If writing notes is a significant point of stress for you, write as much as possible in session with clients. This accomplishes a few things... it will actually help you to be more engaged in the process because your client is there and you're doing what you love- interacting with clients. It will also ensure that your notes are actually done before your client even leaves. No more worrying about procrastination!
While I want this post to provide you with some very practical tips you can implement immediately, I also want it to provide you with hope.
I have been surprised by the number of therapists who tell me they have ADD/ADHD. Now, this could be due to the fact that I specialize in an area likely to cause trouble for counselors with ADD/ADHD but it has shown me there are many of us experiencing the same struggles.
You are not alone. And there are plenty of resources out there to help you.
Consider doing things like bookmarking my Resources page so you have an easy place to reference helpful thing you may need later on but know you won't be able to keep track of today. Or check out my ebook Workflow Therapy, which compiles all of my time management and systems blogs into one place so you can have an easy resource for organization.
If you're a licensed counselor or therapist, you may also want to consider signing up for my Webinar CE Club*, which provides you a guaranteed CE credit each month simply for watching my webinars and completing a quiz. No more worrying about searching for continuing education classes at the last minute! Set yourself up and be prepared.
*The Webinar CE Club no longer exists, but you can still access all my tips, trainings, and even more in my Meaningful Documentation Academy.
There are many other tips and resources I could list here! But I'd love to hear what other things you've found helpful for dealing with ADD/ADHD as a therapist or counselor. Share in the comments below and let's show our support for one another.