Using Mindfulness Meditation for ADHD

A preliminary study. Read the excellent article on mindfulness and ADHD at Sharp Brains: The Brain Fitness Authority. It’s written by Dr. David Rabiner, clinical child psychologist at Duke University. In contrast to the recent New York Times piece, it’s a more focussed and nuanced look into possible applications of mindfulness meditation, in this case for treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Here are four excerpts:

Although medication treatment is effective for many individuals with ADHD, including adolescents adults, there remains an understandable need to explore and develop interventions that can complement or even substitute for medication. This is true for a variety of reasons including:
1) Not all adults with ADHD benefit from medication.
2) Among those who benefit, many have residual difficulties that need to be addressed via other means.
3) Some adults with ADHD experience adverse effects that prevent them from remaining on medication.

This includes a quoted definition of mindfulness:

“…mindfulness meditation involves experiential learning via silent periods of sitting meditation or slow walking and purposeful attention to daily activities. Relaxation, although often induced during the training, is not the sole goal of the activity; rather, the main activity is a cognitive and intention-based process characterized by self-regulation and attention to the present moment with an open and accepting orientation towards one’s experiences.”

Journal of Attention Disorders [Zylowka, et al. (2008). Mindfulness meditation training in adults and adolescents with ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders, 11, 737-746.]

As well as the operational definition for this particular study:

Mindfulness meditation is described as involving 3 basic steps: 1) bringing attention to an “attentional anchor” such as breathing; 2) noting that distraction occurs and letting go of the distraction; and, 3) refocusing back to the “attentional anchor”.

Some history along with a smattering of technical jargon:

In recent years, mindfulness meditation has a new approach for stress reduction and has been incorporated into the treatment for a variety of psychiatric disorders, including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Of special relevance to the treatment of ADHD are findings that meditation has the potential to regulate brain functioning and attention. For example, research has demonstrated that mindfulness meditation can modify attentional networks, modulate EEG patterns, alter dopamine levels, and change neural activity.

Finally, the author notes the responsible researchers’ caveat:

The authors are appropriately cautious in discussing their findings and suggest that the study supports the “…feasibility and potential utility of mindfulness meditation in at least a subset of adults and adolescents with ADHD.” They are careful to note, however, that this was a pilot study with a small sample, and that the reported pre-post changes in behavioral and neurocognitive measures should be “…considered exploratory given the absence of a control group and reliance on self-report measures of psychiatric symptoms.”

Exciting and promising, if preliminary, research. Again, you can read the entire article at Sharp Brains.


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Clinical Psychologist practicing in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

4 thoughts on “Using Mindfulness Meditation for ADHD”

  1. Absolutely necessary research. I am a school counselor and MFT, and so I regularly witness parents of ADHD diagnosed children and teens grieve over medication being the only alternative available to them for controlling symptoms. The public needs alternative forms of treatment. Often I see untreated cases of ADHD because parents refuse to medicate – but know of no other alternative. In addition, I have seen children/teens on meds who continue to experience symptoms and/or complications of the medication. I also want to acknowledge having seen properly prescribed medication work wonders for kids – this as well happens. But we need MORE modes of treatment, in addition to the meds, for the stated reasons.


  2. I have just completed training in Mindfulness Integrated CBT as a medical practitioner.
    ( see
    I was diagnosed with inattentive ADHD 18 months ago.
    A pleasing side effect has been the reduction of my stimulant dose from dexamphetamine 50mg/d to 10mg most days. ( This reduction occurred in the last 3 weeks of the 8 weeks of training). I expect to be able to wean off medication fully as a consequence of this therapy.
    Stimulants were a great start. I do not , however see ADHD as being a stimulant deficiency syndrome.


    1. Thanks, Andrew. That’s quite funny – Stimulant Deficiency Syndrome, perhaps coming in DSM-V… Good for you on the mindfulness training!


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