Types of Medical Specialists Who Treat Adult ADHD

Many people don't know where to begin when they suspect they may have adult ADHD. Unlike diseases and conditions that can be easily diagnosed with a blood test or an X-ray, there is no one simple test that confirms ADHD. For most adults, getting the right diagnosis usually entails a series of assessments from one or more medical professionals. In fact, many experts believe the best diagnostic and treatment plan is a multidisciplinary approach that involves a team of various medical and adult ADHD experts. Before beginning your search for a medical professional who can diagnose and treat you, it helps to understand the different strengths and limitations of the various types of medical care.

Your Family Doctor

Many adults with ADHD feel most comfortable beginning with their family physician, if only because she may be more familiar with them from a personal and medical perspective than anyone else. But as with any medical specialist, there are several pros and cons to weigh.

Since you can't be diagnosed with adult ADHD until it's already been established that you had it as a child, it may be easier for your family physician, if she has known you since you were a child, to arrive at a diagnosis than a physician who has never met you before.

Your family physician can also order the necessary medical tests and procedures you may require, and she can also prescribe prescription drugs. It may also be easier to see your family physician than it would be to see a specialist who doesn't know you, and she is likely to charge less than some specialists.

On the other hand, your family physician may not have the expertise or experience in diagnosing and treating adult ADHD as a specialist would, although family physicians are becoming increasingly aware of the condition. In addition, she may not be comfortable diagnosing a condition in which a common treatment is the long-term use of stimulant drugs. Also, she may not be able to adequately address a complicated disorder like adult ADHD in the time span of a normal office visit.

Psychiatrists or Psychologists?

While both psychiatrists and psychologists deal with mental and emotional disorders, they are likely to approach diagnosis and treatment in different ways. As medical doctors, psychiatrists can prescribe medical tests and medications. But they may or may not be trained or interested in counseling or be able to assist you in dealing with practical, everyday problems associated with adult ADHD. Psychiatrists tend to be more expensive than psychologists, charging $200 and up for a 45-minute to hour-long session. Depending on their discipline, some psychiatrists, such as psychoanalysts, often require that patients make a long-term commitment to therapy.

Psychologists are not medical doctors, but they are highly trained in the workings of the mind, as well as in the areas of counseling and diagnosis.

Many adults with ADHD find psychologists invaluable in helping them find new and better ways to cope with everyday issues and problems related to the disorder. They may also view their psychologist as a confidant with whom they can safely discuss personal or professional issues. A psychologist must refer patients to medical doctors for prescriptions and some medical tests. Most psychologists charge less than psychiatrists.


Your psychologist may use a variety of nonmedical tests to arrive at a diagnosis. These may include tests for learning disabilities and adult intelligence, tests for educational achievement, IQ tests, and tests for memory, information processing, and auditory discrimination. Many psychologists also use computerized tests like IVA-Plus to measure a multitude of auditory and visual performance skills.

Neuropsychologists are trained in the biological and neurological basis of thought and learning. They may use a battery of tests to measure cognitive and behavioral functioning.

A neuropsychologist can use these tests as the basis for making recommendations about your overall treatment, and diagnosing learning abilities that may be hindering your performance at work or school. Tests may also be administered to establish a legal basis for disability services, or to protect your rights at work or in college. Neuropsychologists are usually less expensive than psychiatrists, but more expensive than psychologists.


Neurologists are medical doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating diseases and disorders of the brain and nervous system. Neurologists may be able to differentiate between symptoms of adult ADHD and overlapping conditions like seizure disorder or brain injury. They can also prescribe medications and medical tests. Unfortunately, they tend to be very expensive.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners and Nurse Practitioners

Psychiatric nurse practitioners are generally well trained and knowledgeable about the diagnosis and treatment of adult ADHD.

Registered nurses, or RNs, may also be able to make an initial diagnosis and offer assistance with life skills. As with psychiatric nurses, they can't prescribe medical tests or medications and must refer patients to medical professionals. They are, however, usually less expensive and easier to schedule than psychologists or psychiatrists.

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