Today, more and more children and adolescents are being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), as well as other disorders that make it difficult to maintain their level of attention.

One of the treatments most used in these cases is the Meichenbaum Self-Instruction Training , also known as cognitive training, and which is aimed at improving the capacity for organization, planning and attention.

In this article we will see what this training consists of, what are its phases, objectives and possible applications.

Meichenbaum self-instructional training: features

The Meichenbaum Self-Instruction Training was actually developed by two authors: Donald Meichenbaum himself and Goodman, in 1971. It is a technique that is applied especially in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but also in other disorders or simply in the presence of certain difficulties.

It is usually applied to children and adolescents, although adults may also develop the training. The objective of this training is to modify the person’s internal dialogue to facilitate the confrontation of a certain task , situation or problem.

Attention as a cognitive skill

Attention is an essential cognitive skill for learning, since it is what makes it possible for us to access knowledge, taking into account what is explained to us.

Once attention is paid, it is easier for us to receive and understand the information; then other procedures begin to operate, such as the working memory, which allows us to manipulate the information we receive.

In summary, attention is very important for the development of other skills, especially in the early learning stage (and in schooling). That is why it is essential to promote it, and for that purpose the Meichenbaum Self-Instruction Training can be a tool to help us.


As its name suggests, such training includes a fundamental part or element: self-instruction. But what exactly are they?

Also called self-verbalizations, self-instructions constitute a system that allows us to “talk to ourselves” , and that in turn facilitates a series of guidelines that guide us and help us to solve tasks autonomously.

In other words, this system allows us to interiorize a series of steps of a task or behavior, so that in the end it is no longer necessary to say aloud the instructions of the task to be developed; all this favors the interiorization of the mental processes.

What is this technique for?

Specifically, Meichenbaum Self-Instructional Training is a technique focused on enhancing and improving attention, reducing impulsivity and hyperactivity, controlling anger, and improving organizational skills.

In addition, it also allows for the treatment of interpersonal difficulties in some cases.


The Meichenbaum self-instructional training is divided into 5 stages or phases that are developed progressively, and where the application of the patient (child or adolescent) is increased, while the participation of the therapist or adult is decreased until it disappears:

1. Modeling

In the first stage of the Meichenbaum Self-Instruction Training, the therapist or adult models speaking aloud and performing the behavior being worked on (i.e., performing the task in front of the child while talking to himself or herself).

He says the steps aloud, as well as the possible doubts that may arise, the possibilities and the strategies used. It would be like “thinking out loud”, and it would imply that he is detailing step by step what he is doing to solve the task or the problem.

This behavior or task can be of any kind, and may or may not include a series of steps: for example, preparing the school bag.

2. External guidance out loud

In the second phase, the therapist or adult speaks (giving the self-instructions of the action out loud) while the child acts (i.e. executes the behaviour; following the example, it would be preparing the backpack).

3. Self-instruction out loud

Here the therapist takes a back seat, and already the process falls on the child or adolescent, who speaks out loud (self-instructions) while acting (develops the behaviour). In other words, it is the child who goes on to develop the task.

The phrases that the child will say will be the same as those previously said by the therapist. Generally, in the Meichenbaum Self-Instruction Training, and especially in this phase, it will be necessary to help the child, because it is difficult to remember everything exactly and in order.

4. Self-instructions in a low voice

In the fourth phase, the child or adolescent speaks in whispers while acting.

5. Covert self-instructions

In the last phase of the Meichenbaum Self-Instructional Training, the child or adolescent thinks through the instructions (performs them mentally, internally), while at the same time executing the behavior .

At the end of this phase, the child will be able to generate guiding thoughts.


In the end, the fundamental objectives of Meichenbaum’s self-instructional training include the child or adolescent performing tasks conscientiously, mentally organizing what to do at each moment (or in particular tasks), and internalizing the relevant mental processes, progressively and step by step.

All this will help the child to concentrate, organize and plan and will help to reduce the hyperactivity that is typical of disorders such as ADHD, for example.

Bibliographic references:

  • Horse, V., Simon, B.A. (2002). Manual de Psicología Clínica Infantil y del Adolescente. Specific disorders. Pyramid: Madrid.

  • Government of Aragon. (2018). Training in Self-Instruction. Department of Education, University, Culture and Sports.

  • Pérez, M.; Fernández, J.R.; Fernández, C. and Amigo, I. (2010). Guide to effective psychological treatments II: Health psychology. Madrid: Pirámide.