When you have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), making certain changes, following through on projects, managing your time, accomplishing your goals and even getting to work on time can be difficult. Symptoms such as inattention, distractibility and restlessness cause you to get stuck — on a regular basis. But a coach who specializes in ADHD can help.
Sandy Maynard, MS, a veteran ADHD coach who operates Catalytic Coaching, discusses how ADHD coaches can — and can’t — help clients, and how readers can find the right coach for them.
What ADHD Coaches Do
According to Maynard, ADHD coaches “help clients clarify what’s problematic.” They break down problems into definable goals and steps the client can take.
They have a unique understanding of how ADHD affects their clients and the challenges that ADHD creates. That means that they’re able to “adjust strategies to help with ADD challenges [such as] impulsivity, inattention or whatever the aspect of the problem is.” This helps clients learn to better cope with their ADHD.
Coaches also keep clients accountable and provide support. The cheerleading component, Maynard said, is especially valuable because people without ADHD aren’t able to appreciate how difficult it is to do things like make it to work on time. Maynard “helps clients tap themselves on the back for accomplishing something that others without ADD happen to do so easily.”
What Coaches Don’t Do
It’s often hard for people to distinguish the difference between coaches and therapists. Maynard noted that “coaches don’t deal with traumatic, emotional and psychological difficulties and roadblocks.” And of course they can’t diagnose a person with attention deficit disorder or any other disorder. Only a licensed mental health professional is empowered to treat someone with a mental disorder — which is what attention deficit disorder is. Coaches can help with life problems as a result of the disorder, but they can’t treat the disorder itself.
Here’s one way to see the distinction: Maynard’s client was having issues with her family. They expected her to do a lot of work because she didn’t have a job; however, she did have a dissertation that left her little time for anything else. While Maynard didn’t help the client resolve her family issues — this is a therapist’s territory — she did help her set boundaries and find strategies to get her work done.
It’s common for people with ADHD to struggle with other disorders, and these can interfere with coaching. Not surprisingly, a client with untreated depression won’t get as much benefit from coaching, Maynard said. Clients have to be “ready, willing and able to be coached.” In fact, she usually doesn’t work with clients who’ve had substance abuse issues unless they’ve been recovered for a year. It’s vital for clients to participate in psychotherapy and resolve these kinds of issues.
Tips for Finding an ADHD Coach
1. Search on reputable sites.
To start researching ADHD coaches, consider checking out these sites:
Addresources.org lets you search their national directory for providers, including coaches.
CHADD support groups usually have a local list of resources they give out.
The Institute for the Advancement of AD/HD Coaching (IAAC) has a list of accredited coaches in each state.
2. Check out their background.
When selecting a coach, Maynard suggested paying attention to the number of years they’ve been coaching, their educational background and their training.
Having a psychological background, she said, is helpful for picking up red flags when clients aren’t ready for coaching or need help from a therapist. If you’re looking for a coach for your child, a special education degree can go a long way. In other words, you want to match the qualifications of a potential coach to what you’re looking for, Maynard said.
Also, certification is essential. For instance, the IAAC, where Maynard is a founding member, certifies coaches specifically in ADHD.
3. Go beyond testimonials.
Don’t rely on glowing testimonials that a prospective coach directly provides. “A better benchmark,” according to Maynard, is “to get a referral or testimonial from another professional,” such as a psychiatrist or therapist who has referred clients to that coach. You’re more likely to get accurate information this way.
4. Interview the coach.
As part of your research, ask each coach specific questions about their background, such as: “What professional organizations do you belong to? What conferences have you attended?” These questions can help you delve deeper into their experience.
You also want to know if they specialize in what you need. Ask, “What kinds of clients have you worked with?” If you’re an entrepreneur who needs help structuring your schedule and getting organized, ask if the coach has worked with other entrepreneurs. If you’re looking for a coach to help your teen succeed in his last two years of high school and get college applications out on time, make sure that coach specializes in working with adolescents.
It’s also a good idea to ask for a testimonial from a similar client, Maynard said (e.g., if the coach has worked with attorneys, ask to speak to one of her lawyer clients).
5. Understand what you need help with—and how the coach will help.
“Knowing what your needs are before you shop is important,” Maynard said. Before her first appointment with clients, Maynard asks them to answer two questions: 1) “What do I need to know about you to help you? (this gets at what your strengths and weaknesses are) and 2) “What do you hope to accomplish using my services?” (i.e., “what are your long-term and short-term goals?”)
As Maynard said, some clients will be very clear on what they need, such as help with time management and organization. Others will have a general statement, such as “I’m not sure I’m using my full potential at my job.” Maynard helps these clients get more specific to figure out “what’s getting in the way” and how to overcome these obstacles.
Create “a brief description of what…you want out of coaching” and then ask the prospective coach the following: “How do you think you’ll be able to help me? Have you helped someone else with this before?” “This gives a better idea if that coach is best for you.”
6. Don’t feel pressured to make a rushed decision.
After your initial session, “Don’t feel pressured to book the next appointment,” Maynard said. Be honest and let the coach know that you have appointments with other coaches to see who’s the best fit for you.
7. Have reasonable expectations.
Many people have the misconception that a coach’s role is to solve all the client’s problems or give them the secret to swiftly change their life.
One of Maynard’s clients put it perfectly in a magazine article when he said: “I am my own magic bullet.” In other words, remember that an ADHD coach is there to facilitate change, Maynard said. Maynard, a former chemist, chose the word “catalytic” for her coaching practice to capture this very idea. A catalyst initiates a chemical change. But “I can’t make it happen for you.”
A coach will offer their support, but ultimately, the client must do the work. “The answer is within, and I help them find that answer within.” It’s the idea that “I’m what I’ve got to work with,” and so you work from your strengths.
Also, remember that changes take time. Maynard works with new clients for about three months. This is usually when sustainable behavioral changes happen, she said. As time goes on, the length and frequency of sessions typically diminish—which Maynard uses as an indicator that the client is “learning how to self-initiate change and doesn’t need my support and encouragement and help as much as in the beginning.” She also suggested scheduling regular tune-ups (such as after six months or a year) to touch base and discuss progress.
8. Unsolicited advice may be a red flag.
Another misconception is that coaches tell clients what to do. As Maynard said, “I’d be wary of unsolicited advice.” Instead, coaches ask “those questions that need to be asked to help clients find the solution that’s user-friendly for them.”
Take the simple example of finding the best way to get organized. Unsolicited advice is: “What I want you to do is get an iPhone and then I want you to download these four Apps and I want you to start using XYZ for your calendar.” What Maynard and other good coaches do instead is to ask whether a client is comfortable using technology or if they prefer paper and pencil. They discuss the pros and cons of each, along with what’s going to be the most useful strategy for that client.
9. Trust your gut.
“First impressions matter,” Maynard said, so consider “your level of comfort the first time you meet” the coach. Remember that not every coach will be the right fit for you.
In addition to their credentials and experience, there needs to be a good rapport between the two of you. Not only do you need to trust your coach, but it helps to be able to laugh with them and even joke around about what went wrong, she said. So if the coach makes you uncomfortable or you just don’t click, it’s fine to move on to your next prospect.
Tartakovsky, M. (2011). ADHD Coaching + 9 Tips to Find the Right Coach. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 20, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/2011/adhd-coaching-9-tips-to-find-the-right-coach/
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.