ADHD Coaching: Look to the Willow Tree
Partnering with a coach of any kind can lead to rewarding self-discovery. Whether specified as executive, life or career coach, these people are essentially teachers at their core. And as progressive educator/ liberal philosopher John Dewey remarked throughout the context of his life’s work in educational reform, you cannot so much teach individuals, or impart knowledge, as actually only help those who desire to learn.
The best teachers are essentially mentors (and counselors of sorts), drawing out any little glimpse they can sense and intuit that someone near them has even the smallest seed of will or fascination to learn a new fact or method. Such learning may not come easily, though, especially with a learning-disabled student or individual.
There are coaches who specialize in helping those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as well. One such coach in Pittsburgh, Penn., Susan Lieber, is an impassioned counselor for those struggling to make sense of their debilitating neurobiological condition.
Lieber’s focus is to help her clients “develop a language to advocate for themselves.” This is no small task for those whose esteem is shredded by their lessened ability to prepare for important tasks, establish daily routines, see tasks to completion and remember where everyday objects were placed — not to mention having a loss for words other than the pat self-label ADHD to describe their challenges. “I have a hard time with managing unscheduled time” would be one way to define yourself to the outer world, Lieber posits, as opposed to saying “I am ADHD.”
A former occupational therapist versed in cognitive-behavioral strategies, as well as a former pain clinic researcher, Lieber decided to go into coaching for the reason many do — a deep interest in significantly applying her existing skillset and keen ability to effectively work one on one with folks. Many of her clients are high school students diagnosed with ADHD, and others have similar problems. In the case of the former, she tries to help them move toward an adult life on their terms and in a manner that “makes sense to them.”
This involves “developing an awareness” of behaviors and actions. It is apparent from talking with her that Lieber masterfully culls those slight seeds of desire for change and improvement in the lives of these young people who may be frustrated with themselves and their place in the world.
Her work as a coach is behaviorally-based and focused on education, as she has observed that really all ADHD individuals “want change… want better outcomes.” So Lieber figures out “what kinds of support the client needs.” She stresses here that the ADHD experience “is unique to each individual, and for a lot of reasons.” She has an apt term, pivoting — “getting clients back on track to where they need to be”– to describe the goal of her coaching sessions.
Through the coaching process, ADHD individuals can, according to Lieber, “gain a better understanding how their brain works” and learn tactics “to manage day-to-day demands.” Identifying solutions comes about in a mutual manner, with the coach encouraging honesty, humor, and “a steadfast belief” in themselves, which she exemplifies. “Coaching is all about asking questions and really listening,” she says.
Lieber also is a certified organizer coach, providing a more in-depth service to select individuals who are coming to her for ADHD counsel. Here she models and continues to identify effective strategies for the ADHD client, evaluates effectiveness and joins in helping that person develop some “habits for lasting change” in their home environment or elsewhere.
ADHD coaching, as addressed on Lieber’s website, “can help you sort through the physical and mental clutter that is limiting you….” She defines her help as empowering — truly helping people set up a life “which includes supportive persons, routines and spaces that is aligned with the things that matter most.” As Lieber also describes it, “Imagine replacing feelings of frustration with understanding and confidence… and developing a deeper awareness of what’s significant.”
After some coaching sessions, some family members have said things such as “now I understand my loved one doesn’t do this [lose keys or can’t get out the door on time] on purpose.” And the clients themselves? Instead of “feeling like you can do it all but falling short,” they are learning new behavioral approaches that speak to their unique lives, yet fitting those individual lives better into the larger whole of society.
The New York Times recently ran an article about the possible connection between sleep disorders and ADHD, suggesting that ADHD may be really be a sleep disorder in disguise. Nevertheless, the symptomatology is debilitating, and an ADHD coach such as Lieber can effectively address what is disrupting an otherwise fulfilling life.
A beautiful analogy Lieber makes with her coaching clients is about two different trees. The oak is universally admired for its strength, but rather than trying to emulate that, she encourages the ADHD individual to perhaps look toward the powerful image of the willow, for its flow and resiliency.
Susan Lieber can be reached via her website at leaveittolieber.com She offers presentations and talks and will soon be launching an educational series (with ongoing two-hour sessions) that will allow for 10-12 individuals in a group to get accurate information about ADHD, learn time management skills, and more. She has a resource list on her site that includes links to ADDA and the National Resource Center on ADHD, as well as some very choice book titles.
Miles, L. (2018). ADHD Coaching: Look to the Willow Tree. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 10, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/adhd-coaching-look-to-the-willow-tree/