Help for attention-deficit adults looking to find, hire, and work with an ADHD coach—and what you should expect when you do.
by Laura Flynn McCarthy
You’re an adult with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) and you need to make a change.
You want to switch jobs or stop chronic disorganization and lateness, which have been hurting your marriage. Or perhaps your child needs help with completing the piles of homework he gets, now that he’s in middle school. The solution, in each case, may be to team up with an ADHD coach.
The key, of course, is finding the right one. “You need to be an educated consumer,” says Harold Meyer, co-founder of Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), of New York City, and The A.D.D. Resource Center.
“You should know what you want to change in your life and whether a particular coach can help you make the change.” While a prospective ADD coach should have experience working with clients and knowledge of the condition, the chemistry between the two of you determines success.
“One coach might have the ability to motivate you, while another will leave you frustrated,” says Meyer.
“Many clients walk into a coach’s office expecting one thing and getting another,” says Dee Crane, S.C.A.C., A.C.C., president of the Institute for the Advancement of AD/HD Coaching (IAAC).
“Remember that ADHD coaches aren’t therapists, medical experts, or mentors. They help you achieve specific goals. If you only want to talk about how your parents didn’t understand you, a psychiatrist is a better bet.”
A big mistake clients sometimes make is hiring a coach who doesn’t specialize in ADHD. “They don’t realize that strategies that work for clients without ADD often don’t work for people with ADHD, whose brains are wired differently,” says ADHD coach Michele Novotni, Ph.D., S.C.A.C., coauthor of Adult AD/HD (Pinon Press).
It is easy to check a coach’s credentials. A new certification program for ADHD coaches screens professionals for training and experience. Several organizations that certify life coaches have many members who specialize in working with ADD (see sidebar).
One caveat before you start the search: “Just because a coach is a graduate of a top program—or has multiple certifications—doesn’t guarantee that he can help you,” says Meyer. “Experience and innate ability are more important than formal training and diplomas.”
Go to the Sources
A good starting point for finding a coach is your local chapter of CHADD, your doctor, or your psychologist. They can identify candidates in your area or long-distance coaches, whom you can work with on the phone. Another option is to log onto the websites of organizations that certify or list coaches.
The IAAC (adhdcoachinstitute.org) is the only group that certifies coaches specifically in ADHD. Their members have spent a minimum of two years and at least 500 hours working with clients with ADHD. The certification process is new, and there are roughly 75 coaches who are IAAC-certified.
The International Coach Federation (ICF; coachfederation.org) certifies life coaches, but not specifically those trained in ADHD. You can search its site to find professionals in your area who have experience and training working with ADDers. The ADHD Coaches Organization (ACO; adhdcoaches.org) has a coach referral service. It lists 150 life coaches who have additional training in ADHD.
Narrow Your Options
After you have made a short list of potential coaches — three is a good start — figure out which one is the best fit for you. Look for a coach who is qualified and has worked extensively on the problems you want to address, and whose schedule works with yours. Most important, find someone with whom you click.
You can interview candidates on the phone or in person. In most cases, the initial interview is free. “Coaches are willing to give 15 or 30 minutes of their time for you to ask questions, and see if the fit is right,” says Sarah D. Wright, president of the ACO. If a coach is unwilling to make interview time, cross him off your list.
Questions to Ask During the Interview:
1. Do you work with clients who have problems like mine?
Before you call or visit with a coach, write down what you want to tackle, suggests Nancy Ratey, Ed.M., M.C.C., S.C.A.C., strategic life coach specializing in ADHD. “If you cram to make deadlines, think of the first time that happened, and describe it to the coach.” You may choose to work with a coach on a short-term, goal-oriented basis (completing a stalled project or switching jobs), to help you achieve long-term goals (improving finances or a relationship), or to address pervasive issues (chronic disorganization).
2. Do you specialize in working with a parent, child, single adult, or business executive?
Be specific about what you’re looking for. If you need a coach for your child, ask about relevant experience. If you’re a budding entrepreneur who wants to launch a business, look for a coach who has worked with clients who have started their own businesses. One of Wright’s specialties, for instance, is working with college sophomores who struggled through their freshman year.
3. Can you refer me to another coach?
If a coach doesn’t specialize in what you want to address, ask if she can refer you to one who does. “ADHD coaches are a small community, and most of them know the specialties of fellow practitioners,” says Novotni.
After meeting with you, a prospective coach may suggest that you work with a therapist or psychologist, instead. Some clients have medical or psychological problems, such as major depression, anxiety disorders, or a deep-rooted fear of success, that should be managed by a mental-health professional before getting involved in coaching. Offering medical or pharmacological advice to clients is against the code of ethics for coaching.
4. Do you coach in person or over the telephone?
Coaching by phone can be done anywhere and at almost any time. “If there isn’t a coach in your hometown, you can find a capable coach hundreds of miles away,” says Wright.
“Telephone coaching is time-effective — you don’t have to drive to an office and wait — and it’s discreet. If you don’t want your colleagues to know about your ADD, you can talk with a coach on your cell phone in your car during lunch, and go back to your office when the session is over.”
If you like the dynamic of being in a group, some coaches work with several clients on the phone at once. Telephone coaching isn’t for everyone. Some ADDers are visual processors, who require face-to-face contact with their coach to focus on practical strategies. For them, in-person coaching, or “meeting” with a professional via a webcam or videophone, may be best.
5. How long are the sessions?
Some coaches meet or talk on the phone with a client for an hour once a week. This may be too long for those children and adults who can’t focus for an extended period. Many coaches and clients find that half-hour sessions, followed by one or two quick “check-in” phone calls, are ideal.
If you need daily reinforcement, some coaches will work with you via e-mail, in addition to seeing you once a week. “I have clients who e-mail me their to-do lists or who tell me that they’re going to exercise,” says Ratey. “If exercise is their goal, they want to be accountable to me and follow through, instead of getting sidetracked by re-grouting the shower or brushing the dog’s teeth. I will often answer, ‘Great! E-mail me when you get back, and let me know that you’ve finished your exercise session.’”
6. Do you have personal experience with ADD?
“Many ADD coaches have ADD themselves or have a close family member who has it,” says Wright. “This may give them a deeper understanding of the issues.” An ADD coach’s main responsibility is to help clients better understand the effects of ADD.
ADDers tend to focus on the negative — “Oh, I screwed up again” or “Somebody is mad at me.” “It’s similar to having a broken arm and feeling like you’re just your broken arm,” explains Wright.
“You’ve got two good legs, another good arm—there’s much more to you than that broken arm. An ADD coach should help you focus on your successes while you learn from your mistakes.” A coach should never judge or condemn you for making mistakes. If he does, find another.
“There are some bad coaches who have been doing it for a long time, and there are some good coaches who have been doing it for a short time,” says Ratey. “Before I coach anyone, I spend a full hour with them, on the phone, to make sure that it’s a good match. I want to be sure that I can help the person on the other end of the line.” If you aren’t sure about a coach after your interview, you may want to pay for a trial coaching session before making a longer commitment.
Sign on the Dotted Line
Once you’ve chosen a coach, you usually have to sign an agreement or contract. “Many coaches use three-month agreements, and some ask for full payment up front,” says Novotni. “There is good reason for this. Around the fourth or fifth week, most clients lose interest in the process.
If they commit to three months, they tend to stick with it, and they usually make progress during that time.” After three months, most coaches require month-long agreements. As with other professional services, missed sessions or cancellations, without 24-hour notice, will incur a standard session charge.
Because life coaching—especially ADHD life coaching—is a relatively new field, there aren’t statistics on the average cost for a session. Costs are comparable to therapy, say some experts, and can range from pro bono sessions up to $1,500 a month, with the average falling between $300 and $600 a month.
Most coaches take credit cards, but rarely use a sliding scale for fees. Insurance plans don’t typically cover coaching, but there may be other ways to defray the expense.
Says Novotni: “Ask your human resources department about possibly picking up the cost. I’ve been hired by employers to coach employees who are having trouble in the workplace.” Dee Crane has worked with clients who pay through their flexible spending accounts offered by their employers.
Another option is to ask your physician to write a prescription for coaching, the cost of which may be written off on your taxes.
After you’ve signed and returned the agreement, you and the coach will schedule your first session—on the telephone, by webcam, or in person. Expect the first meeting—called an “intake” or “foundation” session—to take longer (between one and two hours) than the ones that will follow because the coach will want to get to know you.
She will ask, What strategies are working for you? What do you think are your biggest problems? What would you like to accomplish? Why do you think you need a coach?
During the first session, tell her specifically what issue you want to address, and, along with the coach, plot the steps to achieve this. The coach will assign you homework, and subsequent sessions will often begin with a review of the assignment.
Says Wright: “Coaches may ask, ‘What did you get done that you planned to get done? What didn’t you get done? Did anything come up that derailed you, or presented a major problem? What strategies might we try to sidestep the problem? Is there anything in particular you’d like to work on today?’”
Doing homework is critical to making progress. “Coaching is a partnership, but the client is in charge,” says Novotni. “Coaches are not there to nag. We’re there for support, to ask questions that get people thinking about whether certain strategies work.” If they don’t work, it’s the coach’s job to suggest others.
Clients should be clear about the kind of support they want—having the coach call or e-mail them between sessions to troubleshoot, or to reserve discussion of problems for the next session.
A coach should cheer your successes and tweak those strategies that didn’t work. “Sometimes the same goals will remain on the to-do list for weeks,” says Wright. “In such cases, the coach might say, ‘Why isn’t this one moving? Is it not that important to you? What’s getting in the way?’ The coach monitors your progress and fine-tunes strategies until you get results.” If you feel that the strategies she’s suggesting aren’t working, ask her to come up with new ones.
Making Progress—Or Not
You should see small improvements—whether in controlling clutter on your desk or your child’s finishing his homework in a tough subject a little quicker—after the first session.
Improvement should continue during the first month, but clients’ interest and resolve often lag around the fifth week. “This is a pattern that many clients experience,” says Wright. “Change doesn’t seem as exciting after the first month. I warn my clients that this will happen, and that this doesn’t mean they’re not succeeding.”
But what if you don’t make progress—or you stop clicking with the coach? A good coach, say experts, will probably notice the problem before you do, and will gladly discuss how to proceed. The coaching relationship is most effective when you honestly feel that a coach has your best interest at heart and sees you as more than a paycheck. If, however, your coach has exhausted her strategies and you are no closer to achieving your goal, find another professional.
“I worked with a woman for three months on her goal of succeeding in her job,” says Novotni. “After trying several strategies, it felt as if we were putting a square peg into a round hole. So she changed goals—she wanted a new job that suited her strengths—and now she’s elated.”
The coach should give you a plan at each session, and provide perspective on mistakes you may have made. “Sometimes clients come in feeling demoralized, and they say, ‘I had a bad week. It didn’t work. I said something stupid,’” says Wright.
“A good coach should put those feelings in perspective—called ‘normalizing’ and ‘endorsing’—by focusing on what you did accomplish.” It’s important to remember that if a coach bad-mouths you at any point, you need to call him on it or find a new coach.
Crane and other coaching experts say that a good gauge of progress is when you start solving problems that used to overwhelm you. “The coach isn’t there to fix you, because you’re not broken. She’s there to empower you to achieve your goals,” says Crane.
Sessions are usually weekly for the first three to six months. When you and the coach finally identify the strategies for achieving your goals, sessions are often cut back to bi-weekly or even monthly.
In most cases, coaching isn’t a long-term commitment. Once you’ve internalized the strategies, regular sessions become unnecessary, although most coaches are willing to be called for “tune-ups.” As new life stages or new challenges crop up, a client might come back and say, “Hey, my first child is getting married. I’m not sure how to meet the challenges.” Says Crane, “I’ve coached some clients for six or seven years, seeing them every six months.
Coaching becomes a tool, a resource. The real goal of coaching is to change how you perceive yourself and, ultimately, teach you how to coach yourself. As a client, you should expect nothing less.”
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