Treatments for ADHD have typically been medication and or therapy (CBT, behavioral, psychotherapy, parent training). Coaching is emerging as an additional form of help that can benefit people with ADHD, on its own or in addition to medication/therapy. In this article, the term ADHD refers to all manifestations of attention deficit- hyperactivity, impulsivity and hypo-activity, inattention.
What is Coaching?
Life coaching originated from the sporting world. Coaches are hired to improve sporting ability by planning a training program, accompanying the sportsperson, and giving feedback and encouragement. Similarly, life coaching is a collaborative process, with the aim of bridging the gap between where the client presently is, and where they want to be. Goals are identified, an individualized plan of action is formulated and the client is guided through the journey to goal attainment.
What is ADHD Coaching?
This is a specialized type of coaching, suited to the unique needs of a person with ADHD. An ADHD coach has extensive knowledge and insight of the specific challenges related to ADHD. Since parts of the coaching process can be especially challenging for a person with ADHD (e.g. future-minded thinking, prioritizing, sustaining effort); an ADHD coach offers extra support and structure. Support in the form of offering a non-judgmental space for the client to pursue a goal – try, stumble, get up again, evaluate, problem solve and refine. Structures are tools and techniques that are specifically helpful to a client with ADHD, such as strategies for prioritizing, reducing distraction and avoiding procrastination.
The ADHD Coaching Process
Step 1 is self-awareness. Understand the general symptoms of ADHD and how these play out in different stages of life; grasp specific personal ADHD symptoms and see how they influence daily functioning. Self- awareness also includes discovering personal strengths, communication and learning style, values and habits.
Step 2 is goal identification. People with ADHD are highly creative, with many truly wonderful aspirations. The trick is knowing what ideas to focus on first or at all. Having an awareness of what the client holds as important in life, helps them pinpoint the right goals, and ensures that the chosen goals are authentic and in accordance with their values.
Step 3 is a plan of action. The coach will help the client formulate a game plan. Together the two will look at how the client’s personal strengths can be a resource in pursuing the goal. The ADHD brain can be one of big picture thinking, and the coach helps the client to break the whole down into a series of organized action steps. One technique to formulate the plan is to start at the end, the optimal future, and work backward. The coach asks the client to imagine him/herself exactly where he wants to be. The next question is: “What are you doing just before you get there?” “And what are you doing just before that?” And so on, until they have a series of consecutive action steps to follow.
Step 4 is support through the journey – which is often one of trial and error. The coach evaluates with the client and they work on problem solving: 1) What is the problem? 2) What are my options? 3) What’s good and bad about each option? 4) Pick another option. Coping strategies are explored. Perseverance is encouraged with positive thinking methods. Commitment is assessed and alternative ways to reach goals can be considered, or unreasonable goals can be relinquished. The coach also encourages the client to identify and utilize support systems, and to seek this support from a position of self-confidence and self-advocacy.
How Does Coaching Differ from Therapy?
As coaching is finding its place in the world, there have been many articles written comparing and contrasting it to therapy. First and foremost, coaches are not trained for and do not get involved in problems of a clinical intensity. Coaching starts with the premise that the client is essentially whole and naturally creative, so s/he has the power within him/herself to bring about change and or reach his/her goals. Therapy is healing oriented and raises questions such as “why?” and “from where?” Coaching is solution oriented and raises questions such as “what now?” and “where to?” The above points just scratch the surface of the comparisons. There are also instances where a therapist and coach complement each other, where the therapist treats significant emotional upsets and the coach moves the client forward.
Coaching ADHD Adults
Coaching typically involves meeting once a week, for a series of 10-15 sessions of around 60 minutes each. Goals are formed to reduce ADHD symptoms that can negatively impact any aspect of life – personal, health, family, social, recreational or professional. This is mostly via conversation, with the coach acting as sounding board and allowing the client to ventilate what is going on in his head. Accountability is a big aspect here too. It’s not only knowing what to do, it’s also DOING what you KNOW! The short duration between meetings promotes feelings of progress and impetus.
Coaching ADHD Adolescents
Along with the general challenges of this stage of life, the organizational and self-management skills demanded of middle and high school students can leave ADHD adolescents feeling helpless, frustrated and out of control. The adolescent coaching process begins with empowerment and building self-esteem. After this, the client is more open to learning adaptive strategies for improving time management, prioritization, self-advocacy and social skills; and tips for reducing distraction and procrastination. Concrete tools (card games, video clips, hands-on experiences) are often employed in order for the adolescent to really internalize. Sessions are also held weekly for 45-55 minutes.
Coaching ADHD Children
Coaching for children is also an interactive and hands-on experience, suited for the ADHD child. Children as young as eight years old can learn how to choose and pursue a goal. They can be helped to identify their strengths and taught how to access them when "ein li koach" fills their heads. They can be educated to view ADHD as a different kind of brain make-up with its own positive attributes to be utilized. This can be understood using the powerful image created by Dr. Edward Hallowell – the childhood ADHD brain is like a Ferrari (state-of-the-art, innovative, advanced) but with bicycle brakes! A coach can help the child to work on these brakes so that they can become a real winner in the game of life.
All in all, coaching is a concrete, practical, active and creative approach to upgrading your life, and it is these specific aspects that can be very appealing to people with ADHD.
Alana Stern is a life, parenting and ADHD coach, specializing in helping women and mothers navigate their challenges as a person, partner, parent and professional – whether it is parenting ADHD children, handling a recent adult diagnosis, or undiagnosed women who suspect their difficulties may be ADHD related. She is also a remedial English reading teacher with over 20 years’ experience in education, and combines coaching and tutoring for teens and children with ADHD and other learning difficulties. She can be reached at 054-7550747 or firstname.lastname@example.org.