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.