ADDitude for Professionals

The 7 Most Essential Functions of an ADHD Coach

A good ADHD coach should not administer quick fixes like a professional organizer would. Instead, she should explain what it means to live with ADHD, how to best create a professional team to achieve goals, and why it is normal to stumble. Here, learn the way new coach-patient relationships should begin in order to ensure success.

ADHD coach and client
Doctor consulting male patient, working on diagnostic examination on men's health disease or mental illness, while writing on prescription record information document in clinic or hospital office

Most patients arrive at the door of an ADHD coach plagued by persistent and complex symptoms. Perhaps stimulant medication helps with focus, but not planning. Or behavior therapy helps with motivation and discipline, but not organization. Or diet eases hyperactivity, but does nothing to improve time management. Whatever the challenge, clients are often frustrated and overdue for help with their symptoms of attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD).

Therefore, it makes sense that a coach would launch directly into tactics and techniques to solve day-to-day problems, however this is not the best way to begin a new client relationship. To ensure long-term success, new coach-client relationships should begin with conversations that cover big topics, including:

  1. ADHD is a chronic disease. Many patients – even those who have been told this previously – don’t truly understand what this means. Most people see a doctor for an ailment, receive treatment to resolve it, and then move on with their lives. They are not accustomed to (or comfortable with) tweaking a medication regimen or experimenting with more than one type of therapy.The reality is that most patients will possibility need to cycle through different medications and treatment plans both when they are initially diagnosed and as over time as they age. It is the practitioner’s job to help them understand and accept the mercurial nature of ADHD.
  1. You will always need support. ADHD lasts a lifetime. Patients need to know that they will most likely need professional help – from one or more practitioners – off and on for their entire lives. This is normal and healthy.
  1. The right patient-professional fit is critical. In my first session with patients, I always say, “If at any point this relationship stops working, I will go out of my way to find another coach for you. “It’s part of a practitioner’s responsibility to explain that coaches don’t provide uniform treatment to all patients. They provide individualized treatment to help each client make progress toward his or her specific goals. Patients may see a number of coaches before they feel a strong and productive connection.

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  1. Your practitioners are all members of the same team. It sounds cliché, but holistic – and successful – treatment happens only when all members of a patient’s treatment team work together and communicate. Patients don’t benefit as much from just one professional’s point of view. They may need a combination of the following professionals’ input and guidance to achieve effective symptom control:
  • Psychiatrist
  • Psychologist
  • Speech therapist
  • Occupational therapist
  • Tutor
  • Coach
  • School personnel

The members of a patient’s team may change over time. She may share things with her coach that she does not feel comfortable saying to her doctor, for example. Similarly, a coach will rarely witness behaviors that teachers see daily. Sharing information enables all professionals to work together to provide better treatment to patients, and helps clients achieve their goals.

  1. Communication is critical. Coaches can’t remind patients of this enough. Clients need to continually describe how they are feeling and what they are feeling, for example:

[Expert Overview: Choosing the Right Professional to Treat ADHD]

  • What is changing?
  • What’s uncomfortable?
  • What’s weird?
  • How is today the same/better/worse than yesterday/last week/month/year? The only way a coach can help a client change an uncontrollable feeling of say, rage every day at 5:30pm when his meds wear off, is if the client shares it, and is then willing to examine it openly. Some patients need coaches to help them understand the true sources of their struggles.
  1. You are normal. “I see this all the time. This is something that happens with ADHD.” Coaches should normalize behaviors and symptoms, name them, bring them out into the open. Remember, a professional may be a client’s only point of reference for understanding ADHD. Though a professional may see a specific symptom in thousands of patients, the patient has never experienced it before and does not know that it is not a personal defect.Often the shame patients feel is deep and powerful. Letting them know they are not alone or odd can make a substantive difference. It can free the patient to move on, and find the skills and resources to work on their struggles.
  1. Make a plan. During professionals’ limited time with their patients, the most important advice to impart is this: Make a plan. It doesn’t have to be complex or complicated. For example, the plan may narrowly focus on pausing for a few moments before bed or before leaving the house. A routine such as this helps build basic awareness and executive function skills. Just one moment, your patients will find, can help to center and organize their whole days.

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  1. I want to strongly object to the author’s referring to the people that a coach works with as “patients”. As an ADHD coach, I have clients, not patients. “Patient” is a medical term, and a coach-client relationship is not medical. At some points, the author refers to “clients” but more often she talks about “patients”. Let’s be consistent and only talk about our clients.

    1. True, particularly since, as coaches, we’re reminded that we are not medical professionals; if we act as if, we’re in violation of ICF guidelines. (btw, I am a coach, however, most definitely not an ADHD coach) BUT, if we’re going to be in communication with other members of our client’s professional team, then keep in mind that our “client” is his/her “patient”, hence the confusion.

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