This past November, I had the opportunity to attend the 2017 Annual International Conference on ADHD, otherwise known as the CHADD Conference. A colleague and I headed down to Atlanta, GA, to attend sessions and talk about workplace accommodations for employees with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). We learned a lot while attending the Conference and one of the sessions that stuck out to me was led by Sandy Maynard on the topic of impulsivity.
Recently, I had the honor of reaching out to Sandy to seek further information about what she does as an ADD/ADHD coach. Below are some questions and highlights from our conversation.
1. Do you mind telling us a little bit about yourself, your background, and how you got started as an ADD/ADHD coach?
Becoming a life coach was actually my second career. During my first career I was a chemist and worked in a lab at a hospital. I started doing life coaching and there happened to be another life coach who was also located in Massachusetts who would occasionally refer clients to me. It turned out that the first client that she sent to me was someone with ADHD. At that point, I knew very little about ADD/ADHD and asked the client what I might read to try and best help her. She referred me to the book Driven to Distraction by Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey, so I read it. I realized from reading that book that I was able to help her and work well with her because I had ADD myself. It turned out that I already had some good coping skills in place. That’s when I began to expand my knowledge base and learn as much about ADD as I could to really specialize in coaching individuals with ADD/ADHD. I became one of the pioneers in the field. There were about six of us at the time who knew that when working with individuals with ADD/ADHD we needed to use our coaching skills differently. We ended up developing the ADHD coaching specialty. I started out with a coaching program to help train other coaches as a way to help expand the specialty area. With so few of us in the beginning, there was a time when I would have clients from all over the world. As long as they could speak English, I had the ability to Skype with them and provide coaching services that way. Some of the work was even before Skype. We would use an Outlook based program with a camera or even just talk over the phone. When you look now there are thousands or at least hundreds of ADHD coaches around the world.
2. I saw that you operate Catalytic Coaching. Can you tell us a little about that? What goes into the process of helping other ADHD coaches establish their own business?
Sure, I chose Catalytic Coaching as the name because of the word catalyst and my experience as a chemist. A catalyst is a substance that helps change other substances or molecules. The catalyst doesn’t change itself, it just promotes change in other organic or inorganic substances. I feel like I am the facilitator of other people’s behavioral change. I’m not the one who changes, I’m the one who helps the person change. I have helped other people start their businesses only because I knew this was something that I wanted to do. I’m not a business woman; I knew what I wanted to do and that was helping other people with ADHD and the coaching process. I’ve learned by trial and error and I can definitely tell you what will or will not help your practice simply because I have made those errors or had those successes along the way. When I started out it was a lot of snail mail. There are plenty of coaches out there who are business people and when I first started there wasn’t the ability to build or promote your business online with blogs, Twitter, etc., so I can’t help much with that. But I can help them with knowledge of how to work with a client in a way that is going to help produce positive results.
3. Do you currently continue to take on clients yourself or primarily work to help other coaches at this point?
I primarily work with clients. I do very little training — most of the techniques and procedures for the coaching process have remained the same over the years. There are a few new aspects and one of the most powerful suggestions that has come down the road since I started training other coaches has been Kathleen Nadeau’s suggestion that everyone with ADHD should have a personal policy for the use of technology. Kathleen and Judith Kolberg are the authors of ADD- Friendly Ways To Organize Your Life and the second addition contains a section about using technology. This is something that wasn’t as much of an issue before. Now it is something that I use with my clients all the time. We work to make sure they have a personal policy for technology. That might mean only checking their email three times a day or turning off their phone while at the dinner table. It varies among clients, but it is about setting limits and finding balance with the use of technology. For myself, when searching online for flight information I give myself no longer than an hour to search for the times and dates that I want. I no longer allow myself to spend days doing that. Sometimes it can be useful to find certain tools to help, for example, I use Orbitz when searching. The search engine may be different for others, but I have found that Orbitz works for me. Before that it would take me hours. It’s about finding what works best for you.
4. Tell us a little about the process of being connected with an ADHD coach. In your experience does it seem to be that individuals reach out on their own or more so that they get referred to a coaching service?
It’s both. I prefer to get my clients through referrals from therapists. If a therapist knows about coaching they can make the determination as to if the person is ready for coaching. Nancy Ratey, who I like to think of as the mother of ADHD coaching, talks about the idea of being ready, willing, and able to be successful with coaching. Sometimes there may be things that individuals need to work out emotionally or receive treatment for before they are ready for coaching. You want the person to be ready, willing, and able to really benefit from it. Most therapists are glad to find me because taking the time to sit down and look at an app or go through organization strategies isn’t typically a part of what they do. I am very wary and feel that all coaches should be wary when someone finds you on the internet. Sometimes clients are not ready, willing, and able to be coached. They think it is what they need, but they may need something else first. I do sometimes have people reach out to me because they have seen a writing piece that I have written for ADDitude Magazine. They are just looking for a few tips and we may talk a couple times, but generally, I like to receive clients from local resources.
5. When an ADHD coach works with a client is there typically a main focus such as school, work, etc. or is it more of a holistic approach looking at all aspects of life? Does the client seem to come in with certain things they hope to work on?
It varies by the client. Sometimes I have a client that comes in and says “Sandy, if I don’t start getting to work on time I’m going to lose my job” and so we know where to start. Other times individuals may be dissatisfied with performance on the job, but they are pretty good about home and social life so we would focus more on work than around the house. I usually get a mixture of both. A client may have personal and professional goals. Often times whatever they are working on affects both. Whether it is organization, concentration, or time management it can affect both their home and work lives. Occasionally I will have a client where we really focus on work, home, or school. They may have something specific, but more often it is a mixture of things.
6. Is there a typical length of time that a coach works with a client? A certain amount of sessions or anything like that?
I suggest that clients commit to at least 3 months. There is a lot of research on behavioral change and it shows that it takes 3 months of concerted effort to make a behavioral change that doesn’t recidivate. Now, that is with the general population. I think that with individuals with ADD/ADHD it takes a little more than 3 months. I feel that my clients who have been the most successful have worked with me over the course of a year. That doesn’t always mean that we have a weekly appointment for the whole year. Towards the end we may have a 15 minute check in here and there to make sure they are staying on track with the behaviors they have changed or are doing differently. There is talk out there about doing something for 21 days consistently to make it habitual, but the real research that I have found seems to come from a university in England. They say to create a new habit that doesn’t recidivate it can take 6-8 months. This is because you may slide back and then start again and so on. Consistency is something that can be so challenging for those with ADD/ADHD so I would say 8-12 months for them. It may not be as intense after the first 3-6 months, but I would always ask that a client commit to at a minimum 3 months of coaching. Typically, we will meet weekly, commit to goals, review goals, assess what is working and what is not, make changes and then meet again the next week. I try to be very flexible with my clients. Sometimes it is a weekly meeting. Other times it may be a 15-minute daily call. The frequency and length that we meet decreases as time goes on.
7. This past November I had the opportunity to sit in on your session Impulsivity: Understanding the Causes & Reducing the Consequences in Atlanta at the 2017 Annual International Conference on ADHD. Is impulsivity something that you frequently encounter with clients?
Absolutely. It’s called attention deficit disorder, but the impulsivity of that can cause some of the more severe issues in terms of consequences. Impulsivity can be problematic because we often make impulsive decisions and usually impulsive decisions can be very bad decisions. We haven’t played the movie forward to think about any consequence of the decision, good or bad. Restraint of pen and tongue. Think about how many individuals with ADD/ADHD have been fired because they responded inappropriately to their boss. Impulsivity can be very problematic in terms of jobs and relationships. The attention piece is also important because it determines how well we can be productive at home and work.
8. I know in that session you talked about some of the factors contributing to impulsivity. Can you tell us a little about some of the main factors that you see driving impulsivity?
Stress is the biggest factor in impulsivity. It can be good stress such as getting married or graduating, or it can be bad stress like a parking ticket, losing a job, or divorce. Empirically, I’m not sure how many studies have been done in this area because there are so many types of stress that it is hard to quantify, but I feel like stress exacerbates the ADD/ADHD symptomology. In general, I can say that I do see it with my clients when they are stressed out. They are more easily distracted and they are more impulsive. That’s why I have a holistic approach when I work with someone. We talk about what time they go to bed, what time they get up in the morning, their nutrition, if they are open to any sort of spiritual approach to try and help such as meditation, prayer, or quiet time. Doing the self-care creates a firm foundation for working on any personal or professional goals.
9. Do you have any practical tips you might share for anyone who may be struggling with impulsivity in the workplace?
Take a deep breath and try to recognize triggers. Is there a particular person or task at work that causes you to be in an emotional state? Try to recognize those triggers that might cause you to be impulsive and say something you can’t take back. Also, prepare yourself. Take a deep breath, check your body for tension, and learn where you physically store that stress. If you know you have a meeting that is going to make you feel stressed, go in, have a seat, and relax your shoulders. Work to relax the tension in your body and take deeps breaths to help settle in to a relaxing state. The physical part can be important, that is where the adrenaline is happening. Identify tools to help you mentally as well. Something to help you go into the meeting on a positive note. Develop a mantra or phrase to tell yourself going in to try and help yourself stay calm and avoid impulsivity. I often refer to the golden rule: “do unto others as you want them to do to you.” Practice patience and kindness. You don’t have to like the person or situation, but you want to be kind and respectful. Again, watching restraint of pen and tongue. If you are quick to react, learn to have some phrases you can use such as “let me think about that some more and get back to you.”
10. Would an ADHD coach go into the workplace with a client to evaluate or is it more about providing strategies for the client to incorporate on their own or pursuing accommodations with their employer?
On occasion, I do interact with supervisors or go into the workplace to help. I take on the role of a professional organizer for some of my clients. Professional organizers can come in and help someone get organized, but then they leave; their job is done. They don’t help the person work on the behaviors that come with being disorganized and that’s what I mostly do with my clients. Sometimes I do go into the office. I’m delighted when an employer calls me about an excellent employee who is wonderful, but they are frustrated with the constant tardiness, not filling out time sheets, disorganization, etc. I know in those cases that the employer is going to respond and be helpful if we do identify a reasonable accommodation. That doesn’t happen a lot because most people want to be very confidential about the hidden disability. Professionals tend to push not disclosing until it is absolutely needed. When I am working with an individual who is having problems at work, how it is set up or the way things are done, I help them identify what they may need to perform the job better. We talk about not using the phrase accommodation at first, but simply going to have a conversation with their boss about how they work best and what they need. Most employers, if the request is reasonable, will not turn you down if it means things are going to be more productive.
11. What might you tell someone with ADHD who may be struggling in areas of their life, but are afraid/nervous about reaching out for help?
I would say a very safe place to reach out for help would be a local CHADD group. Usually local CHADD groups put together a list of resources that they personally have used or would recommend that are ADD/ADHD friendly. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend solely going to the internet because you’re not always going to know exactly what you are finding. You want someone who is going to be an expert with what it is you are dealing with. ADDitude Magazine can be a good place to find resources. Usually the people who write for the magazine attend the CHADD Conference every year. They keep up with the field and are always wanting to learn more. I think ADDitude Magazine is probably the best resource for looking up people who specialize in ADHD and are user friendly so to speak.
12. Do you have any favorite moments or experiences from working with clients or other coaches?
I’ve attended a couple graduation ceremonies of clients and it always warms my heart to see the smile on their face when they have graduated after struggling with school and having worked so hard. To have that diploma in their hand and to be really ready to move on to the next stage is just heartwarming.
I can think of another client who I worked with who did well at work. Her job was very structured and routine. She was having difficulty more so with her home life. What do we have for dinner? When I am going to do the laundry? This and that need fixed and I need to take my child to ballet lessons. She was really having a hard time. We met on a weekly basis, but every night she would call me and report what she did at home that day. It could be that she folded the laundry, planned meals for the next week, anything. Calling me was sort of like patting herself on the back for what she had accomplished that day and most of the time she would just leave a message. One night she called me and said “Sandy, you are never going to believe what I did, I got the stain out of my living room rug!” Now, that stain had been there for months. She paused and told me that her mother’s response would be that “it’s about time,” but that she knew I would be jumping up and down for her. That was a very heartwarming moment as well. Normally the hardest things for us to do are simple things for most people. For that reason, when we do accomplish the thing we have been struggling with, we seem to minimize it. It feels like no big deal because everyone else does it. I am here to say do not minimize it — it is a big deal. You did it. For years, you have been struggling and you did it. You pat yourself on the back and acknowledge it.
13. Lastly, what do you find most rewarding about your career as a coach?
Being the client’s cheerleader. Reminding them that they did it. I was there to help and facilitate it, but they did it. They did the hard work.
Sandy told me that while she resided in D.C. for quite some time she has recently moved to the greater Boston area. If you live in the area or know of someone who may be ready, willing, and able you might look into Catalytic Coaching. Sandy can be reached at (202) 486- 8901 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She also has a Website at http://www.sandymaynard.com/.