By Cassandra Wolff, LPC
Many adults with ADHD seeking treatment don’t know where to turn. Do you need a psychiatrist? A psychologist? A coach? A medical doctor? To make it even more confusing, the answer might be “Yes” to all these. You might work with all these professionals, though not all at once, to live your best life as an adult with ADHD.
A psychologist will administer the tests that lead to an adult ADHD diagnosis. You’ll work with a psychiatrist or medical doctor if you include medication in your treatment. They will help you test medications and doses to find your best option. But once you’ve found a medication that works, you’ll continue to work with your doctor to monitor your general health, and you’ll work with other mental health professionals as needed.
But if they don’t tell you, I will. Pills don’t teach skills. You’ll hear this a lot from mental health professionals, ADDA volunteers, and adults with ADHD who are thriving. There’s no “cure” for ADHD. There’s no medication that will control all your symptoms. You still need to learn skills and strategies to get along in a neurotypical world as a neurodivergent adult.
And that’s where an ADHD coach or an ADHD therapist comes in. But do you need an ADHD coach or a therapist? In this article, we’ll explore the differences between coaches and therapists. Discover how to find the right professional for you.
Approach to ADHD
Generally speaking, psychotherapy treats ADHD as a mental health disorder. The goal of treatment is to reduce or stop symptoms, and improve quality of life. ADHD impacts many areas of your life. Adults with ADHD have increased risk for co-occurring disorders. This can include addiction, anxiety, depression, OCD, and relationship problems. When a psychotherapist understands ADHD and co-occurring disorders, they can help you learn to manage both. A trained therapist can help you develop executive skills. They can also help improve how you respond to uncomfortable emotions.
Many therapists are shifting their approach away from the disorder model of ADHD. Dr. Ned Hallowell, leading ADHD expert, proposes we de-medicalize ADHD. He sees ADHD as a different way of approaching the world. With Dr. Hallowell leading the way, many now see the strengths of ADHD. The focus then becomes helping the challenges that arise from out-of-control ADHD.
Coaches are not trained in the medical model. They help clients use their strengths in different ways to achieve their goals. They will help you develop executive skills for planning and prioritization, organization, task initiation and time management. They can help you create systems to adjust for gaps in working memory and other challenges. These can range from customized document templates to structuring your workspace. There are endless options for optimization and creativity.
ADHD coaches and ADHD therapists’ methods have some overlap. Both coaches and therapists use cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing methods. These can help you change your behavior and strengthen your executive skills. Coaches take a collaborative approach. Therapists approach clients in therapeutic modality, but that is often similar. Coaches focus on developing skills. Therapists spend more time on reducing symptoms. But coaches may offer tips for general stress management. And psychotherapists can help you find tools to better manage tasks.
Psychotherapists must have a masters’ or doctoral degree. They follow state guidelines to maintain their license. And they must pass board certification exams and attend continuing education courses. Not all therapists receive training to work with people with ADHD. Graduate programs focus on common mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. Standard curricula don’t cover neurological disorders like ADHD in depth. Therapists who work with people with ADHD improve their skills through internships and extra courses.
The training for coaches varies. Some ADHD coaches attend life coaching programs. Others attend coaching programs specific to ADHD like the ADD Coach Academy. For certification, coaches attend classes and complete hours of coaching with clients. Coaches also improve their skills with continuing education and work with mentor coaches.
Coach or therapist, you must ask about their training and about their experience with clients with ADHD. Especially with ADHD clients like you.
While you may have doubts, many adults with ADHD who’ve worked with ADHD coaches and therapists will confirm that you are worth the investment. You may think, “Nothing will work for me,” but working with the right professional will change your mind.
Coaches often sell packages of 3-20 sessions. Pricing can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Coaches may also offer services like accountability check-ins, weekly e-mails and assessments. Coaching isn’t covered by most insurance plans. But you may be able to use your FSA or HSA.
Psychotherapists charge by the session at $100-$250 per session. Therapy is often covered by insurance. If the therapist is not in your insurance network, you may get partial coverage with an out of network claim. Also, you can use your FSA or HSA.
Still Unsure Which is Right for You?
While ADHD offers many strengths, it can feel unmanageable at times. If you’re on the fence about whether to work with a mental health professional, find a therapist who can provide a clinical recommendation. Otherwise, I’d encourage you to find a couple of psychotherapists and coaches that interest you, and reach out to them with your questions. Whoever you choose, it’s most important you find someone you feel is a good fit for you!
Tools to Help Find the Right Professional for You
Here are a couple of tools below to find the right professional for you:
ADDA’s Professional Directory
ADDA has their own professional directory including coaches and psychotherapists who specialize in ADHD.
CHADD’s Professional Directory
The CHADD Directory is a resource for finding professionals, products, or others providing services for families and individuals living with ADHD.
The ADHD Coaches Organization
The ADHD Coaches Organization (ACO) has a directory of their members, all coaches who are trained and certified.
Psychology Today’s Therapy Directory lists clinical professionals, psychiatrists and treatment centers who provide mental health services in the US and internationally.
Cassandra Wolff, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor in the states of Pennsylvania and Texas. Her specialties include working with individuals, couples, and families with ADHD. Over half of the patients in her practice are individuals or family members of those with ADHD. Learn more here.