Mutual Life Coaching in the Treatment of Adult ADD

Partnering with a Friend to Improve Adult ADD Symptoms

Phone calls with an ADD partner can help keep you on track with your goals. Photo © Microsoft

Adult ADD and Treatment - Reaching Goals by Partnering with a Friend

Though individuals with ADD/ADHD have the talent and skill to reach their goals, they often have a difficult time sustaining the arousal and motivation to accomplish them. It can be a real struggle to maintain focus on a longer-term goal or to even remember that goal, especially when it is so easy for those with ADHD to get distracted by anything that is more stimulating at the moment. Sometimes it helps to have an outside source to help keep focus and accountability.

ADHD coaching works on this concept. A coach partners with their clients to create daily structure and organization while providing support and encouragement to set goals and rewards and keep them focused even when obstacles occur.

Sometimes resources may not be available to hire an ADHD coach, but there are other options using the same coaching techniques that may be helpful. One user recently wrote in to share how a strategy he calls “mutual life coaching” saved him and got him back on the right path:

ADHD and Mutual Life Coaching

“I was a knowledgeable and highly creative scientist,” says Roger, “but flash and dazzle had stopped working for me. I was failing at my job, because I couldn't stay with difficult or boring work or finish reports. My desk and room were chaotic, and I couldn't find important materials. I'd work overtime in to the wee hours but get little done. I sank in to depression, which made things worse.”

Roger was seeing a psychiatrist and would feel better and more hopeful after weekly therapy sessions, but once back at home, he easily fell back in to old negative habits. “Had I not been a federal employee, I might have been fired. In deep trouble and in desperation, I'd cofounded a small weekly ADD support group not long before.”

Roger was a fan of ADHD expert, Dr. Edward (Ned) Hallowell, who wrote the pioneering book Driven to Distraction with Dr. John Ratey. When Dr. Hallowell released a video called ADD from A to Z, Roger bought it and watched it with his ADD support group. “I'd never had the patience to watch it all the way through otherwise,” admits Roger.

The video addressed the concept of “life coaching” to help those who had trouble organizing their lives and accomplishing tasks and goals. “Hallowell recognized that once a week or less frequent counseling didn’t achieve significant progress for some clients. They needed more frequent help.” Roger saw that he needed this too. “So Hallowell developed the concept of life coaching. The life coach did not provide counseling but offered frequent support. For example, "a short (e.g., 10-minute) phone call each working day or as agreed upon,” is what Roger used as a variation of Dr. Hallowell’s H.O.P.E. strategy with his own support group by partnering group members up to help one another.

“My partner and I settled on daily morning telephone contacts during the work week. They were longer in the beginning when we were getting acquainted, but then averaged 10 to 15 minutes or so before work.” Their conversations went like this:

H – Hello: greeting each other and sharing results from the previous day.
O – Objectives: or goals for that day with a maximum of three goals.
P – Plan: a realistic plan to achieve goals.
E – Encouragement: realistic support, such as pointing out progress over time.

Roger explained that partners could ask questions or share experiences but refrained from giving advice. “My experience in Al Anon , the partner group to Alcoholics Anonymous (for loved ones or friends of alcoholics) was valuable, because AA pioneered the ‘sponsor’ and the noninterfering support concept.”

The Benefits of Mutual Life Coaching

Roger admits that he had been through all kinds of treatment for his ADHD, including medication, therapy, counseling and had read books and books on the topic. Still, daily life remained a struggle. “Mutual life coaching yielded the first real breakthrough,” says Roger. “It didn't happen right away. Weeks went by, and I couldn't report success on a single item on my goal lists to my partner. My goals seemed to have an electric fence around them. I could do anything except what was on the list — even if it was as simple as writing a check for a bill. My partner did better. I was afraid he would dump me.”

Roger shares that he finally got “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” He began to break things down into ultra-simple tasks, such as placing a pad of paper and pencil on his desk. “I got through my first objectives. That broke through the wall.” Slowly, over the next few months, Roger began to experience more and more success, achieving most of his goals. “I graduated to bigger goals by breaking them up in to smaller daily pieces. The feeling of exhilaration was incredible! By breaking things up in to small enough pieces, I now felt anything could be tackled — with help.”

The morning contact was not the only benefit. All day long Roger knew that he would have contact with his partner the next morning, and he wanted to be able to give a positive report. “My buddy was not an ogre. He was on my side, but it would be more pleasant to have good news to report than bad news,” explains Roger. “Cheating was not an option. That would sink me in to another pit that I didn't need. So the aura of the mutual life coaching stayed with me much of the time. There's nothing to match human support — if it is available in the right way.”

In addition to gaining support, there is a wonderful sense of providing support in the partnership, as well. Roger helped his buddy reach his goals in preparing for and passing a professional exam that his partner had failed on the first try.

Finding an ADHD Partner

One great way to find a partner is through an ADHD support group or similar organization. Check out the following links to see if there is a support group in your area.

If  a support group is not available in your area, visit an online ADHD forum to see if you can connect with someone with similar goals. You may find it too expensive to make out-of-state phone calls. If this is the case, daily e-mails are another great way to communicate.

It is important to partner with someone with whom you feel a sense of compatibility and trustworthiness. The partnership is a commitment for at least an agreed upon period. It is a commitment to make changes, to improve your daily functioning, to set and work toward goals and help another human being along the way.

Roger sums up his mutual life coaching experiences nicely:
“If partners are serious about making progress and stick with their commitment, it's the most powerful ‘medicine’ I know.”


Roger (name changed by request). Personal interview/email correspondence. 4 and 9 August, 2008.

Edward M. Hallowell, MD, John J. Ratey, MD. Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood Through Adulthood. Touchstone. 1995.

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