by Sarah Wright, MS, ACT and Viveca Monahan, CPC, ACG

This is the first in a series of articles on the broader issues of ADHD coaching.

ADHD coaching is an specialized form of life coaching, which in turn has its roots in executive coaching. Both ADHD and life coaching have evolved over the last 15-20 years with contributions from other disciplines including sociology, psychology, positive adult development, career counseling and mentoring.

Life Coaching

The historic time line for professional life coaching can be traced back to the late 1980s and early 1990s when several life coaching schools were founded. Two of the coaching schools that are particularly well known to ADHD coaches, Coach Training Institute and Coach U, were founded in 1992.

In 1995 the International Coach Federation (ICF) was founded to be both a professional organization for the growing field and a credentialing body. According to Wikipedia, there are four standards and self-appointed life coaching accreditation bodies that are internationally recognized: the International Coaching Council (ICC), the International Coach Federation (ICF), the International Association of Coaching (IAC), and the European Coaching Institute (ECI). No independent supervisory board evaluates these programs, and they are all privately owned. Of these, the ICF has been and remains the most recognized association representing the coaching profession.

In 2000, the Association of Coach Training Organizations (ACTO) was formed by the directors of eight coach training schools in order to establish standards for approving coach training programs. To become a certified coach through the ICF, one must either attend an ACTO approved school and fulfill certain hours requirements; or go through a portfolio process whereby you prove your coaching experience and knowledge of ICF competencies.

Around the turn of the millennium, one of the founding members of the ICF, Thomas J. Leonard, left the ICF and began evangelizing a new coaching paradigm, founding both new coaching schools (Coachville and the Graduate School of Coaching) and a new coaching association, the International Association of Coaching (IAC).

The IAC was established in March, 2003. Like the other life coaching credentialing organizations, it has a code of ethics and certification process. They use objective testing of coaching principles and demonstration of abilities to certify its coaches. There is no special requirement for where or how coaches obtain this knowledge and experience, only that they demonstrate they have it.

The ICF and the IAC are the two largest coach-certifying organizations in the world. Most certified coaches are a member of one or the other; many are members of both. There are also numerous coaching sub-specialties that require specialized knowledge and training, many of which have their own certification. Examples of these sub-specialties include career coaching, relationship coaching and ADHD coaching.

ADHD Coaching

ADHD coaching grew out of the specialized needs of the ADHD population. ADHD coaching was first mentioned in print in 1994 in Hallowell and Ratey’s book, Driven to Distraction. That same year the Optimal Functioning Institute (OFI, founded by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie) was founded to specifically train ADHD Coaches. The ADD Coach Academy (ADDCA, founded by David Giwerc) was founded in 1998. The American Coaching Association (ACA, founded by Sue Sussman), also established to train ADHD coaches, was founded in that same era.

In 2002 ADDA developed guidelines for ADD Coaching and published them on their website. The ADDA guidelines were originally written by the ADDA Subcommittee on ADHD Coaching and edited by Nancy Ratey and Peter Jaksa. CHADD posted a similar document in 2003.

By 2005, with a growing number of coaches specializing in working with people affected by ADHD, but a lack of consensus of what it means to be an ADHD coach, the field of ADHD coaching found itself in the same position as life coaching had been ten years earlier. That same year two organizations, with complementary missions, were formed to support the growing and specialized field of ADHD Coaching. Both define ADHD Coaches to be coaches first, with additional training and expertise in working with ADHD. The ADHD Coaches Organization (ACO) was formed as a membership organization to promote community, excellence, education and advocacy for the profession. The Institute for the Advancement of ADHD Coaching (IAAC) was founded to define, protect the integrity of, and support the profession of ADHD coaching and to provide continuing education, credentialing, certification and ethical standards for ADHD coaching.

In a very important step in defining their credential, the IAAC decided to require certification from a recognized coaching organization as a prerequisite. The IAAC tests on the ADHD piece only, treating their ADHD Coaching accreditation more like a graduate degree undertaken after completion of basic coaching skills training. This appears to us to be the trend in our profession.

The ACO now has over 150 members world wide. The IAAC has over 70 coaches who went through the grandfathering process and earned the designation of Senior Certified ADHD Coach. The IAAC will be accepting applications for additional certifications starting this fall.

This is where the profession of ADHD coaching is today. In future articles we will delve more deeply into the major credentialing organizations for ADHD coaches, and ADHD coaching business-related issues such as liability issues, insurance and LLCs.

About the Authors:

Viveca Monahan, CPC, ACG is a certified Life Coach living and working in Seattle, WA. She has been a practicing coach since 2000. In her former life she was an Enrolled Agent and tax accountant, licensed to practice before the Internal Revenue Service. Viveca specializes in working with professional women who live with the challenges and rewards of having ADHD. On the web at www.coachviv.com


Sarah D. Wright, MS, ACT, is an ADHD Coach in private practice in the San Diego, California region. She is co-author, with Roland Rotz, Ph.D., of Fidget to Focus-Outwit Your Boredom: Sensory Strategies for Living with ADD. On the web at www.swcc.biz