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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

ADHD Psychological Coaching: Learning to Cope without Medication

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Sep 19th 2008

 Yesterday, there was an interesing program on National Public Radio about ADHD and learning how to manage symptoms without medication. A central role in that is the Clinical Psychologist Coach (Properly trained Clinical Social Workers can perform the coaching) who teaches ADHD subjects how to approach tasks in an organized way things so that they can better focus attention and not be distracted. For example, when homework is finished it is important to clear the desk. It is then easier to study for a test without being distracted by papers from previous assignments.

The coach also teaches how to: 1. Organize and use notebook binders with tabs and sections, 2. Place notes into the correctly labelled section of the binder, 3. Have each page of notes titled with dates and subject, etc.

These and other skills, so easy for many others, are difficult or impossible for children and adults with ADHD.

Many people do not like taking medications for ADHD because of the side effects they create. The most common medications used for this disorder are psychostimulants. Although psychostimulants do improve the ability to focus attention and relieve hyperactivity and impulsivity, they make it difficult to sleep and cause the patient to feel uncomfortable. Medication is no cure for ADHD and the patient remains needing to learn the necessary skills for success at school and work whether medications are taken or not.

Coaching is also used to teach important social skills for patients with ADHD. Those skills can range from learning to focus attention on what someone is saying to avoiding interrupting and calling out.

As with all things in behavioral health, it is only possible to get help if an individual is willing to admit they have a problem. This can be difficult with adults who sometimes want to deny the existence of their ADHD. Yet, these very same ADHD adults experience great problems in their marriages because of the  nature of their symptoms. Denial takes the form of the ADHD individual blaming their spouse for all of the problems in the marriage.

If you have ADHD do not despair, help is available. People witht this disorder can have fully successful lives once they learn how to manage their symptoms.

Your comments are welcome.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Without Medications - Allan N. Schwartz, PhD - Jul 13th 2010

Many of you are reporting that, for one reason or another, you are not taking medications for ADHD. If you are one of those who is not taking medications and cannot afford psychotherapy I want to point out that there are many excellent books and work books in the book stores and libraries that discribe techiques for you to learn how to cope better by focusing your attention.

For example, it is helpful to keep a daily list of things that must be done that day and, as you get them done, cross them off of the list. The list should be of five or six important priorities.

Keep a calendar of events and important "to do" items for each day and look at the calendar several times during each day.

Best of Luck, Dr. Schwartz

what can i do - angel - Jul 13th 2010

hi i've lived with adhd all my life, and was taking meds for it but when i was 13 i told my doctor i didn't want them anymore. im 21 now and still not taking them, but it hard just to get by day to day sometimes. i can be told to do something, and than not do it. im always getting yelled at for that. i know im still young, but i want a family of my own. but im afraid that i'll be a disappointment.

what can i do to make it easier on me day to day.

Treating ADHD Without Medication - Melody - Jun 20th 2010

I am in my late twenties and have a small child. I was recently diagnosed with ADHD, but I have an allergic reaction to the medications. I cannot afford therapy. Any suggestions? I have been isolating myself from my son and others, because my chronic tardiness, inattention, disorganization, has ruined my professional and personal relationships. I now work part-time, because despite my skill level and intelligence, I cannot keep a job due to the items stated above. These traits were fine when I was not a parent, but now they are devastating.

Advice - Kate - Feb 23rd 2010

Hello.  I am 30 years old and just found out that my husband and I are expecting.  I am going to stop taking my ADHD medication, but fear that I will not be able to perform at work properly.  I need some advice on how to focus and not be so tired.  Every time I stop taking my medication I get tired and hungry.  I really want to avoid this.  Any help would be greatly appreciated!

what help and how - jack scott - Sep 28th 2008

i,m a 51 year old my son suffers from adhd and has been on prescribed medication for years he is now 16, i,ve always had behavioral problems myself, especially with anger, i am also a reformed alcoholic, and have not drank alcohol for 23 years, i also smoked over 100 cigarettes a day for years, i have managed to stop smoking for 2 years i have an addictive personality, and have all the symptons of adhd but have never been dygnosed, i,ve been treated for alcoholism, anger management, and assertive training i,m an incessant talker, with all the other traits of adhd. i,m a self taught master builder artist, and construction manager,and a quite succseful, house owner in a relationship which i love being in but my anger and short temper is ruining everything please help.

                                              jack scott

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