ADHD/Balance Coaching for College Students

Gifted college students with ADHD and anxiety or depression have a special place in my heart, because I was once the same. I call this combination of ADHD with anxiety and/or depression “ADHD-plus.” It isn’t easy.

Here are three common themes for college students with ADHD and ADHD-plus.

  1. Autonomy and a non-regimented class schedule expose the need for planning skills and self-discipline that were not developed (and perhaps not needed) in high school.
  2. The absence of daily parental guidance is a significant loss that is not replaced in any form, which leaves the student at an acute loss — especially in the first and second year.
  3. ADHD with anxiety or depression is a constant source of internal conflict. ADHD says “go, go, go!” while anxiety or depression say “hide, hide, hide!” In college, there is ample room a student to run toward non-academic distractions and to hide from classes and schoolwork.

When I was a student, nobody knew what “ADHD” was, so nobody knew how to help me. Now that we are wiser I’d be honored to coach students whose wiring and circumstances in 2018 are at least a little like mine were in the early 1980’s.


Our primary goal for coaching is the student’s well-being: Health and Joy, both of which rely on peace of mind. With a focus on ADHD challenges, we work within any or all of the following major areas:

  • Schoolwork: What is required? What is optional? What are you achieving or not achieving? How can you achieve what want and need to?
  • Self-Management: How do you manage your time, energy, and emotions? How can you be your own best advocate?
    What skills do you most need to develop and exercise? What habits do you need to build? How do you create self-accountability?
  • Self-Knowledge: What are your strengths, weaknesses, likes, mysteries, and near-term goals? How do you balance “playing to your strengths” vs. “shoring up weaknesses”?
  • Place-in-the-World: What does it mean to have ADHD, anxiety and/or depression? How have people with ADHD, anxiety, and/or depression learned to live well? Everybody’s peculiar in one way or another–it’s nice to know how our pieces can fit with everybody else’s.

Tools and Techniques

We can work with tools including (but not limited to) the following:

  • Goal-setting
  • Breaking down projects into logical, do-able pieces
  • Timeline planning
  • Task-time measurement
  • Schedule planning
  • Distraction management
  • Skill-building
  • Habit-building
  • Self-talk and visualization
  • Tools borrowed from cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Self-observation and self-analysis, particularly around: motivation, action, energy, and mood
  • Workspace organization
  • Analog and digital tools (e.g., planning cards, alarms, project management software, etc.)
  • “Games” and challenges with rewards

Coaching Plan: Elements and Structure

Coaching typically includes:

  • Weekly conferences (face-to-face or online) focused on weekly observations, goal-setting, and goal-tracking. Conferences are typically 25 minutes, but may be longer for initial meetings.
  • Weekly emails with brief reports from the student on progress and challenges, and brief responses from the coach.

Additional tools may include:

  • Shared online workspaces for logging goals, tasks, progress, and notes (e.g., Trello, Google Docs, and Slack)
  • Semi-weekly check-ins via email

Collaboration tasks may include:

  • Updates to parents (in person, by phone, and/or written)
  • Reports to share with therapist(s), doctor(s) and/or school counselor(s)

Attitude and Approach

  • The coach respects the student as a human with dignity, strength, and autonomy. The coach treats the student as an emerging adult.
  • Our work and plans are primarily driven by the student, with input from the parents and other advisors, and help from the coach.
  • The student does the student’s work. The coach instructs, encourages, and assists but does not do the student’s job.
  • We recognize that we can do almost anything, but that we cannot do everything.
  • The coach challenges but does not nag.
  • Along with good will, we add good humor! [Check out these memes ☺] We laugh at ourselves and our circumstances while we improve ourselves and our circumstances.
  • We tell personal stories about ourselves and people we know, so that we share the full wisdom of ourselves and our community.
  • We understand that life can be Joyful and Beautiful without being perfect.

Monthly Pricing and Evaluation

Pricing is based on which coaching elements the student and family wish to use. Likely costs range from $300 to $600 per month, depending on intensity.

Each month, the student, coach (and parents, if desired) will do a brief evaluation of the student’s progress, and the effectiveness of the month’s coaching.

Coaching, Therapy, and Medicine

How do therapy and coaching compare?

In general, therapy focuses on the student’s mental wiring, while coaching focuses on the student’s actions.

How do therapy, medicine, and coaching work together?

Where possible, the therapist, doctor(s) and coach should collaborate, sharing insights that may increase their odds for success (e.g., the student’s motivations, how their energy changes over the course of each day, etc.). Collaboration helps the coach avoid known hazards like emotional triggers or areas of deep resistance. The coach can offer observations like how the student seems to respond to changes in medication.

The coach defers to parents, doctors, and therapists with regard to hazard avoidance and agreed-upon plans.

Working with Minors

For comfort and safety, it’s best for the coach and student to meet where other people are nearby. Public places work well (e.g., cafes with quiet seating), along with the coach’s private office/home if a parent stays nearby in another room.

Working with Parents

Good coaching incorporates both collaboration and confidentiality. The student, parent(s), and coach will agree on rules about which parts of our coach-student conversation can be shared with the parents, and which parts will remain confidential.

Ready to Talk

I welcome to the opportunity to talk with students and their parents any time. Please feel free to contact me here.

Phil Marsosudiro