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The Ultimate Guide To Executive Function Coaching | Life Skills Advocate

Did you know that the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for executive functioning, is also known as the “CEO of the brain”?

Unfortunately, some of us have a prefrontal cortex that could use some support with running the company efficiently. This is especially true for neurodivergent individuals, who may experience differences in how their brain responds to tasks that involve executive functioning skills like planning and time management.

Chances are, if you’ve landed on this article, someone has recommended checking out executive functioning coaching.

And it’s no surprise why–with the help of an executive functioning coach, individuals can develop personalized strategies to overcome EF challenges and succeed in big ways.

In this ultimate guide, we will dive into everything you need to know about executive functioning coaching, including how it works, the benefits of coaching, and what you need to know to get started on your EF coaching journey.

Let’s get started.

What is Executive Functioning?

While there are no set definitions of executive functioning, most professionals agree it includes a set of behaviors that help individuals effectively and efficiently complete tasks and interact with others.

Executive functioning includes common activities like:

  • Planning and organizing
  • Managing time
  • Problem-solving
  • Working memory
  • Controlling our emotions and our impulses
  • Monitoring and learning from our behavior and past mistakes.

The Components of Executive Functioning

It’s important to note that “executive functioning” itself isn’t an observable behavior.

We don’t walk into a classroom or a workplace and say “I’m going to watch you executive function today.”

Instead, we observe the by-products of good executive functioning. We know an individual has well-formed EF skills when they can complete assignments on time, problem-solve through a challenge, or respond to a disruption in routine. They engage in the behaviors like monitoring time, organizing materials, controlling impulses or using mindfulness techniques, breaking down large projects into manageable parts, initiating small tasks, and more.

These are the common skills addressed in executive functioning coaching.

For more information and research on executive functioning check out our article “What is Executive Functioning?”

When Executive Functioning is Missing

Just as we can observe the behaviors that contribute to well-developed executive functioning, we can observe difficulties or ‘disruptions’ in EF skills.

We know an individual struggles with EF skills when we see the by-products of repeated failures – something we call The EF Ripple Effect.

The EF Ripple Effect

Have you ever dropped a stone into a quiet lake or pond just to watch the ripples?

Even the smallest rock that hits the water causes waves to spread out in every direction; every part of the surface absorbs some of the disruptions. The ripple effect works well as imagery for how challenges with executive functioning impact neurodiverse learners:

  1. EF skills serve as pre-requisites to managing unexpected disruptions and changes. What starts as a tiny disruption–a homework assignment, a change at work, car troubles–causes a broader set of disruptions to the learner.
  2. Without the EF tools to adjust to the disruption, the learner experiences immediate consequences including things like missed deadlines, disappointing others, or losing his or her temper.
  3. Over time and EF failures, these consequences add up into broader academic decline, lack of success at work, feeling “stuck” or unable to accomplish goals, and difficulty maintaining healthy habits like sleep and eating well.
  4. As the ripples continue out over time, we see long-term consequences in neurodiverse learners including depression and anxiety, poor health outcomes, and less independence Friends and family slowly stop engaging after observing a lack of motivation and repeated failed attempts to help the learner, leading to greater social isolation.

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What starts as a tiny disruption in the pond can, over time, cause a damaging ripple effect that without targeted intervention perpetuates across the lifespan.

That’s where executive functioning coaching comes in. Executive functioning coaching can help neurodiverse individuals learn protective barriers that prevent life’s ‘unexpected stones’ from causing major disruptions.

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What is Executive Functioning Coaching?

As a standard, executive functioning coaching helps to improve the mental processes and establish positive behaviors around EF skills like organization, time management, task initiation, attentional control, and self-monitoring. Executive functioning coaching helps:

  • Identify barriers and current challenges.
  • Set goals and expectations of success.
  • Teach replacement strategies and behaviors for what’s not working.
  • Hold individuals accountable for progress.
  • Recognize and celebrate progress.
  • Put supports in place when thing’s don’t go as planned.

With coaching and compassionate accountability in tandem, individuals can expect to achieve not only better performance home, work and school. Individuals also frequently report a better relationship with themselves and others.

What does an Executive Functioning Coach do?

Executive functioning coaches are qualified individuals with extensive personal and professional experience in helping individuals struggling with executive functioning challenges.

EF coaches may or may not have formal training working with neurodiverse populations, including ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, OCD, and other forms of neurodivergence.

EF coaches are trained to recognize the emotional impacts of executive dysfunction and use informed and evidence-based approaches to help clients overcome their struggles.

Executive Functioning Coaching vs. Therapy and Counseling

While coaching can address some mental health concerns, executive functioning coaches are not mental health therapists, licensed psychologists or psychiatrists.

Coaching tends to focus on tangible actions and strategies, while mental health therapy or counseling services typically delve into emotions, past experiences, and trauma.

However, these approaches can work together, as addressing executive functioning challenges can improve mental health and addressing mental health can improve executive functioning.

Executive functioning coaches often collaborate with therapists, but coaching services should not be used as a substitute for professional mental health or medical care. Coaches should never act as mental health counselors or medical professionals.

Here’s an idea of how these two services can work in tandem:

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Who can benefit from executive functioning coaching?

Given that executive functioning is core to almost all successful social engagement, a wide range of individuals can benefit from a boost in EF skills. Regardless of neurodivergent diagnosis, skills and abilities, or prior academic/work success, there’s likely an area of EF that every learner could improve in.

In general, those that benefit the most from EF coaching are those that can work with a coach to clearly define their own goals and demonstrate a willingness to change. EF coaches see the best results with clients who are engaged, ready to adapt and accept support.

Prior to getting started with executive functioning coaching, have some goals that you’d like to work on, even if they are broad, abstract, or you need help to clarify them.

Who may not be a good fit for coaching?

Executive functioning coaching may not be the best fit for everyone. If any of the following apply to your situation, you or your child may be better served by seeking support from another professional:

  • Those seeking on-demand services or crisis intervention.
  • Those who communicate through physical aggression or unsafe behavior towards themselves or others.
  • Those needing trauma-based or mental health support who are currently not seeking help from a qualified mental health professional.
  • Those who are unwilling or unable to challenge their own assumptions, to try a different approach, or who struggle to embrace growing into autonomy and independence.
  • Those who are looking for a quick fix or magic bullet.
  • Families looking for respite care.
  • Active users of drugs or alcohol and currently not seeking help from a qualified professional.
  • Those who frequently need to miss coaching sessions for one reason or another.

Getting Started with Executive Functioning Coaching

At this point, you may be wondering how to get started with executive functioning coaching or what is the next action step you can take. Before diving into the coaching process, it’s important to understand and carefully consider how to find the best coach for you.

How to Find an Executive Functioning Coach

There’s no one way that individuals find their way into a coaching relationship. The key is to get started and not to let the process of finding a coach get in the way of learning new EF skills. A few different strategies to identify coaching include:

  • Use Life Skills Advocate – You’re already here. So we might as well suggest one of our own experienced executive functioning coaches! Schedule a discovery call here.
  • Talk to your primary care doctor, clinic nurse, or mental health professional for a referral to an executive functioning coach.
  • Search online for coaches in your area. Many coaches also share testimonials or reviews of their services online, giving you a chance to see others’ experiences with the services.
  • Check with your insurance provider to see if they cover coaching services. More and more employer-provided insurance carriers cover life coaching or EF skill training as part of employee benefits.

Once you have a few potential coaches, assemble a list of questions you have for the coach to help evaluate the goodness of fit.

What to Look For in an Executive Functioning Coach

When looking for an executive functioning coach, we recommend having a list of questions prepared for the initial inquiry call. Here are some ideas for questions you might ask each coach:

  • Do you have experience working with individuals with executive function challenges like _______?
  • What is your specific training in this area?
  • What is your track record of success with similar clients who want to accomplish ______?
  • How would you describe your coaching style? Are you hands-on and directive? Collaborative or client-centered?
  • How do you accommodate different learning styles? Do you have experience working with clients who learn best by _______?
  • What tools do you use to evaluate progress and client outcomes?
  • What is your availability for meetings? Do you meet in person, online, or hybrid? How often do you meet?
  • What are your fee and payment polices?

As the inquiry call continues, make notes about the answers, but also make notes about how you feel during the call. Do you feel comfortable talking with the coach? Is it someone you trust? Do you think this person could hold you accountable for completing tasks and meeting goals?

Look for an executive functioning coach that’s compassionate, non-judgmental, and supportive, and who is willing to tailor their approach to meet your specific needs and goals.

The Executive Functioning Coaching Process

The first sessions

After the initial inquiry session, intake paperwork, typically the first sessions in executive functioning coaching services involve meeting with the client and family to discuss strengths, challenges, and gain a deeper understanding of goals, desired outcomes, and overall readiness to tackle them.

Goal Setting

The next step is Exploration and Goal Setting.

Usually consisting of two or three sessions between the coach and the client, during the Exploration phase, the focus is on building trust and rapport while gathering insight about the client’s level of buy-in and understanding their goals in their own words.

During this phase, coaches should be seeking to understand a client’s values on a deeper level, set and align realistic expectations, and clearly define the roles and responsibilities of all parties involved.

The coach may start to introduce small homework assignments assigned to help gauge readiness and the resources available to help accomplish goals.

Developing a plan of action

Once a general idea of the areas of strength and challenge are identified coaches start to introduce tools and assessments aimed to write out goals in a thoughtful and quantifiable way.

It’s important in this phase that coach and client work closely to identify a strong “why” or motivation to accomplish a goal.

A final plan of action is drafted and the executive functioning coach will start to gather the tools, interventions, and exercises to use in the next several sessions to accomplish the written goals.

Download our free .pdf sample SMART goal setting worksheet for a sample tool for what you may encounter in this stage of EF coaching.

Working through the plan

Working through a coaching plan involves many different facets. Sometimes these can be months of weekly or bi-weekly sessions with the coach. The focused work is on tackling goals, refining, and evolving along the way. The work expected between sessions becomes more intensive in this phase.

Working through the plan requires the most amount of change and growth on the part of the client. This often evokes emotions like fear, anxiety, and self-doubt (and subsequently a high probability of quitting coaching altogether.)

Coaches are well-trained to recognize these signs and should be prepared to provide you with tools and strategies in order to work through barriers and stumbling blocks.

Work during this time can include real-world practice, interventions, skill-building exercises, and reflection activities. For a sample of actual coaching activities used, check out our Real-Life Executive Functioning Workbook.

Monitoring progress

As goals begin to progress towards fruition, clients begin feeling more confident about their ability to generalize skills across multiple and related skill areas.

In this phase, EF coaches work closely with clients and family members to reflect on and celebrate accomplishments and begin mapping out the final stages of their coaching plan.

During the progress monitoring phase, coaches will provide continued exposure to experiential learning opportunities and independent practice with the skills and tools learned. In this phase, clients may decide to work more intensively on a new set of goals, returning to the goal setting process again.

Or clients begin to lean less on coaches and more on the systems and tools readily at their disposal, demonstrating their readiness to flourish on their own, without coaching. They move then towards the final stages of coaching.

Final Stages

In the final stages of coaching, clients start to achieve greater independence without the ongoing support of their coach. Appointment schedules may start to thin because clients now have skills to document what’s working, what isn’t, and what level of support they think they will need (if any) going forward.

At this point, clients may still contact an EF coach when they need help, but coaches may recommend limiting intensive support to evaluate the independence and proficiency of a client’s new skills.

When the client and coach agree, no additional coaching appointments are scheduled and executive function coaching is considered officially “discontinued” or “discharged.”

Timelines for Executive Functioning Coaching

Even though the steps and progression of coaching may look similar for some, the process should always be highly individualized to your learning style and needs. Some individuals receive EF coaching services just once in their lifetime, for only a short intensive period of time of a few weeks. Others find EF coaching helpful on a consistent basis for longer, sometimes months or even years. You may find EF coaching helpful in one particularly stressful season, not needed in another, and later down the road find it helpful again.

Every individual’s path toward effective coaching is different. There’s no one-size-fits-all plan.

Frequently Asked Questions About Executive Function Coaching

How long does executive functioning coaching take?

As alluded to above every individual and situation is unique and therefore, most executive functioning coaches do not have a set minimum commitment for coaching or a timeline of progress.

Instead, focus in the early stages of coaching on creating a personalized coaching plan that meets your specific needs and goals. This may involve a short-term commitment to address a specific issue or a longer-term commitment to address multiple areas of development.

Ultimately, the length of coaching will depend on the progress made and the goals set by the client. Being flexible and adaptable is the best way to achieve success.

How much does executive functioning coaching typically cost?

Typically, executive functioning coaches charge an hourly rate for services. This can range anywhere from $75 to $250 per hour, depending on the credentials and experience of the coach.

The length, frequency, duration and location (virtual or in-home) can also determine the costs of EF coaching. The more ready and able a client/family is to process and implement skills and strategies, the less the total cost will likely be.

During your initial inquiry call, ask about charges for on-demand accountability and check-ins between sessions, particularly about communicating with your coach via text or email. In some situations this is included as part of the coaching service, others may charge additional for it.

Is executive functioning coaching covered by insurance?

Insurance companies often consider coaching as a non-clinical service and one that isn’t covered by insurance plans. To compensate, some employers will fund EF coaching services as part of employee assistance programs (EAP) or wellness benefits.

In some cases, an FSA or HSA account would reimburse the costs of EF coaching, and many coaches will provide the invoices/documentation for health care reimbursement.

Your individual coach should be able to assist you in your inquiry call to determine cost and coverage.

How do I know executive functioning coaching is effective?

Success in EF coaching is highly personal and subjective, but good EF coaches should be able to help you quantify and measure success.

Ask an EF coach for assessment tools and techniques to track progress and evaluate the effectiveness of coaching interventions. Look for opportunities to provide feedback and regularly check in, or create “milestones” along the way.

What are the drawbacks of executive functioning coaching?

As you can see from this full article, we feel strongly about the benefits of EF coaching. That being said, there are a few risks and drawbacks to consider as you evaluate if coaching is the right fit for you:

  • Time – EF coaching takes time and will require focused attention and dedication. For many individuals, dedicating time to making progress on goals is difficult with other priorities. Asking for support from family and friends so that you can focus on sessions, homework, and evaluating progress can be helpful if time is a barrier.
  • Cost – coaching services can be expensive and may not be covered by insurance.
  • Underlying mental health concerns – EF coaching may not be effective for everyone, particularly those with underlying mental health conditions or neurological disorders that require more intensive treatment. Working on EF skills may trigger stress, anxiety, and underlying mental health issues. Your EF coach should help you evaluate if this is an area of need.
  • Goodness of Fit – Finding the right EF coach can be challenging, and it may take some trial and error to find someone who is a good fit for your specific needs and learning style. Be persistent and ask for a referral if your first coach doesn’t seem to fit well for your needs.

Next Steps

EF coaching service offers personalized support to address executive functioning challenges. If you have questions or would like to meet with an EF coach to find out more, schedule an opportunity to meet with one of our Life Skills Advocate coaches. They can provide more info on training, background, and how to get started with EF coaching.

Further Reading

Rizwan Ahmed
Rizwan Ahmed
AuditStudent.com, founded by Rizwan Ahmed, is an educational platform dedicated to empowering students and professionals in the all fields of life. Discover comprehensive resources and expert guidance to excel in the dynamic education industry.


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