William L. White is a Senior Research Consultant at Chestnut Health Systems / Lighthouse Institute, a past-chair of the board of Recovery Communities United and has served as a volunteer consultant to Faces and Voices of Recovery since its inception in 2001. White has authored or co-authored more than 400 articles, monographs, research reports and book chapters as well as 16 books.

William White tells this story of what motivated him to dedicate his life to addiction recovery:

 I helped get a man released from the drunk tank of a local city jail, connected him to a local AA group and offered daily support to him and his family. He did amazingly well for a few months considering the severity and duration of his alcoholism. It was the week of Christmas when, depressed over the gifts he was unable to provide for his wife and children, he sought the balm of an offered bottle. He was jailed later that day for public intoxication and hung himself during the night in the same cell in which I had first met him. Such suicides were common in those years. When I stood before his body and met later that day with his family, I was overwhelmed by my own ineptness and the meager resources I had been able to muster in my offer of assistance. There were no addiction-trained physicians, no detox units, no treatment programs, no trained addiction counselors. I was enraged that this man had to die in despair in such a despicable place. I think my commitment to spend my life working in this field began that day.

 William White was born in 1947 to an Army family, his father a construction worker and his mother a nurse. His family grew quite large with more than 20 adopted, foster, related and siblings living in a small rural home inIllinois. White received a scholarship toEurekaCollegeand showed an interest in psychology, sociology and history. His first job was with the Illinois Department of Mental Health in 1967, where his responsibilities included touring the wards of the mental health institution and screen the alcoholics and addicts for community placement.

The late 1960’s brought the decentralization of many mental health hospitals. White was exposed to the depraved conditions, the over-crowded wards, the stench of urine, the bizarre and near lethal medical procedures such as lobotomies, shock therapy and forced sterilizations. In the seventies, White became an outreach worker, gathering addicts and alcoholics from jail or hospitals and connecting them with services like Salvation Army shelters, SRO’s and AA meetings. In 1970, landmark funding from the Federal Government channeled dollars to local communities to develop addiction treatment programs to augment the paltry rehabilitation assistance. White worked at Chestnut Health Systems one of the first addiction treatment centers in Illinois, and within months he became the clinical director of the facility.

In 1975, William White began pursuing a master’s degree in Addiction Studies at Goddard College. Upon graduating he worked with the Illinois Dangerous Drug Commission, and then became deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Regional Training Center in Chicago and later transferred to Washington DC. In 1986, White later returned to the Chestnut Health System and co-founded the Lighthouse Institute, a research center focused on developing and disseminating information about addiction treatment.  In 1998, , he published his most recognized book; Slaying the Dragon, a seminal history of addiction treatment and recovery in the US.

William White’s contribution to Recovery Coaching research has been monumental, essentially changing the concept of the process of recovery by researching what has worked with hundreds of individuals with sustained, long term recovery.

 In 2002, William White wrote in partnership with the Fayette Companies of Peoria, IL  Chestnut Health Systems of Bloomington, IL, and the BHRM project (which was funded by the Illinois Department of Human Services, Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse)  wrote “An Addiction Recovery Glossary: The Languages of American Communities of Recovery”  This text included definitions of a new concept called the Recovery Advocacy Movement and reinforced Bill Wilson’s statement: “There are many paths to recovery”. This glossary introduced many emerging terms to addictions treatment field like Family Recovery, Recovery Capital, Recovery Coach and Wellbriety that were not then widely known in the field and have since become capstones of the recovery coaching field.

 In 2003, White and, Ernest Kurtz, PhD. wrote “Linking Addiction Treatment and Communities of Recovery: A Primer for Addiction Counselors and Recovery Coaches”. This article revolutionized the concept of post treatment or after care, introducing ways to achieve recovery for individuals emerging from a treatment center.

 In 2006, White, Michael G. Boyle, David L. Loveland, and Patrick Corrington, turned the addiction treatment field on its ear by publishing “What is Behavioral Health Recovery Management? A Brief Primer” followed by White, Kurtz, & Mark Sanders’ text called “Recovery Management”. Both are time-sustained, recovery focused, documented collaborations between service consumers, the traditional addiction service provider and the non-traditional service providers united in working toward the goal of stabilizing and actively managing the ebb and flow of addiction recovery until full remission and recovery has been achieved, or until they can be effectively self-managed by the individual and his or her family.

 Simultaneously, the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Mental Retardation Services, commissioned White to write “Sponsor, Recovery Coach, Addiction Counselor: The Importance of Role Clarity and Role Integrity”. White in this document defined a sponsor, a recovery coach and an addiction counselor, clarifying their roles and how the roles can work together.

 How can you define a new role in an industry without defining the role’s ethical responsibility? In 2007, William White and a team from a Philadelphia based Community Recovery Center; called PRO-ACT developed the “Ethical Guidelines for Peer Based Recovery Support Services”.

Between 2010 and 2012, White and his collaborators have focused on developing recovery-oriented approaches to medication-assisted treatment, including integrating recovery coaching and other recovery support services into methadone treatment programs in the U.S.

 In short, no one person has done more for the Addiction Recovery community than William White. White’s sustained contributions to the field have been acknowledged by awards from the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, NAADAC: The Association of Addiction Professionals, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, and the Native American Wellbriety Movement.

 His pursuit of defining recovery coaching as a volunteer position is quite clear in all of these articles. I applaud this decision and the reasons for it, as it serves a need, in fact fills a gap in addiction treatment that was sorely missing. But today, Recovery Coaching is moving into a new realm, maybe one might see recovery coaching as growing-up, going to college, getting married and having children.

 Recovery Coaching is gaining acceptance, the field is developing benchmarking standards, coaching certification, payment for services, and perhaps in the future, re-imbursement for coaching services by from health care enterprises. Professional associations and conferences have sprung up to aid peer specialists and recovery coaches in developing their skills. Without William White, the acceptance of recovery coaching would never have come about. William White continues to hold true to his adage of being a researcher, and in a recent conversation with him, he warned me that these new developments in recovery coaching and in addictions treatment need more research to substantiate the outcomes, I wholeheartedly agree.

 William White changed addiction recovery into what we recognize today as the Recovery Model that many in addictions treatment are following. He continues to dedicate himself to research, advocacy and writing on addiction treatment, although his wife, children and photographing sunsets in Southwest Florida, enjoy his equal dedication, today.

 William White’s web site is:

To view a video on a presentation William White and his opening workshop at the ROSC – Recovery Oriented Systems of Care Symposium – 2009 Atlanta, Georgia


This is the first part of the third chapter of “Guide to Coaching People in Recovery from Addiction” a book written by Melissa Killeen and available as an eBook in January 2013 on
 Part Two of Chapter Three: “Foundational Thinkers…” will be posted next week.



References: Johnson Institute, 2006, Great Lakes Addiction Technology Transfer Center (ATTC) Network, 2006, Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Mental Retardation Services, 2006, The Council of Southeast Pennsylvania, Inc – Pro-Act, 2007, Blackwell Synergy, 2007, Faces and Voices of,, 2011

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