In the past few weeks, I have been presenting brief biographies of people that have been instrumental in developing the recovery coaching industry. As a field, recovery coaching had an odd path of growth. In the 80’s no MBA’s or PhD’s set forth to devise this new industry of recovery coaching. But a few people saw this as a bona fide profession. Yes, some of these Foundational Thinkers were drunks, dope fiends and ex-cons, like Bob Timmins. Others were dedicated professionals in the field of addiction recovery that saw there was a gaping hole between a client leaving treatment and achieving long term recovery that needed to be addressed. How does a person leaving a treatment center find, embrace and develop their recovery? The answer was for the client to find a 12-step meeting, find a sponsor, and pray to a higher power.
Picture this, open the door of a treatment center, and send the client back into the environment that placed them into treatment in the first place, with these instructions “don’t drink (or pick-up, act out, or drug etc), find a meeting and get a sponsor” and with no other guidance except a list of 12-step meetings. Those in recovery know how hard that path is. For those who choose not to believe in a higher power or that could not find a sponsor or whose addiction did not fit into the typical AA or NA meetings, what should they do? Well, most likely, 80% of these people relapsed.
William White’s model of a volunteer peer recovery coach began to fill that hole between treatment and long term sobriety. Treatment centers are now calling this model an aftercare program, and hiring recovery coaches to help their client through this transition period. The outcome is that both of these models work and both use a recovery coach to assist the client on the path of recovery. There is, as you will read below, a discussion as to the efficacy of a coach that gives their time for free and a coach that is compensated. Is one right and the other wrong? Is the other type of coach is not trained well enough? Is one more legally liable than the other? In the next few posts, not only will I introduce these leaders of the recovery coaching field, but I will also feature their thoughts on this topic.
One individual, Phillip Valentine, chose the William White recovery model and began one community recovery support center in Hartford and has grown the Connecticut Community of Addiction Recovery into a nationally recognized leader in developing recovery support centers and recovery coaching training.
Phillip Valentine is the Executive Director for the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR). He has been an integral component in this recovery community organization since January 1999. He is recognized as a strong leader in the recovery community and in recovery himself. Valentine is on the Board of Directors of Faces and Voices of Recovery in Washington DC; the nationally-recognized voice of the organized recovery community. In 2006 the Johnson Institute recognized his efforts with an America Honors Recovery award. In 2008, Faces and Voices of Recovery recognized CCAR with the first Joel Hernandez Voice of the Recovery Community Award as the outstanding recovery community organization in the country. In 2009, the Hartford Business Journal named him the Non-profit Executive of the Year. Currently, he is spearheading CCAR’s effort to build a statewide network of Recovery Community Centers that feature innovative peer recovery support services like Recovery Coaches, Telephone Recovery Support, All-Recovery Groups and Recovery Works! –which is an employment services component to the recovery community centers.
In an interview with William White, as part of Perspectives on Systems Transformation: How Visionary Leaders are Shifting Addiction Treatment Toward a Recovery-Oriented System of Care, published by the Great Lakes Addiction Technology Transfer Center (ATTC), Valentine describes what he sees as the difference between peer-based recovery support services, treatment services and recovery coaches that are compensated:
White: How would you distinguish between peer-based recovery support services and treatment services?
Valentine: I see treatment as more sterile, professional, hospital-like, staff-focused. Treatment can be real effective in initiating recovery, where recovery support services are more focused on maintaining and enriching recovery. Recovery support services aren’t bureaucratically bound—at least not yet—by mountains of rules, regulations, and paper. Recovery support services are more free and unencumbered to sustain a focus on whatever it takes to support recovery. We’re trying to escape the coldness you feel when you walk into a place that seems only concerned with forms and money—the feeling that you’re just one more person in the assembly line, one more of the addicts or alcoholics coming through the system. It’s hard to be seen as a person in such coldness. Recovery support services are the warmth that can heat you back up. They’re the antidote to people being paid to be your friend. Frontline counselors are often warm and wonderful people, but they are constrained by the burdens placed upon them.
White: Are your recovery support services being provided by people in volunteer and paid roles?
Valentine: The vast majority of our recovery support services are provided by volunteers, and that’s the way we hope to keep it. That being said, if a director of a center is a very strong, powerful personality and very visible, people will be drawn to that person for recovery coaching. What we try to do is to get such people to train others so that we can expand the pool of recovery support resources.
White: Do you see a danger in the trend toward paid recovery coaches? Might we drift toward that same clinical coldness you described earlier?
Valentine: It’s always about the heart. There’s a real spiritual component. Some recovery coaches can get paid and handle it well and others cannot. Getting paid in this role elevates the level of authority and responsibility. I worry about the ego. I worry about coaches aspiring to that kind of life-and-death influence over others. That kind of authority can mess with a person’s recovery and humility. The longer I’m in recovery, the less I know. When you’re a paid recovery coach for a while, you think you’re starting to know all the answers, and that’s just not true. There’s always gonna be clients who are gonna teach you more than you teach them, and I hope we stay open to the lessons of such people. There are new ways to deal with things. The volunteer piece works in part because you have a whole network of other volunteers that you bounce things off of. With volunteers, the individual is served by a community of people—the volunteers being the welcome wagon of that community. What a difference it makes on the soccer fields! I’ve had six years’ experience as a travel soccer coach. I wouldn’t dream of getting paid. I love it, and I do it because the kids are so much fun. The sport’s great. I have something to contribute. Why do we think that a recovery coach should be any different than that? (White, 2006) http://vtrecoverynetwork.org/data/Recovery_Symposium/GLATTCInterviewValentine.pdf