What is recovery coaching?

Recovery coaching was developed as a way to bridge the gap between a client leaving a treatment center and entering long term recovery. It has been found that eight percent of the clients leaving a treatment center will relapse within ninety days. This is a staggering statistic.

William White, and other researchers, developed the Recovery Management Model in the 1990s. This model recognized that if a client leaving a treatment center had someone to work with immediately upon discharge, introducing them to 12-step programs, addiction treatment specialists, and working through triggers or life problems that previously would result in addictive behavior, the likelihood of that client relapsing would be reduced significantly. By significantly, I mean by using a recovery coach there will be a fifty percent reduction of the likelihood of relapse. Hence, the field of recovery coaching was born. 

Why did you write RECOVERY COACHING: A Guide to Coaching People in Recovery from Addictions and what were you hoping to accomplish? 

I thought about writing this book when I began to research my first thesis at the University of Pennsylvania. I found that the only documents on recovery coaching were white papers, journal articles or manuals that were written by researchers. Only a few papers were really written for or by people that were practicing recovery coaching and I could count these documents on one hand. I knew there had to be a book on recovery coaching to help those people that did not have the time to search for these documents. I was hoping to offer people new to this field quick and easy access to information about recovery coaching.

What kind of questions were you hoping to answer? 

The first questions I asked when I first started researching was “Where did recovery coaching start?” and “Who was the first recovery coach?” This research brought me to the story of Bob Timmins, an ex-con, heroin addict with over two decades of recovery. Bob was truly the first recovery coach. He helped rock stars like Steven Tyler as well as homeless teenagers beat addiction. Timmins was truly a dedicated recovery coach, sometimes receiving significant financial reimbursement for his services and other times doing it out of the goodness of his heart. Timmins, unfortunately, has passed away, but the Timmins Foundation carries on his dream. The Timmins Foundation is run by Jeff McFarland, a person that Timmins helped when McFarland was a homeless, teenage drug addict in a California rehab. Bob Timmins is the cornerstone of the recovery coaching field. 

What does a recovery coach do? 

Today, there are many job descriptions for a recovery coach: peer support specialist, peer mentor, sober escort, addiction coach, sober companion, or peer recovery practitioner. All of these titles describe a person that is aiding another to remain sober. These various job descriptions are featured in my book. A sober escort is a recovery coach that meets the client at the door of the treatment center and escorts them home, ensuring the client remain sober during that transit. A sober companion is a recovery coach that stays with the recovering client 24/7 after their discharge, helping the client navigate in the world that often was the reason that the client went to treatment in the first place. A peer recovery support specialist usually works as a volunteer in a recovery support center. A recovery support center is a community based center that offers a safe place for people in recovery to congregate. A support center offers workshops like anger management, legal expungement, household budgeting, and training for resume writing and job searching, GED classes, as well as being a location for 12-step meetings. It is the place the peer support specialist can meet with their client on a daily or weekly basis and work on the client’s recovery plan. There are many more job descriptions for the recovery coach in the book. After reading my book, a recovery coach can perform many of these tasks with minimal extra training.

What is the difference between a 12-step sponsor, or a therapist and a recovery coach? 

A recovery coach is not a sponsor, therapist, doctor, lawyer or priest (or rabbi for that matter). Unlike a sponsor, a recovery coach receives training in ethics, recovery management tools, relapse prevention, co-occurring disorders, suicide prevention and other skills like health and wellness and acquiring social services benefits. A recovery coach, unlike a therapist, works on the present, “what can help my client today?” a therapist works on the past. A recovery coach does not diagnose or prescribe medications, although recovery coaches work side by side with a treatment team made up of a psychiatrist and an addictions counselor. A recovery coach may have a spiritual practice; however they do not mandate that their spiritual beliefs be rigidly followed by their client. A recovery coach works with a client as the client mandates, or ‘meets the client where they are’. This means in spiritual matters as well as what type of support group the client wishes to attend. There are many mutual support groups that help a person recovering from substance abuse, not just the 12-step programs like NA or AA. For example SMART Recovery, Agnostics and Atheists in Recovery, Kundalini Yoga and Buddhist Recovery programs that can guide a person through recovery.

What kind of training does a recovery coach need? 

Recovery Coaching is a very young field. As the Recovery Management Model is being adopted by state and federal addiction treatment agencies, and treatment centers recovery coaches are being hired by these agencies. The stipulation of hiring recovery coaches is the coach should have certification. This certification is granted after a recovery coach has 500 hours of supervised coaching and has taken a coaching training course validated by the state licensing or credentialing bureaus. These credentialing bureaus are the same bureaus that certify addiction counselors or clinical social workers. The classes that are available are wide spread and may not yet be available in all states. I list the current organizations that offer recovery coaching training in my book.

As previously mentioned, training should include an overview of ethical standards and core competencies of a coach, as well as recovery management tools, relapse prevention, co-occurring disorders, suicide prevention and other skills like smoking cessation, health and wellness and how to navigate the social services system. 

Do you need a bachelor’s degree, a MSW, CADC or other certifications to be qualified to be a recovery coach?

No, you do not need a degree at all. As I state in my book, a recovery coach can be an ex-con, recovering heroin addict with his GED. In fact, someone with experience in long term recovery has met the ideal job requirement for becoming a recovery coach.

What is the future of recovery coaching? 

As the Affordable Healthcare Act comes into use in 2014, the work of recovery coaches in the mental health field as well as the addictions field will be compensated by Medicare. This will prompt hospitals, treatment centers and agencies to hire recovery coaches. The concept of employment for recovery coaches will only grow from there. Soon, I expect private health insurance companies may offer partial compensation to a recovery coach, much like a physical or occupational therapist receives compensation. I know that many clients are not waiting for health insurance compensation, and they hire a recovery coach and pay for the coaching fees out of their own pocket. The desire to become sober, at any cost, is what will help many recovery coaches move from a volunteer position to a paid position or even into their own recovery coaching practice in the near future.

You mentioned mental health recovery coaches, can you explain?

Recovery coaches in the mental health field are currently being trained side by side with addictions recovery coaches. Although, recovery coaches in the mental health field receive additional training on mental health diagnosis and brain injury, the two fields are growing side by side and share similar credentialing and training requirements. However, the first book about recovery coaching in the mental health field is still in the planning stages.

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