What is the difference between a recovery coach, a peer recovery support specialist and a professional recovery coach?


Melissa Killeen

I published my book Recovery Coaching – A Guide to Coaching People in Recovery from Addictions in 2013. A recovery coach, a peer recovery support specialist and a professional recovery coach’s duties and responsibilities have expanded significantly since then. The organizations that offer recovery coach training numbered around 50 in 2013. Today, the number has grown to 250. Recovery coach certification training is one of the fastest growing aspects of the coaching field, with many states establishing recovery coaching and peer recovery support-specialist certifications. Yet, for many people who seek to achieve basic recovery coaching information, the process of training, certification, credentialing or licensing are baffling. With all of this growth and change, anyone who is interested in being a recovery coach is very confused about the necessary training, what to call this training and even what to call themselves! I want to make an attempt to clear up this confusion and answer these questions:

  • What is the difference between a recovery coach, a peer recovery support-specialist and a professional recovery coach?
  • On what kind of certification should a future recovery coach focus?
  • What are the guidelines for certification of a recovery coach?

(Some of the answers to these questions will appear in upcoming posts.)

What is a Recovery Coach?

A recovery coach is a person that works with and supports individuals immersed in an addiction(s), and coaches people in recovery from the abuse of alcohol and drugs, gambling, eating disorders or other addictive behaviors. Sometimes recovery coaches who work with people with addictions have been referred to as a peer recovery support specialist, a recovery support specialist (RSS), a sober companion, recovery associate or quit coach. In all cases these terminologies describe the same job description; a person who meets with clients in order to aid in their recovery from addiction(s). Even though many certifications for recovery coaches are classified as peer recovery support practitioner certifications. I prefer to use the term recovery coach in describing a person coaching an individual in recovery from addiction, instead of using the term “peer,” mainly because there is no requirement that a recovery coach be a peer (meaning they are an addict in recovery). Although it may be believed having experiential knowledge is a best practice for a recovery coach, it could be a recovery coach has knowledge of addiction and recovery perhaps by knowing an addict, having a family member with an addiction or taking courses in the treatment field.

I have kept the term “non-clinical” out of this definition of a recovery coach because over the course of several years, I have seen drug and alcohol counselors, family and marriage therapists (MFTs), licensed clinical social workers, interventionists (LCSWs), psychotherapists and psychiatrists, train to be recovery coaches and then add coaching to their resume. I hear from these individuals that they embrace the coaching approach, and merge the knowledge they have as a clinician or interventionist with recovery coaching methods.

Some individuals seek recovery and sobriety from addictions by frequenting a recovery community organization (RCOs) or recovery support center. An RCO is an independent, non-profit organization led and governed by representatives of local communities of recovery. There are recovery coaches at these recovery community organizations. These coaches have very diverse backgrounds. I have met coaches that were addicts, homeless, offenders, teachers, lawyers and highly educated individuals, who choose to help another person in recovery. I have seen these coaches espouse 12-step ideologies as well as non-12-step recovery models such as Buddhist Recovery, Moderation Management, Kundalini Yoga or Harm Reduction. Sometimes, the recovery coaches at these centers receive a salary from the RCO, however, the client is not charged for the recovery coaching services. RCO recovery coaches can also be volunteers, opting to perform their coaching duties for no reimbursement at all.

Lastly, recovery coaches can be employed by treatment centers or sober living homes and receive compensation from them. In cases such as this, the client is billed for the coaching services from the centers or homes. I know many a recovery coach who has opened a transitional living home or a supportive sober living environment. They coach the people who reside at these locations and their presence adds to the quality of the recovery experience.

Is recovery coaching covered by insurance?

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is no. No independent health insurance company covers the services of a recovery coach working with an individual in recovery from an addiction. There is currently only one state, New York, that has an arrangement with the state’s Medicaid offices to reimburse for recovery coaching for individuals who are diagnosed as dependent on a substance. Other states, Tennessee, Maryland and Massachusetts, are formulating similar Medicaid payment plans, but these reimbursements are not yet in place.

What is a peer to peer recovery support specialist?

A nearly universal definition of a peer to peer recovery support specialist is an individual with lived experience who has initiated his/her own recovery journey and assists others who are in earlier stages of the healing process of recovery from psychic, traumatic and/or substance-use challenges and, as a result, can offer assistance and support to promote another peer’s own personal recovery journey. A peer to peer recovery support specialist is also called a peer, peer support-practitioner, peer mentor, or a certified peer. All of these terms basically describe the same job description. More and more, this job description is focused on the peer to peer recovery support specialist working with a person in mental health recovery.

The certified peer to peer recovery support specialist workforce is relatively new in the behavioral health field, with state-recognized certification programs first emerging in 2001. Within this short time frame, states have recognized the potential of peer specialists to improve consumer outcomes by promoting recovery. Many social service agencies pay the peer’s salary, and the client does not pay for the coaching. In the mental health/behavioral health field, when referred by a social services agency or mental health treatment organization, reimbursement for a peer to peer recovery support specialist is covered by a health plan or Medicaid.

Peer to peer recovery support specialists can also work independently from an agency and be reimbursed by the client or a family. Peer to peer recovery support specialists can also choose to provide these services as a volunteer and receive no financial reward.

What is a professional recovery coach?

A professional recovery coach, is sometimes referred to as a recovery life coach. A professional recovery coach has experience and training in the recovery models, and training as a professional coach. These professional and credentialed coaching programs are sometimes referred to as life coaching training. A professional recovery coach can receive training from any of the 250 organizations that train recovery coaches, and select not to receive the certificate from a state certification board or the IC & RC (see the certification information in next week’s post). A professional coach can receive training from the ICF – International Coach Federation’s accredited coach training programs, and apply for a credential issued by the ICF.

A professional recovery coach can assist a client with a variety of coaching interventions including, but not limited to recovery from addictions, dealing with mental health diagnoses, divorce, financial downturns, grieving, career change and even family relationship issues. The client is billed for the coaching services from the professional recovery coach. Again, healthcare plans do not reimburse for these coaching services.

Stay tuned for next week’s post on certification for recovery coaches.

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2 Responses to What is the difference between a recovery coach, a peer recovery support specialist and a professional recovery coach?

  1. Ceil McKinney says:

    Thank you for the definitions. I am a Certified Peer Support Specialist and was looking at the possibility of adding to my knowledge as a Recovery Coach.

    • Melissa Killeen says:

      As a certified peer recovery support specialist, you need not get additional accreditation. You only need to broaden your knowledge. There are many ways to add to your knowledge of being an addictions recovery coach. First I suggest start reading everything published by William White. (http://www.williamwhitepapers.com) He is the foremost researcher on recovery management and recovery coaching. Next go to the on line resource of the McShin Foundation (http://mcshin.org/mcwp/ ). They have a manual about being a recovery coach, so you can read about how a recovery coach works within an addictions treatment agency. While you are on line look up David Loveland and Michael Boyle’s Recovery coaching and personal recovery plan (http://bha.dhmh.maryland.gov/CLINICAL%20SERVICES/Documents/ROSC/RC_ManualDASAedition7_22_05.pdf) All of these are downloadable and printable documents.
      All of these resources and more information is in my book Recovery Coaching-A Guide to Coaching People in Recovery from Additions. If you cannot purchase the book,($17.95 ) request your library to purchase it and give them the title and ISBN #, which is located on the page for my book in Amazon Books. (http://www.amazon.com/Recovery-Coaching-Guide-People-Addictions/dp/1490968164)
      If you are looked for more training, look on my links tab on the MKRecoveryCoaching.com web site and you will see addictions recovery training that is listed according to your state. Some trainings are low cost or free.
      I hope this helps you on your journey. Let me know if you have any more questions.
      Melissa Killeen

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