Recovery Coaching: The Missing Piece of the Recovery Puzzle
Updated: Jun 15, 2019
Recovery coaching came on the mental health scene in the early 2000s, but it has gained traction just over the last several years. Because it is a relatively new concept in the field of mental health, there is a considerable amount of people who are unclear as to what it entails—and an even greater amount who are unfamiliar with the term altogether.
Similar to a life coach, who helps clients set realistic goals, create an action plan, overcome fear and self-doubt, and become the best version of themselves; a recovery coach provides comprehensive support for individuals who are actively seeking recovery from addiction, eating disorders and other maladaptive behaviors.
Today, the mental health industry recognizes the connection between a full continuum of care and long-term recovery. Following PHP, IOP or residential treatment, a recovery/living environment is recommended. However, once the individual has completed secondary or tertiary treatment and returns home, he or she must navigate and manage real-world recovery alone. Overwhelming emotions, paralyzing fears, unhealthy family dynamics and intense cravings often result in relapse.
Everyone Needs an Advocate
Over the last few decades, great strides have been made to break the stigma of addiction and other mental health disorders. There is certainly no shortage in treatment centers and sober living homes in the United States. Nevertheless, research has shown that treatment – while effective in stopping maladaptive behaviors and providing individuals with the tools of recovery – is just the beginning. Sadly, those who have completed treatment, and even participated in extended care, often revert to old habits not long after returning home.
So, what’s the missing piece? Individuals who are establishing a foundation in recovery need an advocate in their corner to help guide them through everyday activities and challenges. Recovery coaching is a viable option for someone who:
Has recently completed treatment (PHP, IOP or residential)
Has been through multiple treatments and needs help getting back on track
May not require intensive treatment or have the financial means for treatment, but needs someone to walk him or her through life in recovery
A certified recovery coach (also called a peer support specialist, recovery support specialist or sober companion) offers accountability, structure and continuous support via telephone calls, text messaging, e-mails and in-person sessions. Together, the coach and the client look at realistic short- and long-term goals, review weekly progress (including victories and setbacks), and discuss healthy solutions that reinforce the client’s recovery. It is important to note that recovery coaching is not in lieu of, but in addition to, individual and group therapy, recovery meetings, mindfulness and meditation, sponsor/mentor, medication management, and integrative therapies, to name a few.
Not a Sponsor, Not a Therapist
What is the difference between a recovery coach, a sponsor and a therapist? This is one of the most common questions people ask when they first learn about recovery coaching. A recovery coach does not take the place of a therapist, a sponsor or any other mental health role.
A sponsor is a member of a 12-Step program who has been in recovery for at least one year. He or she also has a sponsor and has “worked” the 12 Steps. Although not mandatory, a same-sex sponsor/sponsee relationship is highly recommended. (Gay men and women often prefer a sponsor of the opposite sex/same sexual orientation.) The primary purpose of a sponsor is not only to provide guidance, encouragement and honest feedback, but also to walk the sponsee through the 12 Steps.
A therapist is a trained and skilled professional who often specializes in the treatment of specific populations and/or treatment methods. He or she offers profound insight and facilitates healthy, positive changes. When beneficial, a therapist might explore a person’s past in order to identify patterns and promote healing. He or she may work with an individual for a brief period of time or indefinitely, depending on the client’s needs.
So, What Exactly Does a Recovery Coach Do?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word coach as “one who instructs or trains.” A certified recovery coach is someone who empowers, encourages and guides an individual along a path that supports his or her recovery. A recovery coach does not adhere to one particular program of recovery; rather, he or she listens to the client’s desires and needs to create an individualized recovery plan. A recovery coach offers strengths-based, solutions-based support that puts the client in the driver’s seat of his or her own recovery. Together, they focus on present-moment living and whole-body wellness. Most recovery coaches prefer to work in three-month blocks, and can provide “spot-coaching” even after the coach/client relationship ends.
Recovery coaching is often the missing piece of the entire recovery puzzle. It serves as an effective method for relapse prevention and continuing care.