What is Recovery Coaching?

Message in a bottleHere are some helpful distinctions about what recovery coaching is — and isn’t. This list comes from Jana Heckerman, in a recent article from Addiction Professional journal.

What recovery coaching is NOT

Let’s first address what coaching isn’t. It is not:

  • Therapy. Well-trained coaches are very aware of the line between therapy and coaching and are careful to honor that line and refer out to therapists when indicated.
  • A replacement for primary treatment, a 12-Step program, or clinical care.
  • A substitute for or the equivalent of a “sober companion” or “sober coach.”
  • For anyone still actively involved with their substance of choice.
  • About affirmations, positive thinking, or platitudes.

What recovery coaching IS

Now let’s look at what coaching is and how it is useful in the recovery process.

High-quality coaching is:

  • Focused on the future. While an understanding of the client’s past is important, the recovery coaching process is intended to help the client envision and go about creating a positive future. For some clients this means crafting a comprehensive “life plan.” For others, coaching is focused on specific themes, gaps in personal development, or how to navigate effectively the re-entry into work and life following treatment.
  • A robust, intentional process and relationship. A well-trained coach stays intently focused on what the client wants and helps the client identify his/her own agenda and stick to it. Coaching should never be about what the coach thinks is best for the client. While the coach may educate and offer ideas, giving direct advice is discouraged.
  • Based on action and accountability. The coach supports the client in envisioning a positive future and then quickly getting into action to create that future. The coach’s job is also to hold the client accountable for follow-through without blaming or shaming the client when not every goal is achieved. It is not uncommon for the coach to continue to hold and honor a client’s vision when the client has temporarily lost sight of it. For someone in recovery this is of tremendous importance, because the years of self-doubt and shame can at times prevent the person from feeling confident, competent, and whole.
  • Best used for a defined period of time. Unlike a 12-Step program that an individual might participate in for a lifetime, or clinical therapy that might need to continue for several years to be effective, the action-oriented nature of coaching means that it rarely continues for more than a year and often is needed only for a few sessions or a few months.
  • Effective only when an individual is “ready.” Like treatment for addiction in all its forms, coaching is useful only when a client is truly ready. This means that the client is on a solid path toward a solid recovery, has dealt with his/her most significant “past” issues, and has the time and energy to devote to mapping out a new life. The client must be in the position to put energy toward creating a positive future while also maintaining a focus on recovery. Some coaches, myself included, use assessments and questionnaires to assess an individual’s readiness to engage in coaching.

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