These days you can hire a coach for just about anything. There are sports coaches, career coaches, executive coaches, performance coaches, relationship coaches and life coaches. So why should recovery be any different? It’s not. In recent years, a new breed of counselor has arisen: Recovery coaches (aka sobriety coaches) are professionals dedicated exclusively to helping their clients navigate their way through the process of recovery from addiction(s) while avoiding relapses.
Often, “a therapist goes back in time and helps the person explore past events; a recovery coach goes forward and talks about what the person is going to do now and in the future,” explains Cali Estes, C.A.P., CEO of The Addictions Coach, which brings together coaches around the world to help people with various addictions. Sponsors, by comparison, which come out of the 12-step tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous and other AA-inspired programs, typically focus on the 12 steps to recovery, while a recovery coach focuses primarily on setting and reaching goals and helping the person find his or her own personal path to overcoming an addiction, often drawing on a wide range of approaches (which therapists may do, too).
How Recovery Coaches Work
To that end, a recovery coach might help a client find the clinical services (like a therapist) and/or supportive resources (like financial help or housing assistance) she needs to successfully make the transition back into her community. To help the person in recovery stay focused on maintaining progress, the coach often asks the client to set specific three-, six and nine-month goals that are related to recovery and creating a sober life. “We help the client differentiate between what’s realistic and what’s unrealistic,” explains Estes.
What’s more, a recovery coach might work with a client on developing crucial life skills for coping with stress, managing finances, finding and/or keeping a job and improving communication with family members. Depending on how quickly clients are making progress, “we slow them down on certain things and speed them up on others,” Estes says. “Part of what we do is help them figure out how to find passion and meaning in life”— whether that involves pursuing a new career or vocation or cultivating healthy, supportive, gratifying relationships.
As far as overcoming an addiction goes, if you hire a recovery coach she’ll likely help you identify barriers to your staying sober and figure out specific ways to sidestep or overcome them, such as how you’ll steer clear of old friends who still use, or what detailed steps you’ll take to make new friends so you don’t feel lonely and are left with hours to fill each day, or become isolated — all risk factors for relapse.. To do that, your coach might create a “behavioral contract” to help you stay accountable to your goals and to ensure that you’ll do what you’ve said you’ll do (this may include random drug testing if your problem includes substance abuse). In addition, a coach can help clients find ways to socialize and relax without drinking or using drugs or engaging in the behavior they’re trying to kick, whether it’s gambling, gaming, shopping, porn or something else. “We work with clients to figure out who their friends are and who’s toxic in their circle of influence,” adds Estes.
In other words, “there is no [single] prescription for a recovery coaching model — it can be customized to the person’s individual needs,” says David Cohen, L.C.S.W., C.A.D.C., vice president of substance use and co-occurring disorders at Insight Behavioral Health Centers, in Chicago. In short, a good recovery coach is a mentor, counselor, supportive friend or companion, spiritual guide and cheerleader rolled into one. But a recovery coach is not a replacement for a therapist during recovery. After all, a coach doesn’t diagnose or treat addiction or mental health issues the way a credentialed therapist does. Instead, “the recovery coach becomes the quarterback for the entire clinical team — the treatment provider, the therapist, the point person for an employee assistance program and so on,” explains Cohen. “A recovery coach needs to be an adjunct to traditional treatment, whether it’s residential treatment or outpatient therapy, not instead of. It’s an extra layer of accountability and mentorship.” How often you’ll see a coach depends on your needs and goals and what you can afford, but you will likely meet with him or her at least once a week.
Is a Recovery Coach Right for You?
The answer may be “yes” if you’re in early recovery and you feel like you could use some extra help and support, if you feel like you’re in danger of relapsing and/or if you’ve just come out of treatment and want guidance in staying sober. “A recovery coach helps determine [what happens] after treatment,” Cohen says. Recovery coaches also can be helpful for people who know they don’t want to do a 12-step program, Estes says. Some recovery coaches even live with their clients for a while (and essentially become sober companions) to facilitate recovery.
For all these coaching services, the cost can range from $75 to $350 an hour, depending on where you live; the fees are usually not covered by insurance. Nor is there a certification or licensing process that governs recovery coaches. “A recovery coach should have a higher degree in social work or counseling,” suggests Cohen. The best way to find a good one is through word of mouth or to search online in your area and interview recovery coaches who sound promising (ask for references and a free session, adds Estes).
Until this relatively new field becomes standardized and regulated, you’ll need to do the legwork to find a reputable, qualified recovery coach you want to work with. “Right now, the consumer needs to exercise due diligence,” Estes says. “Make sure you’re matched with someone who understands you, someone whose personality is a good fit for you.” As with any relationship, personal chemistry counts here, too.