Recovery Coaching: Toward Role Clarity

Recovery Coach Blog Image from CCAR Blog 2The title “recovery coach” and the function of “recovery coaching” are being claimed by people of widely varying education, training, and experience. Though the roots of recovery coaching date to the early nineteenth century, the formalization of this role is a relatively recent development that flows from efforts to increase the recovery orientation of addiction treatment and to increase the relevance of other helping roles to people recovering from alcohol- and other drug-related problems.

In the last blog, I reviewed early scientific evaluations of the effects of recovery coaching when added to addiction treatment or other health and human services (See HERE). While the summarized evidence suggested considerable promise for this new role, a major barrier to effective evaluation and replication is the lack of clarity of how this role is being defined and practiced. 

Each role added to the recovery support continuum must be carefully defined and evaluated. Each has the potential to exert optimal, minimal, neutral, or negative effects on recovery initiation and long-term recovery maintenance as well as on other critical outcome measures.  Rigorous evaluations of each role help identify “active service ingredients” (those critical dimensions that effect recovery outcomes); define core knowledge, competency requirements, and ethical guidelines; distinguish each role from other professional and lay support roles; and provide a framework for recruitment, orientation, training, and on-going supervision of service delivery.    

Recovery coaches are appearing in diverse service settings and cultural contexts. Peer recovery coaches, in both paid and voluntary roles, are being integrated into the recovery support service menu of new recovery community organizations.  Recovery coaches of varied backgrounds are being integrated within addiction treatment organizations and within allied service settings (e.g., primary health care, public health, criminal justice, child welfare).  And “professional recovery coaching” is being offered as a service by life coaches, interventionists, and private psychotherapists.  

Several years ago, Alida Schuyler, Jan Brown, and I began an extended dialogue (via phone conferences) on recovery coaching and the need for clearer definitions and standards governing this role. Alida drew from her roots in the professional coaching arena. Jan drew from her roots as a professional coach and her knowledge and experience from her work in the development of peer-based recovery support services within recovery community organizations and addiction treatment programs. I drew on my experience as an addictions counselor, clinical supervisor, and on my consultations and evaluations of peer-based recovery support services.

As our discussions progressed, we focused on the differences between professional life coaches who had begun to specialize in working with individuals in addiction recovery, the professionalized role of addiction counseling, and peer recovery support specialists who were incorporating coaching into their helping processes. A resulting Role Clarity Matrix was created to record our evolving meditations on these roles.  That Matrix has just been posted (Click Here). We hope it will help increase the quality of future discussions about recovery coaching and the ongoing efforts to define this role within particular service settings.