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  • Writer's pictureCharles Gosset

What is Professional Recovery Coaching?

Professional recovery coaching is a unique support role in the field of addiction recovery care.

At its core, professional recovery coaching is about helping another person achieve lasting sobriety for addictive disorders, either following treatment and clinical care, or after finding a way to stop on their own.

It's also about helping someone to reduce their intake of addictive substances, or acting less on compulsive behaviors, before full-blown addiction sets in.

But it's not treatment. And it's not therapy. So what exactly is it?

There are many definitions for the evolving role of the professional recovery coach. The one that I use as a Certified Professional Recovery Coach (CPRC) comes from the organization that provided my coach training:

"Recovery coaching is a strengths-based process which helps individuals remove personal and environmental barriers to recovery and take action towards the realization of their visions, goals, and desires."

With its roots in the field of professional life coaching, recovery coaching is a solution-focused partnership designed to assist people in making profound, lasting changes in their lives. It's centered on addiction recovery, but includes all other areas of life too.

Recovery coaching answers the question "What's next?" following treatment, intensive outpatient programs, trauma therapy, and when a level of personal stability has been restored.

It also answers the question "What if I stop now?" before addiction sets in, while the individual still has a sense of choice and control over their substance use or compulsive behavior.

Who recovery coaching is for

Put simply, recovery coaching is for people who want to stop and think they can - or for people who have stopped and want to stay that way.

In the image below, professional recovery coaches serve people above the dark blue line going from left to right through the "V" shaped graphic. They help raise awareness and prevent losses on the left side (green and yellow sections), and help sustain recovery and enhance wellbeing on the right side (orange and blue sections).

Image by ICARE

For all others who fall below the dark blue line on the image (orange and red potions at bottom of "V" section), a heightened level of care is required because clinical addiction is involved. Recovery coaches do not provide primary care for people with addictive disorders at this stage. That work is for licensed clinical professionals. But, they can be included as part of any professional recovery team in a non-clinical support role.

What recovery coaching is not

Professional recovery coaching is sometimes confused with other one-on-one forms of personal support such as an addictions counselor, peer recovery specialist, 12-step sponsor, sober escort, or sober companion.

Recovery coaching isn't therapy

Addiction counselors diagnose and treat active addictions and underlying mental health disorders to achieve initial sobriety. Recovery coaches use a collaborative process for developing strengths and enhancing wellbeing in order to achieve longterm sobriety.

Professional recovery coaches (PRCs) are not licensed professionals like counselors and therapists. They do not diagnose, treat, or cure any mental health condition, substance use disorder, process addiction, or any other medical condition.

PRCs may be credentialed (ex. Certified Professional Recovery Coach), and often have high quality training from reputable providers. They possess practical knowledge of recovery models, change theory, motivational interviewing, family systems, and health and wellbeing.

While they don't develop clinical treatment plans like counselors and therapists, PRCs do actively assist in developing addiction recovery plans and partnering with clients to stay accountable to aftercare plans.

In general, counselors help individuals move from a state of dysfunction to a functional way of living. PRCs take if from there by helping people move from functional to optimal living, with an emphasis on longterm sobriety, wellbeing, and purpose.

Recovery coaching isn't a peer recovery specialist

Peer recovery support specialists serve as role models using their personal experience to support others in recovery. Recovery coaches acknowledge individual autonomy and are open to multiple pathways of recovery.

Peer recovery support specialists are by definition people who are in recovery themselves. They use basic training, along with their lived experience, as a primary means of helping others. They are often regulated by the state they reside in and are typically part of clinical treatment teams and community recovery programs. Generally, peer recovery support specialists are not trained in professional coaching.

A PRC may or may not be in recovery themselves. Their primary means of helping others comes from the field of professional coaching, supplemented with research-based knowledge of addiction recovery. They are currently not regulated by the state they reside in, may work on their own or alongside a larger recovery team, and are not directly involved in clinical treatment.

Peer recovery support specialists play a crucial role along the continuum of addiction care, especially during treatment and into early recovery. They act as trained mentors to help others gain confidence and learn new ways to live without substances or compulsive behaviors. PRCs, on the other hand, are not mentors as much as they are trained professionals. They facilitate a client-led process of self-discovery and profound change leading to meaningful, fulfilling, longterm sobriety.

Recovery coaching isn't a 12-step sponsor

A sponsor is an unpaid peer from a 12-step community support group who agrees to serve as a guide and resource for others. Recovery coaches are paid professionals who provide a transformational space for self-directed growth and development.

Sponsors work with individuals in a service role as part of a mutual support group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Al-Anon, and many others. They use their experience, strength, and hope to walk alongside newcomers in working through the 12 step program while acting as an encouraging mentor.

PRCs work with clients in a professional role and are not limited to any one recovery pathway or any specific community support group. They help clients to set their own agenda in developing a recovery plan, which may or may not include 12 step support groups. Other community support options can include SMART Recovery, Refuge Recovery, Wellbriety, and additional local or specialty groups.

Recovery coaching isn't a sober escort

Sober escorts are paid professionals who provide direct transport for individuals in recovery. Recovery coaches encourage autonomy and partner with clients to discover empowering ways to meet their own needs.

Sober escorts are often employed when high accountability is needed for someone who is at high risk of returning to substance use or engaging in compulsive behaviors. They serve as an ever-present traveling companion in charge of ensuring that an individual arrives safe and sound at their destination. This can be a trip to the grocery store, the office, the therapist, the courthouse, or an international event.

PRCs do not provide transportation services for their coaching clients. Instead, they work together to find resources and develop transportation plans that they can then carry out on their own. This may mean using public transportation, asking friends in recovery for rides, or hiring a sober escort to get them where they need to go if they believe they are at risk for relapse.

Recovery coaching isn't a sober companion

Sober companions are paid professionals who directly assist with the life of an individual in recovery. PRCs create goals with clients to help them develop confidence and healthy habits for living life on their terms.

Sober companions are hired to help with many, or all, aspects of daily life. They are generally in recovery themselves and often have some level of medical and/or addiction recovery training. They may provide limited services a few times a week, most days of the week, or even live on site with their clients for higher service needs. Their role is to help individuals to learn how to live without substances or compulsive behaviors through very high accountability, intensive mentoring, and regular support.

PRCs provide a much more limited scope of services within the context of coaching sessions and intermittent contact in between sessions as needed. The autonomy of the client is first and foremost. PRCs main focus is to help individuals discover inner strengths, develop basic skills, and demonstrate the confidence to learn ways of living a healthy, happy, purposeful life.

Benefits of recovery coaching

Professional recovery coaching can provide a number of tangible and intangible benefits to clients, including:

  • learning new ways to live without alcohol

  • exploring what "fun" is for you without substances

  • developing an individualized recovery plan

  • clarifying your personal strengths and values

  • staying accountable to your own goals

  • cultivating greater resilience, mindfulness, and wellbeing

  • experiencing greater peace and satisfaction

  • finding more purpose and meaning in life

To sum it up

Professional recovery coaching is a unique support role in the field of addiction recovery care. It has important differences from an addictions counselor, peer recovery specialist, 12-step sponsor, sober escort, and sober companion.

Recovery coaching helps people to achieve lasting sobriety from substance use disorders and compulsive behaviors following clinical treatment.

It also helps people who want to stop, and think they can, to develop healthy habits and a plan to reduce or eliminate substances and compulsive behaviors altogether before addiction sets in.

Reflect and connect

  • How is professional recovery coaching different from your experiences or perceptions of therapy, peer recovery support, 12-step sponsors, sober escorts, or sober companions?

  • What can you apply from this article to your own personal or professional growth plan?

  • How could recovery coaching potentially benefit you or those you serve?

Post your comments below or connect with me to share your thoughts.


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