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Recovery Coach: What’s a Coach Got To Do With It?

What is a Recovery Coach and how do they differ from a 12 step sponsor?

The first thing to understand is that a recovery coach is not affiliated with, or a representative of any 12 Step program. Coaches act as advocates for any and all programs, depending on the needs of the person — basically what they and the recovery team believe will work best for a successful start on the path to recovery.

Just like sponsors, coaches are not paid to take anyone through the 12 Steps. Nor do they demand anyone work a program to stay clean and sober. This is a decision that must be made by the addict or alcoholic. If they truly want help, they will need to commit themselves to doing the work. Any responsible member of a 12 Step fellowship would never accept money to do what is clearly defined as service work. It is the joy of giving back what has been so freely given to them.

As is the case with many of the best addiction treatment professionals, a majority of recovery coaches are members of 12 Step programs themselves. They have a true understanding of abstinence and recovery, based on their own experience. To quote a phrase from the basic text of Narcotics Anonymous: “the therapeutic value of one addict helping another is without parallel.”

A sponsor is a person who has been abstinent for an extended period of time and they are prepared to support a newly abstinent member. The sponsorship idea is an integral part of all anonymous programs, and is part of its social support network. A Sponsor is an individual volunteer from a 12 step program such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gambler’s Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, and so on.

It’s important to remember, sponsors are not to be viewed as life coaches, marriage counselors, financial advisors or best friends. If they are sincere in their efforts, the main objective is helping the newcomer understand the disease, to guide in the process of step work, assist in cleaning up the wreckage of the alcoholic or addicts past, and help them become productive members of society.

Whether a sponsor is the leader of a Fortune 500 company or is unemployed, if they have long term sobriety and can help another along the way, that’s what matters. Unlike a Recovery Coach, a sponsor’s part is helping their sponsees remain abstinent through meeting attendance, service and 12 Step work.

A recovery coaches job might include guiding you to the appropriate 12 Step fellowship. They help you stay on track with a variety of options and can work with you for a pre-determined number of days, weeks, months or more.

A coach supports someone in creating and living a vibrant, superior life and isn’t limited to using the 12 Steps. They work with you on your dreams and develop plans to help you effectively reach your full potential.

What are the principles and beliefs of a Recovery Coach?

The focus of coaching is the development and the implementation of strategies to reach goals for enhanced performance and personal satisfaction. Recovery Coaching may address specific personal projects such as life balance, job performance and satisfaction, or general conditions in a client’s life, business or profession. Coaching utilizes personal strategic planning, values clarification, brainstorming, and motivational techniques.

Recovery Coaching is personalized one-on-one support for people in recovery. Services include assistance and support while integrating your 12 step recovery program, which can include abstinence monitoring, financial or budgeting assistance, and other practical recovery support. Coaching also helps produce results in people’s careers, schooling, businesses, or organizations – while keeping the main focus on recovery.

Working with other treatment professionals, a coach assists in meeting the client needs by exploring how community, family, and business supports can best be utilized to maintain ongoing recovery by developing an action plan to address resistance and barriers. An important part of the coaches job is to match the client with the best resource for their individual needs while providing accountability for the client to follow through with all areas of the plan of action. Low motivation, procrastination, or the fear of success are just a few blocks that may be preventing someone from living to their true potential. There may also be external walls that stop addicts from meeting their own needs when it comes to budgeting, housing, employment, time management, physical exercise, and socialization.

Recovery Coaches can fill the “void,” meaning the coach can coordinate between treatment centers, a 12 step sponsor, doctors, courts, parents, clergy, and therapists.

Coaches have a clear understanding of the many barriers that prevent some alcoholics and addicts from defining, joining, and remaining in healthy environments. Everything is drastically different for a newly clean and sober person and much will need to be changed — inside and out. In addition to individualized and specialized goal-setting and skill-building, a coach can provide an invaluable service for those resistant to remaining abstinent from drugs or alcohol, not only for their own health and stability, but for those who must do so due to family, medical, legal or contractual obligations. If you’re just out of treatment or detox, having a recovery coach can help protect the investment you’ve made in yourself.

A Recovery Coach can help you structure daily activities, discover peace of mind and help you find ways to enjoy a sober life. Anyone in early recovery can benefit greatly from having a professional relationship outside the 12 Step rooms — especially when that someone is a coach who has been there. For families, many are more comfortable knowing their loved one has the added attention and facilitation of a coach along with a therapist and sponsor.

Weekly goals are set to meet individual strengths and weaknesses. With a coach, clients will start to take action more readily, be less distracted, follow-through on tasks quicker, become aware of what drains their energy, develop a new awareness about themselves, and create positive momentum with tasks and challenges. All of which produce a feeling of accomplishment, building self-confidence.

Coaches work with individuals at all stages of recovery. Whether the person is contemplating or confused about getting clean and sober; is leaving residential treatment, currently in sober living, in an out-patient or day-patient program, in their own home, in the process of transitioning from sober living/treatment to their own home, or has recently relapsed. A coach isn’t limited by a single lens. They work with you on your dreams and goals and assist in effectively finding solutions with you.

What qualifies someone to be a Recovery Coach?

First let me make it clear — a recovery coach is not a psychotherapist, counselor or consultant. They differ from therapists and counselors, although there are many excellent therapists and counselors who are also certified recovery and life coaches. The difference is coaches don’t offer treatment for addiction or mental health problems. Coaches neither assess addiction nor diagnose. If the individual is experiencing mental health problems or seeking help for psychological or emotional pain, the coach may advise that they work with both a coach and a therapist.

While no state or federal legislation exists that requires coaches to have special training or licensing, the best coaches are highly trained and committed to ongoing education.

Coaching involves helping another person identify and take action toward important professional and personal goals. It incorporates technical, interpersonal, and managerial skills. Rather than acting as a “healer or fixer,” a coach serves as a facilitator in helping clients attain their full potential. The goal of a coach is to help clients tap into and actualize their deepest vision of who they are — which lies at the very essence of their being. Coaches believe that everyone has their own answers inside, and by offering support and encouragement each individual will find the answers that work for them.

If a person in recovery retains a coach, do they still work with their 12 step sponsor?

Yes. It’s very important for the client to continue to work with a 12 step sponsor. As we discussed earlier the role of a coach focuses on the client’s life other than working the 12 steps. Professional coaching is an ongoing relationship that focuses on you taking action toward the realization of your vision and goals. In essence, they are a partner in your quest for fulfillment and success.

How does someone find a Recovery Coach?

There are many resources available. Some avenues are researching the internet for sober/recovery coach academies, schools or institutions in your area. Many treatment centers, sober living facilities and therapists are great referral sources. Personal recommendations from friends or colleagues who have worked with a recovery coach are good options. Do your research and ask the right questions. A professional and experienced Recovery/Life Coach can make the difference in helping to make profound life changes for individuals, families and organizations. They facilitate these positive changes through meeting one-on-one, telephone conferences, SKYPE, or in group support sessions, with challenging assignments, heart to heart communication, and by asking powerful questions. The client can, if they apply themselves — have reduced stress, gain motivation to succeed, unlock a sound appreciation of their own strengths and weaknesses, have the ability to manage their time and resources to a better advantage, and gain stronger self-confidence and self-esteem. When one has a clear view of the obstacles and learns ways to overcome them, they create a balanced view of life, and experience a deeper touch in relationships with others— most importantly with themselves.

I believe we “all” have the answers inside of ourselves and that an experienced and trusted coach can assist the client in helping them “find” and also “remind” them of what we are ultimately here to do — as unique fully empowered individuals.


Bill Ryan has been involved in the field of chemical dependence both professionally and personally for over 30 years. Since 1977 when he began his own personal healing he has helped carry the message of recovery to countless people around the world through public speaking, seminars, workshops and written publications.

His unique combination of success in his own recovery, extensive business and professional experience make him especially well-suited to facilitate professional workplace, family or individual coaching sessions, as well as interventions.


Article published July 7, 2012 at

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