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Programs Could Use Some Coaching

April 1, 2008
by Jana Heckerman
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Recovery coaches can offer an effective adjunct to treatment

It takes time and requires patience for any new idea to become integrated effectively into an existing culture. Recovery coaching is a relatively new idea. It is just beginning to gain serious traction, showing strong signs of being much more than a passing fad. Consolidation and acquisitions within the addiction treatment industry will make coaching more attractive to administrators who want to find ways to differentiate their programs and to deliver high-quality care in the most cost-effective manner possible.

Once it has been shown—and I believe it will be—that relapse and recidivism rates are lower in recovering individuals who engage in coaching, both inpatient and outpatient treatment centers likely will begin to offer coaching routinely as a value-added service.

Coaching has its roots in the human potential movement. Some noted names in this arena include Stephen Covey, Tony Robbins, and Byron Katie. When it became apparent that a great many individuals were benefiting from reading the work of these high-profile authors, listening to their motivational audio courses, and attending workshops conducted by these and many other leaders, the concept of coaching on a more personal scale emerged. Coach training organizations began to appear to educate and certify professionals from all walks of life to be coaches.

Coaching school graduates specialize in a variety of areas, including life coaching, executive and leadership coaching, and transition coaching. Recovery coaching is a relatively new addition to the coaching sub-specialty list.

A personal story

Two years into my own recovery, I decided to pursue my dream of becoming a coach. I had worked in large corporations as an organizational and leadership development specialist for more than two decades. My career had begun to feel flat and I was ready for a change. Upon enrolling at The Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara, one of the country's premier coach training organizations, I was delighted to be immersed in the learning process once again. I found that being around other people who were excited about the same thing I was—human potential—fed my soul.

To be in an intensive coaching training program is to do some serious self-evaluation. I was able to ponder my past in a way that I never had before. I looked at everything I had been through, including 25 years of hard work to become a successful career woman while, at the same time, drinking myself into full-blown alcoholism. It was during my coaching training program that I became acutely aware of how misaligned my life had been and how, if I was going to stay sober and do something valuable, I had to get into much better alignment—personally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Living a dual life was no longer an option.

Part of the process of becoming a certified coach is to engage a coach and experience the process firsthand. During weekly sessions over several months, my coach held me accountable and kept me focused on achieving my new goals, which included leaving the corporate world, designing and launching my coaching practice, and moving to Colorado to support my effort to work with individuals in recovery in a serene setting. As a result of my own coaching, I am now doing the work I love and—I hope—making a difference in the lives of others.

I'm sharing much of my story because what I experienced while training to become a coach is exactly the process I and many other coaches bring to clients in recovery. The Hudson Institute training program emphasizes adult development, values, purpose, and how to become more aligned to create a better future. To my mind, that is exactly what people in early stages of recovery need.

What coaching is and isn't

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.

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.

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