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Recovery Coaching and Friendship by Phil Valentine

The CCAR Recovery Coach Academy© reviews the following roles associated with recovery coaching.

  1. Motivator and cheerleader

  2. Ally and confidante

  3. Truth teller

  4. Role model and mentor

  5. Problem solver

  6. Resource broker

  7. Advocate

  8. Community organizer

  9. Lifestyle consultant

  10. Friend and companion

That’s a lotta roles, isn’t it? The role that raises the most eyebrows and prompts the most questions is Friend and Companion. It’s the one that people most often disagree with. I had a participant say that he could live with “friendly companion” but not friend and companion. When these questions arise I have resorted to posing a scenario.

“It seems like you’re comfortable with companion, but you’d like to cross out friend, is this true?”

Invariably, the consensus is yes. I respond.

“What’s the second one you’d like to eliminate?” A few faces reveal bewilderment. Continue, I do.

“We’re going down a slippery slope here. We eliminate one, and then we eliminate another…. And soon we have repeated history. “

Several years ago, I took a stroll with Bill White and we discussed recovery coaching. He informed me that many of the alcohol counselor job descriptions in the 1970’s were very similar to the emerging job descriptions of the recovery coach. The alcohol counselors Bill described were primarily people in recovery from alcoholism. As counseling evolved, more emphasis was placed on education. Bill said the educational requirement has “squeezed the juice” out of the field. People in recovery (the juice) are now a minority in the counseling field. And on a side note: minorities have been squeezed out as well.

Often clinicians come through the Recovery Coach Academy and talk about the restrictions imposed on them by the providers that employ them. A common one is how they are instructed to act when they see a client at a 12-Step (or other community recovery) meeting. They are required to leave. This irritates me to no end.

  1. What is the worst-case scenario here? I’ve been told that the client might not be comfortable sharing with a counselor in the room. Really? How did they determine that?

  2. The provider does not trust the counselor’s ability to handle this situation. They are afraid the counselor may exploit the client for personal, financial, religious and/or sexual gain. If that’s true, well… you hired them.

  3. There seems to be an unwarranted fear of “dual” relationships. From my minimal research of dual relationships, this term comes from psychotherapy (also known as multiple relationships). Other helping fields have adopted the term. I think recovery coaching ought to abandon it. To me, it’s clinical in nature and does not apply to coaching.

  4. Finally, what about the counselor’s self-care and the primacy of recovery? Why would you create a policy that has potential to harm your own staff?

I had another older gentleman (in recovery) tell me he just retired after a long career as an addictions counselor. The following Saturday he returned to attend an open community 12-Step meeting at the treatment center where he worked for the last several years. At the door, a former colleague informed him he shouldn’t be there. He could return in 6 months.

I just…

So when it comes to budding friendships between a recovery coach and recoveree, I suggest a common sense, more caring, compassionate approach.

  1. First, if one of CCAR’s recovery coaches sees a recoveree in a 12-Step meeting, my hope is they greet each other warmly, embrace (if appropriate) and sit together.

  2. I don’t want a recovery coach to work under the assumption that s/he can never be a recoveree’s friend because of a CCAR policy.

  3. I don’t want a coach to be so ego-based that s/he is thinking, “I’m your coach, I can not be your friend.” Coaching is not the higher calling. Friendship is.

  4. Friendship is always up to the coach. This is where the coach is empowered.

    • We trust our recovery coaches to do what is best for the recoveree.

    • We trust our recovery coaches have the ability to discern motives and sincerity.

    • We trust our recovery coaches to understand whose needs are being met and respond accordingly.

    • We trust our recovery coaches operate under the policy that exploitation is never acceptable.

    • We trust our recovery coaches.

5. Coaches need coaches. This is what we, CCAR, call supervision. We encourage honesty and transparency. It’s what we expect. It’s our culture. Let’s work it out together. Let’s talk about it. Friendship is a good thing, isn’t it?

The term friend implies a deep connection, a caring relationship that is to be cherished. Addiction isolates, recovery connects. Why would we ever create a policy that discourages connection? Since we are pushing the envelope, what happens if friendships between recovery coaches and recoverees were not prohibited but supported?

My suggestion: if friendship emerges, then friendship emerges. It’s for the greatest good.

Phil “Right Click” Valentine Recovery established 12.28.87

In 2015, I finished a thru-hike of the entire Appalachian Trail, a trek of 2,189.2 miles. It took 189 days and 6 pairs of boots. During all that time alone with my Creator, my purpose in life became more precisely defined. I am, simply, to coach recovery. Recovery saved me from an early demise and brought purpose to my tattered life. I have learned that I’m a coach to my very core. I am blessed to put the two together. I started work at the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR) in 1999. I became the Executive Director of this recovery community organization in 2004. I have trained the CCAR Recovery Coach Academy© dozens of times and have a hand in modifying, improving and adapting various recovery coach curricula. I’m old enough now to start considering my legacy. This is a way for me to share things I have learned in my recovery, in my role as Executive Director and a trainer. I find that when I speak I present the same messages over and over. It’s time to write them down.

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