As the ‘system’ applies increasing pressure for certification, it might be time for the recovery community to resist, especially the recovery coach field.

Hear me out.

I’m not against training recovery coaches. Of course not. Training enhances the service, helps us stay in our lanes and improves our profession. Strong proponents within the certification bureaucracy declare the same intention.

But I’m not so sure.

I view their pronounced motives warily, and with cynicism.  I feel systems and administrators seek control over recovery coaches. They believe that certification/credentialing of individuals is the best way to keep us in line. Often, it’s the only way they are aware of.

I raised this issue in other blogs.  In my opinion most certification processes possess serious flaws. The testing procedure serves as the primary shortcoming.

 Ask yourself, “Is a written test the best way to determine if an individual has the necessary skills to serve as an effective recovery coach?”

 I think not. Yet we perpetuate this practice.

What’s really going on? Recently, with the influx of financial resources, treatment providers, hospitals, managed care organizations hired recovery coaches (peers) and demanded a specific certification. Why?  So they could bill for the service.  Or fulfill a grant requirement.

Follow the money. Always follow the money.

Folks are often hired because of their credentials. The person with the credentials checks all the right boxes. Often people become employed through shoddy hiring practices. The combination of ineffectual certification processes and below standard wages often results in setting the position up for failure. People are still shocked when some recovery coaches breach ethics, stride across boundaries, and/or treat people disrespectfully.

Certification does not prevent this from happening. And ethical breaches are not a reason to eliminate or vilify recovery coaching. If that were true, we’d need to eliminate the psychiatric profession, or the clergy, or all attorneys, or… well name something.  Ethical breaches abound everywhere.

When ethical breaches occur in other professions, do we call for more training? More certification? Stricter licensure?  Sometimes, but the system always does with recovery coaches.  The trend today calls for more and more hoops for recovery coaches to jump through.

In my opinion, ethical breaches are not a certification/credentialing issue. Poor performance is not a certification/credentialing issue.

Simply, it’s a hiring issue. Hire fantastic people, generate fantastic results.

Many, many years ago, I sat in a small, family-owned Italian restaurant in Washington, DC, the food delicious and the conversation profound. Founding members of Faces & Voices of Recovery discussed the idea of recovery coach certification. We agreed that credentialing individuals would not benefit the emerging field of peer-based recovery support services.  Instead, we talked about accrediting organizations. Once vetted, the organization would assure the competency of their employees to provide services.

The Council on Accreditation of Peer Recovery Support Services (CAPRSS), established by Faces & Voices of Recovery, offers a rigorous accreditation.  CCAR, an established recovery community organization (RCO), earned the accreditation. In my opinion, I think the process may be a bit too rigorous and arduous, so I’d like to see RCO accreditation become more accessible.

At CCAR, we’ve been hiring people for 20 years.  In the last few years, we’ve grown from a staff of 15 to 42.  Many of these are Emergency Department Recovery Coaches.  Most of them (if not all) did not have any “credentials” when we hired them.  Some volunteered with CCAR, some had attended the CCAR Recovery Coach Academy©, some had never heard of CCAR until they saw the job posted.  Yet they became CCAR staff  because they all had common personality traits – humility, kindness and gratitude.  While we ask candidates about their interest in the position, employment history and skills, we assess their character.

It’s the art of hiring, isn’t it?

Before I get into our actual procedure for hiring, here are some practices to avoid.

  • Avoid the temptation to hire someone you know who you think would be a good fit. Or that you’d like to work with them. This includes family members and friends.
  • Avoid shortcuts. For example, not publicly posting the job so you won’t have to review a bunch of resumes.
  • Avoid rushing to fill positions because your newly awarded grant says your start date is in 2 weeks. Or you were supposed to start last month!
  • Avoid creating new processes for different positions. Assure everyone goes through the same process.

Speaking of processes, here’s CCAR’s.

  • Assess the need.
  • Create a job description. CCAR works backwards. First we assess the Duties and Responsibilities, and then determine the skills (qualifications) needed to perform them. Finally, we create the Position Summary. Side note: CCAR removes all academic requirements for all positions.
  • Create a job posting.
  • Distribute the job posting over a variety of sources. Adhere to the deadline in the job posting.
  • Blindly review all applications (names and addresses redacted).
  • Do a telephone pre-screen for all candidates of interest.
  • Conduct a 1st interview for those that passed the pre-screen using the same questions for all.
  • Conduct a 2nd round interview with actual job scenarios for those you’re still interested in.
  • Select a candidate and make a job offer. Do not settle. If no one rises to the top, repeat the process.
  • Establish a full onboarding process for the new employee.

In summary, it’s my belief that many Recovery Community Organizations (RCOs) do not have exemplary hiring practices.  The same can be said for many organizations working within the addiction and recovery field. They grab people with certain credentials quickly in order to fulfill a grant and/or billing necessity.

Unfortunately, the credential does not guarantee a competent employee.  If you seek skilled, caring, capable and authentic employees, build a solid, artful hiring practice.

“In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities; integrity, intelligence and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.” ~Warren Buffet

In 2015, I finished a thruhike of the entire Appalachian Trail, a trek of 2,189.2 miles. It took 189 days and 6 pairs of boots.  During that sacred time, 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 January 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 one way for me to share lessons learned in my recovery, in my role as Executive Director and a trainer. When I engage with others, I present the same messages repeatedly.  It’s time to write them down.

Phil “Right Click” Valentine
Recovery established 12.28.87

Phil "Right Click" Valentine

Phil "Right Click" Valentine

In 2015, I finished a thruhike of the entire Appalachian Trail, a trek of 2,189.2 miles. It took 189 days and 6 pairs of boots. During that sacred time, 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 January 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 one way for me to share lessons learned in my recovery, in my role as Executive Director and a trainer. When I engage with others, I present the same messages repeatedly. It’s time to write them down.

11 Comments

  • Dennis Gonzalez says:

    Love what you had to say about certification. I believe that we have to come up with another way to get the right person for the job. Good stuff.

  • Rachel Mary says:

    All of this is so true! I would also just like to add that companies should be CLEAR on what it is a Recovery Coach actually does for their clients. Too often I have heard stories of for-profit addiction recovery centers posting jobs for recovery coach positions, and all too late the candidate finds out that the company was just looking for support staff they can pay less, because the coach does not necessarily have a degree or a CAC. Or, on the other side of the token, many MANY people I have spoken too, who have gotten hired as a RC, tell me their company expects them to do “AA/NA only” activities. In my opinion, and I believe CCAR’s philosophy, there are MULTIPLE pathways to recovery. I do not think it is ok to “shove” AA/NA in my clients face. It’s my job, and my pleasure, to take the time to know all of my case load, figure out what works best for them, and be an open and honest peer who will hold their hand (if that’s what they need), through any path they choose. Now, of course, if their way isn’t working out, I have multiple tools in my tool box to be the most effective coach I can be. I must say, this approach has been very successful so far!

  • richard pacukonas says:

    Ten years ago I applied for a position as an educator at an addiction counseling agency in town. I had 34 years of of sobriety. had sponsored 40 men into recovery, taught thousands for multiple DUI convictions for the DMV, led recovery retreats from Florida to Canada for 20 years, written two books on recovery insights and been interviewed on both radio and television because of my experience. However, I did not have any degree in addiction counseling. Thus I was eliminated from any hope for the job to be able to aid other men and women. They gave the job to a non- addicted person who shuffled through a two year program at a community college and received a “magic certificate and a few near-useless letters after their name.
    Certified does not equal qualified. Sadly, it’s about control not care. In the end, the suffering person will figure that out and soon be gone back into the darkness. When you twist a ministry into a profession, the power becomes vapid, the person becomes a statistic and hope decays into a fantasy.
    God help the wounded then.

  • Ruth Riddick says:

    Thank you, Phil – timely and pertinent. As a recovery coach trainer, I’m dismayed at the distance between CCAR’s sophisticated content and much of the practice in the field where, too often, “peers” are being employed as “gofers and chauffeurs.” Further, I once heard a senior public health manager seriously propose (publicly) how useful experience of janitorial duties would be for “peers” new to the treatment agency sector. Nothing wrong with any of these roles, and we rely everyday on the professionals who staff them; it’s just not recovery coaching.

  • I agree. I’ve been applying to places for months and apparently 10 years of addiction, 5 years in recovery, and volunteering isn’t enough experience to get a job as a recovery coach. That doesn’t include nursing school, CNA, and home health aid work with an ABI certification. I also talked on two round tables with state senators, told my story at the folk festival, and running a recovery group with 400 members. To me that seems like perfect experience to be a coach, but many places I’ve applied don’t agree.

  • barry marchinkoski says:

    Hello I have been in recovery for 27 months now completed 4 inpatient programs received my Recovery coach certification how ever I can not even get my foot in the door for a job in this field yet I have the experience of being a heroin addict for over 35 years, 20 of those years in and out of prison for charges related to my addiction. I actively attend N/A regularly and I am very passionate about my recovery. It is sad I have experience that can not be matched with 50 years of college or 20 degrees yet I cannot even get an interview I am starting to believe this system is rigged also. Tomorrows hero’s are still out in the streets addicted waiting for people like us they can relate to for the miracle to happen when will the snub nosed academia realize this.
    yes I am frustrated I planned on a job in this field to help me stay clean for ever I am doing awesome right now in my recovery and I want to continue being amongst those I am akin to.

  • Cathy Plush says:

    Thanks for always providing clarity Phil. On that note the THE National Recovery Conference was absolutely so educational and inspirational. Especially loved the panel of Emergency Dept Recovery Coaches. Great job providing pertinent information to those of us who are watching and learning.

  • Thank you Phil! I love reading your blogs, very good information.

  • Larry Hajdasz says:

    Dear Mr. Valentine,

    Greetings and thank you for all your efforts. Your knowledge and insights have proven to be
    very useful and beneficial to those of us recovered or in long term recovery.
    As to your stated positions in the current blog,….oh thank you. I have attended the necessary
    training’s, twice. The first was well before the monetization phase. The second, included the
    “Ethical Considerations” training and then the exploitation began. I am no longer interested
    in being a “professional signature collector” which so much of the recovery field has become.
    I hope you will continue to utilize your talents and position to champion such worthy causes.

    Be Well,
    Larry Hajdasz

  • Julia Ojeda says:

    Well said Phil. The dilemma that we’re facing and that will continue to get worse is exactly what you stated. Money requires ‘control’. Control comes in the form of certification and exams to increase the comfort level of the ‘professionals’ in the medical and clinical world. It’s a struggle helping people in positions of power understand what the role was about to begin with and trying to keep “truth” to that model. I always appreciate your thoughts, even if I sometimes don’t agree. LOL Much respect!

  • I’m a bit behind in my blogposts! I would like to suggest a “Part Two” to this excellent blog summary for hiring practices. Part Two might provide sample “behaviorally based” interview questions for 1st and 2nd interviews around the top five attributes (notice I didn’t say skills – these can be taught) a hiring organization is seeking in their RC hires. If optimism is identified as one of the top five attributes for a cultural “fit” for a RC, perhaps a question such as: “Recall a time when things around you were going poorly and you made a conscious decision to approach the situation from a place of positivity and optimism versus complaint or defeat. What did you do?” For the attribute “gratitude”, perhaps a question like “Describe how you express gratitude in you work”. And other attributes, such as ‘open minded learner’, ‘integrity’, ‘resisting the “righting” reflex”, ’empathy’…

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