By Phil Valentine

CCAR Recovery Coaches wield two questions that have the power to alter perspectives, to change opinions, and to permanently affect the landscape of recovery coaching. We don’t claim to have written them, or have discovered them. They are ancient. We present these questions in all our training offerings, discuss them in our staff meetings and consistently use them with striking effectiveness when coaching recovery. They are fundamental. They are foundational. They are powerful.

Are you curious? Have you guessed what they are? Here you go.

  1. How can I (we) help you with your recovery today?
  2. What does recovery look like for you?

I appreciate simplicity. As my sponsor is fond of saying, “simple does not mean shallow”. Let’s delve a little deeper into the two of these.

How can I (we) help you with your recovery today?

I can’t remember (not an uncommon occurrence for me lately) when I first heard or saw this question. I know we talked about it with other recovery community organizations at national meetings in the 2000’s. I first saw it prominently displayed in the Philadelphia Recovery Community Center run by PRO-ACT. That impressed me. I brought the idea to Connecticut. CCAR immediately printed banners for our three recovery community centers. The banner sets the tone and establishes a culture of recovery. When people walk in they know what to expect. When warmly greeted with this question, people respond in a variety of ways. Our purpose is then to follow the person’s lead and help in any way we can.

We don’t ask about current recovery status, drug of choice, physical health, mental health or any other condition… people are simply welcomed. Our focus is not on the pathology; our focus is on recovery from alcohol and other addiction. If the person requests help, we are all in.

When entering treatment for addiction, all kinds of paperwork need to be completed. Detailed, lengthy, comprehensive assessments are required. They concentrate on the past. Do you think this process may have the potential to embarrass and shame?

I’ve heard many times at the CCAR Recovery Coach Academy© that when they shifted their approach with their kids and asked this question, communication improved. Immediately.

When CCAR coaches talk to someone in the Emergency Department, this question is vastly different than what people are usually asked or told. It allows coaches to establish an immediate connection. It fosters trust. The person begins to understand that they are the best resource for their own recovery because we say this is “your” recovery, not mine. We are not going to tell a recoveree what they SHOULD do. We refuse to objectify people. The coach typically fortifies this approach by asking…

What does recovery look like for you?

This is an incredibly empowering notion.

Again, we are not telling a person what recovery SHOULD look like. Yes, we may have our own experience (and opinion), but as a recovery coach, our role is not to create disciples beholden to a particular pathway. We are there to “plant seeds of hope” through conversations that matter. Through our genuine curiosity we embrace where people are and emphasize possibilities and aspirations. We are prepared to respond with many different resources and options. Multiple pathways of recovery is no longer a grandiose idea in the recovery world, it is a reality. People are now experiencing recovery in many different ways.

Potential recoverees usually respond positively, especially when they understand that they won’t take these steps alone – a recovery coach will travel alongside them.

Finally, the first questions focuses on the present while the second question centers on future possibility. There is minimal (or no) discussion on the past. They are hope-full. And as one of our CCAR Emergency Department Recovery Coaches likes to say…

“You may be hopeless right now, but you’re not helpless.”

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.

6 Comments

  • I suggest to my trainees to always start a recovery coach engagement with the first question, “How can I help you with your recovery today?” It immediately sets the tone for a positive, recovery oriented, open ended conversation versus therapy. It also reminds the coach of the present/future nature of the discussion. I LOVE the 2nd question! “What does recovery look like for you?” It is hope filled and now part of my RC repertoire! Thanks for this reminder that we are not here to prescribe recovery, rather to inspire hope and empowerment.

  • Reiki Girl says:

    Hi, Right-Click!
    Absolutely! My company’s motto is Help For Today, Hope For Tomorrow and it is both empowering and strength based. If we can let them know we walk together on the journey of recovery, both help and hope begin. I have explored many pathways including several different kinds of 12 step meetings, individual and group therapy, dance movement therapy, MAT (didn’t last long w/me, but had to see what it was all about!), Reiki, SMART Recovery, All Recovery, yoga, ACoA, Refuge Recovery, school/trainings and probably more I cannot think of right now. All this personal experience I can, and do, share with peers. All this said, those two questions are paramount! As always, Right-Click, awesome conversation! Thank you for being you doing this muchly needed service.
    Yours in recovery, Reiki Girl

  • Great Blog. As a person in long-term recovery it has help me in my recovery to keep it simple (It’s not about me), its about the person we are trying to help. They have their answer…

  • Robin Peyson says:

    Phil-
    As usual, you have captured what recovery looks like, with simplicity.
    Thanks so much.
    Robin Peyson

  • Dianne Hastings says:

    Hi I’m Dianne and I am beginning my journey as a Family Peer Recovery Coach. These two questions are pivotal!

    With 30 years of healthcare experience and 10 in recovery, along with tons of family and friends who have been lost or survived this horrific disease, I can’t wait to continue helping families with the new tools I have!

    Keep it coming!
    Gratitude

  • Ginger Ross says:

    Hi Phil, I’ve really started to hone in on the 2nd question with my team and appreciate you drawing special attention to it today. Oddly though, we don’t get specific with this point in the RCA module and am feeling like it may get overlooked in training when it really is the entire foundation of pathways to recovery and meeting them where they’re at. Also – I love the 3 legged stool image. I have recently been drawing that image on a flip chart and referring to it throughout the entire training. Would love to see that page placed in the front of the manual – it’s a strong point of reference.
    Thank you for bringing these two questions to the forefront of your discussion – emphasis well needed!
    Ginger Ross

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