Peer? Rejected.

I’m not a peer. Not in this new recovery movement. I’m a coach. More specifically I am a recovery coach. Why did the addiction recovery field latch on to the word peer? Why did we adopt a term primarily associated with the mental health world? Or were we labeled by the system?

I resisted peer when I first heard it 18 years ago. I reject peer now. Here are the reasons.

1. I believe when we talk about peers or peer helpers or peer support specialists or peer-to-peer services or certified peer recovery specialists people (not familiar with the behavioral health system) have no idea what we’re talking about. Most people think of a peer as someone their own age.

2. Have you looked at the definition of peer? It does not describe who we are or what we do while we guide people along paths of recovery.

Definition: One that is of equal standing with another; one belonging to
the same societal group especially based on age, grade or status.
I like the idea of “equal standing”, but ultimately isn’t that what recovery promises? I was taught early on
“As God’s people we stand on our feet; we don’t crawl before anyone.”
Recovery is the great leveler of the playing field. After 30 years of walking a recovery journey, I now understand that no one is above me and no one is below me particularly where status is concerned. The term peer has an opposite connotation; it acknowledges that people outside our own peer group have a different status. It creates an “us and them” dynamic.

3. In my more cynical moments, I sense the addiction treatment system looks at peers as a devalued societal class. Our “status” is diminished. I have perceived the underlying contempt, doubt and disdain when people use the word peer and describe the peer role within the system.

4. No doubt in my mind that peers are seen as an inferior class within the mental health system. I just Googled “mental health peer”. The first entry is from Mental Health America. Here’s the first line (so this is what many people in this day and age will see, right?).

“Peer support programs provide an opportunity for consumers who have achieved significant recovery to assist others in their recovery journeys.”
Oh man, I could pick this apart – terms like “consumer” and “significant recovery”, but I’m not going to. Well maybe I am.

Who determines if someone has achieved significant recovery? From what I read here, it’s the peer support programs. And who runs them? Peers? Not likely. Maybe in some cases, but not likely.

Ahh…. Just leave it alone for now Phil. Save it for another blog.

Did you sense the assumed authority dripping from the statement? To me, this account smells of superiority with a whiff of arrogance. Oh… thank you for “providing the opportunity”, Mr. and Mrs. Peer Support Program. That last sentence drips with sarcasm in case it wasn’t clear. I think most people in long-term sustained recovery resist objectification by the system. I am in the resistance.

5. The way I understand “peer” is lived experience. How lived experience is defined varies. Usually, in my area of expertise of addiction recovery, lived experience means someone had an addiction and then overcame it. I don’t buy into that either. Family members are often excluded. They have had lived experience. Community members with a gift for coaching (but no prior addiction issues) are often excluded. If we are to make headway, the entire community must be welcomed into solutions. At CCAR, we identify the recovery community as people in recovery, family members, friends and allies. That’s just about everyone, isn’t it? No mention of peers.

I am a Recovery Coach. I am a person with a seasoned set of valuable skills. I am a Recovery Coach Professional. That’s what I am. That’s what I do. I coach recovery.

When people call me “Coach” my heart warms. Please call me that. Or Phil. Or Phillip. Or Right Click.

Please refer to CCAR as a Recovery Coach Program. Our highly effective and dedicated staff are Recovery Coaches. Our volunteers are Recovery Coaches. We do not define ourselves as a peer-led program or a peer recovery support program.

And personally, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t refer to me as a “peer”. I have no desire to be categorized as a peer. For me, it is demeaning.

Phil “Right Click” Valentine
Recovery established 12.28.87

Phil Valentine
Phil 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 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.

22 thoughts on “Peer? Rejected.”

  1. Bravo!! Phil “Right Click” 🙂

    Your posts are inspiring and informative! I appreciate how you “speak to me” and the clarity of your thoughts!

    Thanks for taking time to write down your messages, and share your recovery coach wisdom! Oh, how you help us grow, and for this we are grateful!

    Kindest regards from NORA! and Tally Ho!

  2. Lynn Paulin Farkas

    Still love you Phil…I remember the early days of the NEAAR board and the trainings from that…that was my original learning community and I learned so much not only about others back then..I learned alot about myself….amazing how far the movement has come, but still with a long way yet to go…

  3. OMG Phil! Working as an RSS for a state agency, I have first hand experience in the downfalls of being a “peer Specialist”. There is so much I want to say but all I can say is thank you for exposing this and clarifying the issues surrounding being called an RSS.

  4. Thanks! What strikes me is that what i learned about recovery when I was first getting sober in the darker ages was that we stayed sober by helping others do it. By “power of example”. “If you want what we have , do what we do.” Then everything got professionalized. And now, with an MA, a CASAC, and a CARC, my main value is once again as a “peer”. Really more than a peer, one is few steps ahead. If you want what I have, do what I do..

  5. It’s great to see you pass along some of your learnings from the last 30 years. They will help others accelerate their journey and success. And they will continue to help put a face on recovery.

  6. Mark Servatius, Recovery Coach

    Hi Mr. V.

    Your rejection is right-on. Of course I’m dating myself by that term 😉

    As a fellow in long-term recovery, I have difficulty with the term “peer” as well. As a past addictions counselor I have seen what governments, insurance companies and licensing bodies have done to such movements over the years–trod them into the ground through undermining their terminology, methods and practices. Currently, I see agencies wanting to burden Recovery Coaching with the level of regulation, supervision and documentation that renders most social workers so ineffective. We all know they have to spend more time with their notes than their clients. Further the industry wants all this at a much lower expense.

    Even AA and NA were considered, when I started out as a counselor, as some sort of wacky alternative to the confrontational “attack” therapy of the day. The place I worked only started to accept both programs because they were so much more effective than what they were doing. I hope, one day, Recovery Coaching will be widely accepted as a “best practice”. (Another term that really means: approved for payment by mainline insurers).

    Perhaps that is the essential diffidence of the folks with so many letters after their name, that we too as Recovery Coaches, just like recovery fellowships, might outshine them in overall positive outcomes. Who knows really. I just know, I’m old enough to recall that only medical doctors and practicing attorneys were called “Professionals”. Now if one gets paid they call themselves professionals and often use the term “para-professional” to put “others” on a lower standing. I’d argue peer and para are pretty much synonymous in this context.

    I encourage fellow Coaches, CCAR and CART to stick to our guns, if you’ll excuse the phrase, and back up Phil on rejecting the term “peer” as such semantics really are important to our future and ultimately to the Recoverees we serve.


    Mark Servatius, Recovery Coach
    CCAR TR1183

  7. In New Jersey, the Recovery Coach is getting lost in the translation, as there is this rush to “certify” what we do into a Peer Recovery Specialist. I was afraid of this…

  8. Excellent point that not all “lived experience” is from the point of view of the person dealing with addiction. The affects of addiction to family/friends/community are like the expanding ripples in a pond.

    CCAR should look into expanding recovery coach training opportunities. I am a certified coach, ACC, who would love to take CCAR classes but live in south Alabama. It is difficult to attend in-person training sessions in Connecticut or North Carolina.

    Keep blogging, “Right Click”.

  9. I am sorry but I am going to speak my mind. We all get caught up in the BS with what we need to be called. But I would love to see articles about the people we help and give ideas how to reach and deal with people suffering from the disorder and the crazy epidemic we are in. I do not know about everyone but my heart breaks every time a mother loses their child. Can we all come together and fight this epidemic. Going back to all the things I have learned in recovery PRINCIPLES BEFORE PERSONALITY. In order for me to keep what was so freely giving to me, I have to give it back. So I do not care what I am call just call me when you need help.

  10. Amazing! You hit the nail on the head.

    If we want to keep going forward with this “movement” we need to be willing to take a look at these words and open our minds to new ones.

    Thank you for being a continuous beacon of light to all.

    Best Coach ever! Right click!

    YES DAD!!

  11. Are we losing our focus on the main goal here. Are we really going to get that knit picky over a name? My name is Lois,call me what you want but what you WON’T call me is late for the call of duty.


    I am surprised that he (PHIL VALENTINE) did not mention the resulting effect that the “peer belittling mindset” on our Earnings / salary which I have watched for almost 6 years stagnate at or just about the poverty line. So what we have are people like me who, with every fiber of being wish to make this my career for life however it is impossible to feel valued when salary levels are in line with Maryland earnings that are at the Poverty line. We have a family of four, one is still in College, my wife is back in school. It is impossible for us to make ends meet so I work a full time job and had to take a Part time job just to keep our heads above water and gas in the car! We keep our home thermostat set at 62 degrees otherwise the cost to heat the place is waaay high! I’m in my 50’s and going on 24 years sober. We live simply and this past Christmas, there were no gifts because there was no money available. Why are CPRS’s seen as not worthy of a reasonable salary? And when I say that I’m thinking 40k to 47k per year. I didn’t come this far to be miserable and it does not feel unrealistic to ask for pay that will keep us just above the poverty line, what do you think?

    I wish there was someone who could look into this and substantiate / validate our worth and value to the recovery process. You know me, I have been as dedicated to the Peer Movement as the next CPRS however I am always broke and have not had a vacation for going on 6 years because my professions earnings do not permit it. This year I have my son’s tuition, my daughter’s wedding and so on with no earthly idea how we will pay for these events. Pink slips from BGE are a monthly norm (shut off notices)
    We have to visit the food bank every month, I am not eligible for snap or Medical assistance…and I am not alone. Many of us who are CPRS are adults and have worked hard to earn our certification and accreditation yet our earnings still do not reflect our efforts and or dedication to our field.

    It is a fact / issue worth having a conversation about. This article addresses public opinion and one of the resulting effects of this are the lower pay scale for Certified Peer Support Specialist positions.

    I wonder if other Peers are experiencing the financial difficulties due to this fact? Are these the “growing Pains” of a Career in it’s early days? What can we do to improve how we are presented to the recovery community and validate a higher earnings requirement is necessary & warranted? We as a movement cannot afford to lose valuable CPRS, each one of us is valuable and plays an important role in Maryland and appropriate compensation is an aspect whose time has now come!

  13. Rejection of the use of “Peer.”
    I disagree!
    1. Indeed, the system tends to steer us (citizens of humanity) in a direction that is beneficial to White Male Supremacy and the subjugation of all others through labels, criminalizing and division. Specifically, here it is a matter of perception.
    2. That as it may, recovery, in its general practice is a label that divide us.
    By definition, Recovery is:
    1. An act of recovering.
    2. The regaining of or possibility of regaining something lost or taken away.
    3. Restoration or return to health from sickness.
    4. Restoration or return to any former and better state or condition.
    5. Time required for recovering.
    6. Something that is gained in recovering.

    I think these would include everyone even the promoters of White Male Supremacy as recovering. But, by practice it’s us and “you’ll” and a matter of perception. Trump is the recovery coach to “Make America Great Again.”

    3. The point is what is the intention in offering the service.
    a. Building Trust. You may have the service to make someone a millionaire, but, if there is no trust, there will be no positive connection. So, you formulate ways to gain the trust of the one being serviced.
    i. By virtue of having to come to you for service, the serviced is viewing you in an authoritative capacity. You may lighten that view by having the title peer support specialists or peer-to-peer services or certified peer recovery specialists. Remember that in the service to humanity it’s about the perception of one being serviced.
    b. Facilitating a healthy life style.
    4. That you mention ‘God.’ It could be argued that by virtue of being the children of Adam, we are all peers. Actual that would bridge the religious divide. Take the example of Jesus at the cite when a women was to be stoned. There were all classes and status present. Jesus made them all peers with the adulterous by saying “he that is without sin cast the first stone.” He didn’t even cast a stone.
    5. I think it’s forward of you to imply that no one but you know what you’re talking about and you know what most people think. I think that statement reflects lack of empathy or lost empathy.
    In conclusion, Phil, fellow Recover Coach. We are all wounded healers making a pathway to living a more healthy life for ourselves and humanity. My intent and words are not to offend but to facilitate service to humanity. I appreciate your experience, journey and trek. Let us not become contentious and divisive over a word. That would just slowdown the quality and effectiveness of our service to humanity. As an African American Man, if W.E.B DuBois and Booker T. Washington were not placed in contention the African Americans would be in a much different place today relative to recovering our humanity. Let us be mindful not to surrender to the thinking that it’s my way or the highway. I recognize the onslaught of “certify this, specialize that” is creeping in and will take away some of the quality in our service to humanity. But let’s not be divided.
    I’m a Cognitive Restructuring Therapeutic Recover Coach who’s never had a substance misuse problem but the principle of recovery and loving humanity is universal. My mother was an alcoholic and my brother used drugs and alcohol. When the earth is in recovery it doesn’t discern what label it’s called only we concern ourselves with such. May we have a Blessed moving forward…

  14. I absolutely agree with Phil regarding the label “Peer”. I also do not like, nor will I accept the statement “I am an Addict” because I am not that.

    Thank you Phil.

    Dona Pagan

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