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
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.