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 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.

Phil “Right Click” Valentine
Recovery established 12.28.87

27 thoughts on “Recovery Coaching and Friendship”

  1. Hi, Right Click –
    I agree with you to a certain point, however, friendship also invites favoritism. I, as a human, do have “favorite” peers and I think that’s natural, however, I cannot show it and as a professional I do my absolute best not to, however, as a friend in my off time, I have every right to have “favorite” or best friends. If i mesh these two together, when am I “off?” In my opinion, if I am never “off” this opens the door to a quick burnout for the coach which leads to a high turnover rate for the company. I have been a coach for 3.5 years and trust me, I love it. In fact, I love it so much that when I complete my MSW (& licensures) I am going into peer counseling (keeping my CPRS and my LCSW current) which is basically peer coaching on steroids. Peer counseling is a different, more personal feel for both the counselor and counselee. In my opinion, peer counseling, done right, can be a powerful and connecting experience for both. Its that connection that can, and does, save lives. In retrospect, personal connection is powerful in a coaching relationship, however, personal friendship opens the door for “trouble” to both coaches and peers. This is just my personal opinion and experience. What an awesome topic, thank you!
    Reiki Girl

  2. Good morning,

    From a base perspective of #4 from this topic:
    “4. Friendship is always up to the coach. This is where the coach is empowered.
    …”We trust our recovery coaches”

    This is where keeping it simple is the key for me. The definition of a ‘Friend’ has changed for me in recovery, and then evolved again once I was introduced to the CCAR methodology. So, conceptually, I continue to practice being a Friend and Companion as a trusted Recovery Coach.

    Also, based on the road traveled to get here, I can also appreciate that the definition of a ‘friend’ and/or ‘friendship’ varies depending on the source. Therefore, creating somewhat of a subjective meaning to the idea of what a friend is?

    Thanks for putting this out there for exploration.

    Jeff B.

  3. Gene Mitchell

    Great article, Agree totally friendship is a main Ingredient in early recovery and also in long-term recovery.

  4. Wish my current supervisor would read this. They are far more interested in infusing their coach (me) with a clinical approach as opposed to a recovering approach. I resist at every opportunity. Secondly, as far as trusting the judgment, perception, and ability of said coach? It’s non-existent. Thanks again Phil for the inspiration to keep doing what I do even though I meet with resistance at every turn.

  5. Friend :
    A person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, (recovery maybe? just saying).

    In every training I attended, the individuals within the groups I worked strongly advised against being a friend or developing a friendship. Why? Individuals in early recovery already have Counselors, judges, probation and parole officers, parents and significant others. Some judgmental, some not understanding, some not caring.
    Some, have no one at all.
    Why not be a friend? With all these other “powers” that may be telling you what to do, or no one at all to tell you anything, wouldn’t it be really great to have someone ask you what you wanted to do? Someone to walk along side supporting you through every change and spotting you over those hurdles that place themselves as barriers in recovery?
    The only slippery slope is when an individual (recovery coach) breaks their own set boundaries.

  6. A lot of food for thought. I think connection with another is very powerful. If I keep my boundaries, I believe I can coach and offer friendship as well as making sure to take care of myself.

  7. What a stimulating read! This really stretched my mind.and heart. it’s what I’ve come to expect from CCAR with each and every training.I also strongly believe in connections on a personal level. One of my gifts is allowing myself to be very vulnerable and open making it more comfortable to let their guard down and let me into their world. My main objective is the Recoveree feels safe and cared about. I listen a lot more than I talk, am empathetic, validate their feelings and let them know they are not alone. I assure them I am there for them if they need me. I manage my own stuff and stay in my own lane. I maintain healthy boundaries and don’t take advantage of them. I am there to help and give hope at a better way of life. without active addiction, and what better way than to show them by example side by side on the same path on the same journey!

  8. Marie Dinsmore

    What a great blog! I can identify so much with others that have responded to the blog. I am a person in long term recovery, and I also work in the field. I have been able to maintain healthy boundaries and remain professional because when I am working the only person that matters is the person I am helping. It was essential for me to understand there are no wrong way for ones journey to recovery and to remain open minded was key.

  9. I to found this blog very encouraging, I agree that the client does benefit by having the friend aspect within the recovery Coach and I love the freedom of setting my own boundaries as needed, not every one is the same and it’s important that individuality is respected.

  10. Nicholas J. DeSimone

    Learning what true friendship really is has been a real part of my journey in recovery. This applies to friendship in coaching relationships for me as well. Great blog, I think there is great responsibility in healthy a friendship and we can be the ones to model it.

  11. Meagan Fisher

    I think there is a lot to take in here. We want to build a bond with our clients, but we also don’t want to build a friendship as that can make lines foggy. I think that the best way we can help with this is by building healthy boundaries. Not only for myself but for the client also. I think we still need to show vulnerability but still hold onto those boundaries. While in my active addiction, I had no friends and worked with a recovery coach, and I considered her my friend, but I also kept it in the back of my mind that this was her job and she was doing this to help other addicts, but I knew that if I had stopped working with her or relapsed and pulled away that my relationship with her would have ended. We just have to trust our judgment and not cross the lines of becoming inappropriate.

  12. Lance Oldman

    i honestly know that there cannot be favoritism in your clients. i feel it’s ok to become friends but with boundaries established early in the introduction. i live in a small community and see a lot of my old clients and both sides understand that the boundaries exist without having to mention anything yet we can still be good friends.

  13. Rev. Annie Belmer

    I think that if a coach and a recoveree become friends than so-be-it. However, I seriously believe that I would not intentionally set out to make friends. I would not want my profession to be diminished by the mixed personal emotions. Of course, I think that being a friendly companion is what is needed in my profession as a recovery coach and community leader.

  14. That was an amazing article. The clarity of which it brings to better understand the role of a Recovery Coach.
    I find that it’s extremely difficult to “not” forge friendships with people, especially when working so closely together on such a deep topic as addiction. Thank you, Phil.

  15. I think that a recoveree and a recovery coach can become friends as long as each knows where the boundaries lie. The object is to be there for your recoveree in helping stay on the road of recovery, as long as that is the objective there should not be a problem with it.

  16. I believe that recovery overall is about connection and that’s how friendships are developed. In the fellowship of AA, Recovery Coaching etc, real friends help one another to make healthy choices and decisions. My most reliable and best friends are Recovery Coaches, people in recovery and sponsors. How can you not develop a friendship with a peer you’re coaching. My thoughts anyway.

  17. Being able to show someone through my recovery that recovery is possible. As a Recovery Coach practicing healthy boundaries friendships can be made.

  18. I have worked as a recovery coach for two years now and have dealt with quite a few clients. One of the most important things I have learned, both through my CCAR training and first hand experiences, is to listen more and talk less. By making use of active listening I can often determine directions a client may want to follow, including friendship. I don’t disagree that friendship is up to the coach, but, it’s up to the client as well.

  19. I am Ms. J-I have been a Peer Coach for 1 year. However, I have been in recovery for 32 years. I have been helping newer people in recovery for 31 years. It brings me great joy to now be able to reach back from an ED (hospital). I am grateful for this opportunity to reach the unreachable. People that don’t have hope that they too can recover and find purpose.

  20. Lorraine Shooter-Martin

    Being a recovery coach has been a good road that has taken me many places. helping heal people is my ambition. I have been able to help my community with a better understanding of substance abuse and supporting the recoveree. CCAR has been a great asset in my trainings and understanding of support services. Friendship is always welcomed on this recovery journey as long as its respected.

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