The Art of Recovery Coaching

I have had hundreds of conversations regarding the art and science of recovery coaching. I’ve trained people in some of the science – active listening, asking good questions, being aware of biases and managing those. I train the science while I focus on the art.

Several years ago while training the CCAR Recovery Coach Academy©, Kevin Meara from City of Angels in New Jersey asked me to summarize the purpose of the week-long training. I replied without hesitation.

‘To enhance one’s ability to care.”

We all care for people in our own unique way. That’s what I would describe as the art of recovery coaching – the ability to care. The art consists of a willingness to treat everyone as a resource. The art consists of enhancing your curiosity. The art consists of offering encouragement unceasingly. The art is emanating hope from every pore.

Here’s an example of a recovery coach’s art in practice. This cannot be taught. It’s intuition. Michael Serrano, a CCAR Emergency Department Recovery Coach, three years in recovery at the time, was in the ED on his way to see a woman who requested a visit. As he approached the room he heard a doctor and an attendant talking harshly to the patient.

“What makes you think this time will be different? You’ve been here so many times. You’ll just be back.”

Michael heard the women respond defiantly. He knocked on the door.

“Excuse me, do you mind if I speak with her?”

“Go ahead. We’re done with her. Not sure what good it will do.”

Now he could have said something to the doctor, but demonstrated restraint of tongue. He said nothing, focused on the recoveree. After they departed, Michael trusted his art and asked one brilliant question.

“Do you like being treated like that?”

She paused. She reflected. She broke. She sobbed.

“I don’t.”

Michael paused again, waited for her to work through her emotion. He responded with caring kindness.

“How can I help you with your recovery today?”

In a few minutes, much to the astonishment of the doctor, Michael walked out with the woman on her way to a treatment option she chose.

That is the art. It’s remarkably valuable. Yet it’s rarely discussed, trained or encouraged. Art Woodard often says that lawyers have a practice, doctors have a practice, why don’t we consider recovery coaching a practice? Art and I encourage people to continually develop and practice their art.

Think about the systems we work in. Think about credentialing, certification, education and licensure. The system assesses a person’s coaching ability only on the science. If someone takes enough training then can pass a written examination, our system deems people worthy to provide care. That’s how they are vetted.

Do you think that someone passing a written test (or taking a training) is the best method to determine whether a recovery coach has the necessary skills?

I think not.

I think Recovery Coaches need to be vetted. I do. But there is a better way. One way has been developed by our Center for Addiction Recovery Training (CART) through a Recovery Coach Professional (RCP) designation. Here we have brought back a method used years ago to vet addiction counselors – an interview. To become an RCP, CART requires 60 hours of training to assure some learning of the science. Then the RCP candidate undergoes a rigorous 45-minute interview with a panel of other RCPs to assess the individual’s art. They engage in a series of questions and scenarios to evaluate the coach’s responses. If the candidate does not pass they will receive written feedback on where they need to strengthen their approach. They are eligible to retake the interview in 90 days.

Are there other ways to assess a recovery coach’s art? Probably. But as far as I know, this is the best way that’s available.

For more information on the Recovery Coach Professional designation, click here.

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

7 thoughts on “The Art of Recovery Coaching”

  1. As I see this Blog unfold, I envision a best-seller book that includes each blog with an intention of continuing to put a face on recovery and removing the stigma associated with addiction.

  2. JImmy Frazier-Bey

    Phil well said; two words you used speak power to truth. they are “intuition” and “art”. I think as helpers we have to be inspired to perform our crafts as selfless individuals. Thanks for the post

  3. Starshine,

    Well done. That’s why one of the most powerful words in the Steps is “care” ( 3rd step.) You nailed it — to the cross of judgmentalism.

    Going on the “big boat” for two weeks. Stay gentle.


  4. While it is so often deliberately avoided because it is wrongly viewed as unprofessional – or even unethical – the true art of recovery coaching can only be achieved by love.

  5. It is helpful to appreciate that the insight necessary to develop the “art” to recovery coaching begins with understanding that care always precedes the cure. As a society, we are used to turning to professionals – doctors, lawyers, therapists – to solve our problems, believing the “cure” is all that matters and that those with professional degrees have superior knowledge and wisdom. Not so. We all have the innate capacity to care which can be the spark for change in another human being, yet we sadly divest ourselves of that power, thinking “the other” knows better. Sometimes all it takes is a gentle touch or sympathetic ear to effect change in another person.

  6. I’m really looking forward to my RCP interview on Monday. I am excited to know that I am developing this art, and that through my art, I will be able to make a significant difference to the people I help, people who I know deserve much more than they might think they do, and who are capable of remarkable growth and change!

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