By Ruth Riddick
“In some states, I am not welcome to become certified, or even apply for certain jobs,” writes CCAR’s Stacy Charpentier in a recent blog post. You’ll remember that Stacy openly shared her personal experience in a moving testament to the power of both the problem (SUD) and the solution (recovery). It was a generous opportunity to get to know her beyond our interactions with this knowledgeable and committed colleague; a demonstration of that very intimacy we look for in relationships. Thank you, Stacy!
But it was her statement quoted above that really got my attention – and not in a good way! Frankly, I’m alarmed.
One of our core principles is summarized in the slogan: “You are in recovery when you say you are” (CCAR Recovery Coach Academy©). What a manifesto! This slogan gives teeth to our attractive-sounding bromides: meeting people where they’re at; strengths-based practice; etc.
We’re all signed up for these clichés, until we’re not.
As a CCAR-Recovery Coach Academy student, I chafed when this inclusive principle was presented. “Hey,” I said (or did I shout?), “I earned my seat the hard way. What’s with this kinder, softer approach?” Stronger language colored the air on that occasion, as I’m sure it does in many classrooms nationwide at just about this point on Day 1. As an authorized trainer, I now tell participants “we’re not the sobriety police.” This is not always a well-received message, but it is your recovery (not my – fabulous! useless! irrelevant! well-meaning! conformist! – ideas for your recovery) that we’re talking about in our practice as recovery coaches and, in New York State, as peer advocates in the public health system.
Stacy Charpentier is in recovery when she says she is.
There’s another fundamental principle at stake here, and it was first articulated in 1976 by Professor Thomasina Borkman of George Mason University. Early in a distinguished career, Borkman wrote that the legitimacy of recovery coaches/peer advocates arises not from traditional career preparation but from: “experience coming from a personal history of, or exposure to, substance use disorder, the process of change, and recovery; and expertise requiring application of that knowledge to the skill of helping others establish, and live in, their own definition of recovery.” (See William White papers; text slightly updated by this writer)
Again, Stacy has no difficulty demonstrating that she meets these criteria. In which case, why wouldn’t she be welcome to apply for jobs in the recovery coach/peer advocate role?
It’s truly shocking that our core principles would be so threatened by what is essentially human resources myopia. In NYS, there’s a disturbing trend emerging whereby the understanding of “lived experience” is being degraded to mean only the individual’s active using story and baseline survival beyond; no mention here of expertise or skill. This is a distortion – and one, surely, of doubtful legality. Can it possibly be acceptable to set such a narrow “lived experience” limit to job opportunity, especially when that limit is based on health status? (You are in recovery when the Human Resources Department says you are.) What happened to anti-discrimination laws? The Americans with Disabilities Act? Parity?
Meanwhile, health status (mental, physical, spiritual) is irrelevant to the twofold purpose of professional certification which is simply to confirm that the certificate holder (i) has the knowledge, skills and abilities formally predetermined as non-negotiable requirements for the certified role; and (ii) is bound by, and answerable to, a professional code of ethics attached to the role and enforced by the certifying board.
Thus, when applying for certification, candidates offer proof of having completed and mastered practice-specific education, as demonstrated through independent testing, together with role-specific work experience, when required, and an attestation to their profession-specific ethical code. I remember the application process for Certified Addiction Recovery Coach being technical and tedious, but I wanted that certification to confirm to the public that I’m a qualified and accountable professional. Which I am. And so is Stacy Charpentier.
Any additional personal or practice criteria demanded for any reason are beyond the scope of professional certification.
In conclusion, it seems to me, to judge by Stacy’s reporting, that we have a lot of – yes, advocacy! – ahead if we are to promote and protect the foundational precepts of our field: we are in recovery when we say we are; our legitimacy comes from our experience and expertise; our role-specific certification confirms our readiness to work.
Certified Addiction Recovery Coach, Ruth Riddick, is an experienced recovery and personal development educator living in recovery. She also serves as Community Outreach for the New York Certification Board (www.asapnys.org). Find her at www.sobriety-together.com; connect on LinkedIn and Facebook.