holding hands

Years ago when writing a story for one publication or another about addiction, I had the pleasure of interviewing William White, a researcher and clinician whose experiences with healing addiction go back to 1969. Since then, I’ve followed his blog, which invariably offers cogent and thorough analyses of questions and problems in addiction treatment and the fostering of access to healing. And since he has followed these questions for nearly 50 years, his perspective is unmatched.

Today he published a blog on the quality and need for supervision of recovery coaches.

He investigates a couple questions I’ve been asking myself for a long time, about these two support functions: the question of “ownership” of the person seeking help, and the question of accountability.


In one of the many papers he’s previously written on the differences between therapists and coaches, this caught my attention:

Where the sponsor and counselor are prone to take “ownership” of an individual (e.g., “my sponsee” “my client”), the recovery coach (RC) encourages those they work with to fully engage with other sources of recovery support. The “prize” to which the RC role is affixed is not the adoration and eternal gratitude of those they have coached, but the recovery of these individuals within a broad network of recovery support relationships.

As a therapist-in-training, I’m interested in the differences between therapy and recovery coaching. I have heard many recovery coaches use the term “my client” when referring to someone they help. And I have seen some recovery coaches post messages from people they help that express those people’s adoration and eternal gratitude.

Mind you, I’ve also seen many recovery coaches—perhaps more than those mentioned above—express abundant gratitude for the opportunity to make their work helping other people.

But frankly, last year a recovery coach who also holds a clinical license boldly discouraged me from seeking a graduate degree in clinical work—a goal I had carefully researched and assessed for a long time.

This person’s reason?

You can make so much more money doing recovery coaching! You can work with wealthier people. You can work over Skype, so you don’t even have to have an office. And you don’t have to fool with insurance companies. Don’t bother getting a master’s in social work!



This leads to my second question: who is overseeing all these independent recovery coaches?

I have learned in my short time as a therapist-in-training that supervision is absolutely critical for helping professionals—not just at the beginning of a career, but for the duration. Therapists who work inside agencies are overseen by supervisors. Independent therapists pay other more experienced therapists for supervisory consultations—at least twice monthly, according to the informal accounts I’ve been collecting.

And most important, therapists must be licensed. You can’t just put a meme on your IG or blog that says, “Skype me!”

When White talks about recovery coaches, he refers strictly to those who work within agencies, alongside therapists. These recovery coaches are accountable to their agency’s policies and supervisors. And those supervisors, he urges, must make sure that recovery coaches are not acting as sponsors. Those roles are very different, too.

I’d like to hear from independent recovery coaches. Do you take ownership of the people you try to help? What are the core competencies of a recovery coach? To whom do you hold yourself accountable to meet or exceed these competencies?