Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Recovery Coaches Need Accountability.

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?


  1. This is so important. Thanks for sharing your views. I have wondered about the same things and if not for my love of learning, I could easily join the recovery coach helping profession. I have also thought that the addiction helping field requires a union, but that’s another thing. I appreciate your questions and your boldness in asking them! Frances Stone, Talk Recovery Vancouver

  2. Hi Guinevere, thanks for bringing this point up! This really is a tricky topic because coaching in general is horribly unregulated, and anyone with an internet connection and a logo can suddenly become a recovery coach. It’s definitely something which will need regulating, and soon.

  3. Thanks for bringing this topic up, you always seem to be on point and on target. I was a Certified Addictions Counselor back in the 1990s and a few years ago decided I wanted to work in the recovery field again and I jut recently got my Certification as a Peer Recovery Specialists (CPRS) in Virginia. Virginia, like the states of Rhode Island, Connecticut, etc., is standardizing the certification process to create both consistency and accountability. It is vital for CPRS’s to have someone providing supervision, at a minimum another CPRS who has more experience doing it but preferably a licensed clinician. In my work as a CPRS, I see Peer Recovery Specialist as a “bridge” between the “streets and the clinicians”; both serve a vital role. I feel we must not make it an either/or kind of thing but a Both/And. We need both peer-based and clinically-based recovery services and they should be working in tandem, not against one another. It is the inevitable rise of the business as usual “American” Us versus Them mentality. The addiction epidemic not only needs clinicians, it needs peer recovery workers, nurses, pastors, rabbis, parents, teachers, law enforcement and the business community to unite behind a continuum of care model of inclusivity…

    And not that it matters that much, Good for You for getting a clinical masters! I hate it when people “tell” me that my dream is a waste of time. Chase the masters hard, my friend!

  4. This is a very important issue and extends through the entire industry from top to bottom.

    There’s rampant financial exploitation in lab services, interventionists, treatment placement specialists, recovery coaches, sober housing, and expensive treatment providers that promise recovery but only use an acute care model.

    More and more, I’m getting connection requests on LinkedIn from people who seem to be in somewhat early recovery (less than 5 years), uncredentialed, appear to have worked around the industry in some entry-level capacity, and have started businesses providing lab services or testing supplies.

    It gives me a vague but chilling sense of: 1) just how much money must be exchanging hands out there; and 2) the kind of values that were instilled in them as green treatment staff.

    You post has an important message. Thanks!

  5. guinevere

    December 22, 2017 at 3:49 pm

    Niles… thanks, man. I agree with you—and with William White—that we need ALL these kids of professionals. But they must be professional, which is to say they need standards to which to hold themselves, and accountability methods. I’ve seen people with zero education in coaching call themselves recovery coaches, health coaches, life coaches, and on and on. … And thanks for the encouragement about my MSW! The person who discouraged me is someone who has some visibility in the “recovery community” (as it is increasingly being called—as if it is one community with one orientation, one purpose). The person does their best to “brand” themselves, gain followers, increase numbers and monetization, and Be Popular. That’s the main goal—not helping people and producing quality work, as far as I can tell.

  6. guinevere

    December 22, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    Jason, as always, I respect your true-blue dedication to helping people heal. … Yes, there is big money to be had in marketing oneself in the blossoming new Addiction Recovery Industry, which is not always evidence-based, has no broad standard of care, and is increasingly personality-driven and oriented toward social media and “likes.” It’s becoming more and more like a seventh-grade lunch-table, where people talk about people behind their hands and try to take possession of the top-dog seat.

    Sometimes the correct view is the unpopular one. I respect White so much because he doesn’t participate in “branding.”

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