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Recovery Coach: The New Breed


Written by Dr. Jeff Jernigan, FaithSearch Partners Senior Vice President and Ministry Team Leader

“The ultimate purpose for coaching is the improvement of the soul and the recovery of what has been lost in the image of God stamped upon those we are helping.  We are all in recovery”[1].  This is especially true when realizing one in seven people in this country struggle with some sort of addiction and 30 percent of those also have undiagnosed mental illnesses.  When it comes to drug and alcohol addiction, 4.6 million drug abusers do not believe they have a problem.[2]

Compounding recovery are the 20 percent of families impacted by someone struggling with broken relationships, depression, anxiety, anger, trauma, divorce, eating disorders, breaks with reality, personality disorders, let alone life’s everyday challenges that can be numbing to the point of powerlessness.  These are the reasons a number of professional mental health and substance abuse treatment centers have combined medical and social models of treatment in a Mandala model program.[3]  Typically, this kind of programming offers the highest level of service at the lowest cost to everyone across the socio-economic spectrum. This socially viable and economically sustainable ministry succeeds in part through the use of Recovery Coaches.

Reducing average recidivism from 23 percent to 12 percent is a direct outcome of this kind of unique programming.  Each client is assigned a treatment team rather than a single counselor. It could mean a medical doctor or psychologist is on the team. Since medication management is also available, a Pharmacist and Nurse Practitioner may be on board as well. For dual diagnosis clients there are licensed therapists and drug and alcohol addiction counselors that get involved. Group therapy is supported by individual counseling sessions. This programming is pastor-led and church-based, augmented by involvement in recovery ministry hosted by local churches integral to the success of the clients.

Christian programming, Biblically based materials; treatment teams, medication management, professional counseling; and church based recovery ministry characterize this approach. Most successful programs around the country are denominationally supported or utilize various alliances or partnerships among caregivers and clinicians.  However, the additional unique touch in this program is the ability to follow the client for up to two years using Recovery Coaches.

Recovery_Coach_GraphWhy a Recovery Coach?

We have known for a long time that a recovering addict is more likely to relapse the less time they spend in programming. Typically, if you can place someone in a detoxification process followed by inpatient residential programming for six months around 30 percent are likely to relapse whether it is opiates or alcohol, or smoking cessation that is the addictive focus.[4]  For a three month detoxification program (and some are as short as 30 or 60 days rather than the full 90 days) without residential treatment the risk is higher; around 40 percent for opiates and smoking, around 65 percent for alcohol.  Even after a year following someone in a sober living program for another six months, providing a sponsor and involving them in a church-based recovery ministry, the risk of recidivism is still around 23 to 25 percent.

The ideal treatment plan follows the addict into the world of family, work, church and life for another 12 months.  This is more than providing a sponsor or participation in an AA/NA program, though we highly recommend those along with church-based recovery ministry. This is what the Recovery Coach is for: Helping people mainstream using special training on an intermittent basis.  This is what brings the risk of relapse down to 12 percent depending upon a number of factors, all of which the Recovery Coach is trained to deal with in various environments.

What is a Recovery Coach?

A Recovery Coach has usually completed a basic life coaching curriculum and is certified or otherwise credentialed.  The Professional Master Life Coachã certification program is an example of a credentialed program offering continuing education units or college credit that meets the requirements of a “profession” in all 50 states.[5]  In addition to this training, which includes an intern practicum, additional instruction is provided in order to add the “R” for recovery to this certification.  The comprehensive psycho-social program includes:

  • The nature of addiction (seven topics)
  • Specific skills related to recovery (seven topics)
  • Administration and regulatory compliance (seven topics)

Once completing the course the Professional Master Life Coach adds a “Dash R” making them a PMLC-R for recovery.  What is more important, though, than the information is the character and maturity of the Recovery Coach.  They will be called upon to come alongside a recovering addict at different intervals and must be able to respond to diverse concerns related to vocation, family systems, interpersonal relationships, as well as encouraging the client to manage their own personality with the skills, knowledge and habits they have already developed. The Recovery coach may be the recipient of case files from medical or behavioral science professionals and must know how to chart and interpret records.  They also may have to interface with court systems, probation departments, mental health departments and other elements of the justice system.

Here is a description of the character we want to model and develop in a Recovery Coach.  I call them the seven pillars of recovery coaching.

  1. Someone who can pass on the art of forgiveness knowing no pain cuts more finely than forgiving yourself.
  2. Someone who can instill in others an understanding of reality and where they are right now and the possibility of where things can be so that they pursue their future with intentionality.
  3. Someone who can maintain strategic perspective without losing situational awareness, keeping their focus on the most important thing.
  4. Someone who can be called upon from time-to-time to set aside personal ambition and perhaps an element of safety for the hope, healing, and health of someone else.
  5. Someone who has demonstrated they can influence others to act for the benefit of still others.
  6. Someone with a genuine passion for what they are doing with integrity and reliability.
  7. Someone whose spirituality has been forged, not just formed, with clear calling and obvious anointing.

When someone like this follows an addict for another six months after the addict has completed detoxification, inpatient residential programming and a sober living home experience in the previous eighteen months they have the best chance of all to remain clean and sober.  There are still obstacles, recovery is a life-long process.  However, for the recovering addict who can easily get stuck in the past and fail to seize the future, having someone to refocus them on the truth and navigate the obstacles may be the one thing that prevents relapse.  Everyone has broken pieces.  Everyone is recovering from something in this life.  God does not call us to some sort of amnesia about these things.  He calls us to help one another stay focused on His plan and future for us.

“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for” (Jeremiah 29.11).

[1] Jeff Jernigan in Recovery: Coaching Under Pressure, Jeff Jernigan, PhD and Katie Brazelton, PhD; Hidden Value Group, LLC, 2010
[2] The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, 2012
[4] Cognitive Therapy of Substance Abuse, Beck, Wright, Newman, Tiese; Guilford Press, 1993
[5] Life Purpose Coaching Centers International®

Copyright Notice: All materials, content and images contained in this article are the intellectual property of Dr. Jeff Jernigan and may not be copied, reproduced, distributed or displayed except for educational purposes without Dr. Jernigan’s express written permission.

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