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What is Recovery Coaching? A Beginner-Friendly Guide

What is Recovery Coaching? A Beginner-Friendly Guide

Learn what recovery coaching is and how these coaches help clients suffering from substance use disorders. Plus, discover how sponsors and therapists differ.


The path to sobriety isn’t always smooth. An estimated 40%–60% of individuals in addiction recovery relapse, and only 25% who suffer from alcohol use disorder successfully reduce their intake. 

Addiction is a chronic disease –– meaning there isn’t a cure. There are, however, treatments to control behaviors. Given the discouraging statistics and the nature of these illnesses, individuals trying to control their substance use need recovery support. 

That’s where recovery coaches can help. Although these coaches can’t work as mental health professionals, they supplement the work of these experts. 

So what is recovery coaching, and how do these professionals help clients stay sober? Learn all about recovery coaching, including its benefits and who needs it.

What is recovery coaching?

Recovery coaching (sometimes called recovery life coaching) is the practice of supporting people struggling with problems such as alcoholism and drug abuse. Other niches, such as trauma recovery coaching, focus on clients who aren’t necessarily addicts and are dealing with financial insecurity, dysfunctional relationships, or professional challenges.  

What does a recovery coach do?

A recovery coach, or a sober coach, helps individuals battling addiction by providing support, guidance, and objective progress metrics. These coaches act as role models and help clients achieve lasting change by identifying triggers, forming an action plan, and developing habits and behaviors that support long-term recovery.

Without touching on addiction’s impact on physical and mental health, recovery coaches provide an outside perspective on a client’s progress, moral support, and educational resources. They support the role of doctors and psychologists, helping clients implement these professionals’ recommendations and not lose hope.

Who needs recovery coaching?

Recovery coaches primarily work with individuals with drug or alcohol addiction or use disorders. These are an especially good fit for the following people: 

  • Recovering addicts who have undergone multiple treatments: These include individuals who continually relapse. Coaches help hold recovery clients accountable and pinpoint roadblocks or triggers preventing a full recovery.
  • People with addiction-related legal issues: These are individuals who risk losing a professional license, driving privileges, or custody. Sober coaches provide tools and accountability support to these clients about losing professional opportunities or personal relationships. 
  • Individuals who need more professional support: Recovering individuals who need help in addition to therapy sessions and doctoral support may seek coaching services. Each recovery support specialist tackles different issues for maximum results. For instance, doctors consider the individual’s physical recovery, mental health providers help patients understand their disorder and its psychology, and coaches help people stick to a recovery plan.


Recovery coaches vs. therapists vs. sponsors

No matter their field, coaches should never stand in for behavioral health professionals, such as therapists or psychiatrists. This distinction includes mental health coaches. Psychologists or psychiatrists train to diagnose and treat disorders and provide therapy addressing past traumas. On the other hand, coaches help clients change habits and set goals for a better future but leave the diagnosing, treating, and emotional unpacking to mental health professionals. 

So what about sponsors? Coaches work for their clients, while sponsors are volunteers, usually associated with 12-step programs. Coaches provide comprehensive support services that include goal-setting, accountability, and education. Sponsors may provide similar support and have first-hand experience in recovery and sober living, but these mentors aren’t necessarily trained to help addicts identify obstacles and action items. 

Types of sobriety support

Support looks different for everyone. Some people prefer hands-on, emotionally focused coaching, while others look for hard facts and tools to succeed. Sober coaches should prepare to provide different types of support to meet unique clients’ needs. Here are a few common types of support: 

  • Emotional: Here, coaches empathize with clients and actively listen to their concerns. Coaches create a safe place for conversation and try to put themselves in clients’ shoes. 
  • Informational: Informational support equips clients with the right resources. Coaches make referrals for additional wellness services or provide educational materials on recovery.
  • Instrumental: In instrumental support, coaches help clients set external conditions for success. For example, a coach may guide a client looking for a house or job.
  • Affiliational: In this model, coaches recommend groups or other affiliations providing peer recovery and community support. 

The benefits of recovery coaching

Experts suggest individuals who supplement their recovery with coaching services achieve improved results. Here’s how:

  • Preventing relapses: Sober coaches help clients identify relapse triggers before it’s too late. But, if someone does relapse, a coach guides the individual back onto the path of sobriety with an action plan.
  • Developing tools and skills to help clients recover: Recovery coaches deeply understand substance use disorders and techniques to control impulses. In fact, sometimes, these coaches undergo recovery themselves and know potential challenges. They turn this knowledge into tools and skills clients can use for recovery. 
  • Pointing clients in the right direction: If a client is struggling but not in a recovery program, a coach provides a referral and helps them navigate the different addiction treatment centers and programs.
  • Providing extra accountability: Coaching is consistent. Clients frequently meet with their coach and may have homework and action items to tick off between sessions. Coaches address progress and critically listen as clients explain roadblocks. This helps coaches chart a smarter route forward.
  • Improving other areas of a client’s life: Addiction has complex triggers and consequences. Coaches help clients become more stable in other areas of their lives and make decisions that support recovery. A coach helps clients set financial security goals, achieve professional success, and improve relationships with friends, family members, and partners. 

Coaches –– critical allies on the path to recovery

Recovery coaches support the work of physical and mental health professionals and sponsors. Look for professionals with certified recovery coaching training for the best results. 

To learn more about the world of coaching, head to The Practice Blog. Learn how coaching helps overcome imposter syndrome, why you may feel demotivated, and how to find the perfect health coach. Try us today.

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