Addiction counselors often complain that their clients don’t follow the exit plans they receive when they graduate from treatment. The plans usually include some number of meetings to attend, getting a sponsor and a home group, seeing a medical doctor and hiring a therapist. Failure to follow the plan is often cited as a reason for relapse. Few ask or wonder why the plan wasn’t followed.
I learned about planning when I was trained as a life coach in the late 1990’s. The idea of planning was eye opening to me and I noticed that I had not learned to plan in 12-step programs. There I learned to live “one day at a time,” which was how I lived when I drank too much. “One day at a time” was a helpful concept for staying stopped, but not helpful for effective living. Luckily I got involved in life coaching and began to apply that to my own recovery.
In life coaching training school I was taught that the client names the outcome they are looking for (because it is their life to live). The client is supported in setting a specific goal that is actionable and not a therapy goal that they believe will lead to the outcome they want– and then the planning begins. As a coach, I like the question, “What needs to be true in order for this to happen?” because the answer tells me a lot about what the coachee sees as necessary changes that will have to be made in order to reach the goal.
For instance, the goal of one recovery client was independence. To feel independent he needed to move out of his parents house. To move out he would need a job and take his medications on his own. He identified that in order to get a job he would need to get up earlier. When asked what barriers that might get in the way of getting up earlier, he identified staying up too late or taking his meds too late. We talked about sleep and meds and the action steps he would take in the coming week: buying an alarm clock, setting his phone cue him when to take meds, and taking a shower when he first wakes up so the didn’t fall back asleep. Those were the first steps towards his independence. He was excited because he had identified what he wanted and what it would take to get there.
In addiction recovery rehabs, clients are often handed an exit plan that tells them the things they should do to avoid relapse such as go to meetings, get a sponsor, hire a therapist etc. The plan is usually organized around staying away from substances, but may not really speak to what the client wants from life– the “why it would be worth it to stay abstinent” is often missing. A recovery plan that is handed to the client, and which is not connected with a life goal they deeply care about and which doesn’t come with ongoing support can set a client up for failure and relapse.
By contrast, a recovery life coach involves the coachee in the goal setting and planning process and sticks around while the coachee tries to carry out their plan. In any setting, executive coaching or recovery coaching, a plan invariably needs adjusting. The coach helps the client to identify what the breakdown was, and find a way to get past it– or find a way to cope if it can’t be changed. In an ongoing relationship organized around the client’s wants and needs, the life coach provides accountability, celebrates successes, cheers the coachee on, and asks what they learned when there are set backs and helps to adjust the plan as needed.
Because the plan is one the coach and coachee made and work on together, the client is invested in it and he or she begins to have hope of a better life. Exit plans handed to people leaving treatment often fail because they the client has not been actively involved in their creation, and because the plan is organized about not doing something (don’t drink, don’t use) and because no ongoing support is provided to carry out the plan.
The person supported by a professional recovery life coach is set up for success. They don’t give up easily or use whenever things don’t turn out as expected. They know they have a coach who won’t judge or over-react, but rather will help them identify what went wrong and decide what to try next. Supported by a life coach they learn to apply ongoing effort and baby steps. They learn to never give up. They experience to joy of success. In time, by setting goals, making plans and taking actions with the support of their coach, they create a satisfying life in recovery. One worth staying in recovery for.