This article was published earlier this week on Addictionland.com where I am the featured expert for October.
Alida Schuyler MS, PCC, is a leading expert, trainer, speaker and consultant for Recovery Coaching worldwide. She is co-founder of Recovery Coaches International and Director of Crossroads Recovery Coaching Inc.
My client finds that she gets weepy in the afternoons and consoles her self with a glass of red wine or sometimes two or three. She hates that some times she gets too high to function well, but isn’t sure she is ready to quit entirely.
I am a Recovery Life Coach. I work with people who are in recovery, or are seeking recovery, and with people who have relapsed. Some times we coach about how to get into recovery, come times about how to enjoy life now that they are doing well, and sometimes the agenda is general life challenges with money or relationships. In this blog I describe how I work with my recovery clients as a life coach.
A basic tenet of all life coaching is that the client sets the agenda; that is client sets the direction the goals, and chooses the actions they are willing to take to meet them. I apply that tenet to my coaching. I don’t insist on any one way to recover—I meet the person where they are, stoned or sober, and see where they want to go. If I think I can help them I’ll offer a complimentary consultation.
A Complimentary Coaching Consultation (CCC) allows the person to see if they like coaching and get a feel for how I work. They send me written answers beforehand about what they want most to accomplish in the next year. I learn a lot about my potential client during their CCC. Do they show up on time? Can they send an email, do they answer fully, are their thoughts coherent or jumbled etc. I get clues about their level of functioning and capacity, and a sense whether coaching will work for them.
At the beginning of the consultation the client is coached and receives valuable support. I let them know how I could help them with their particular situation. Toward the end of the call we pause to talk about whether we want to work together. If we both want to we discuss fees and future sessions.
The CCC session ends with an assignment— if we have decided not to work together I’ll offer a referral to a therapist or addiction counselor or another coach—if we have decided we want to work together they are given a New Client Inventory.
Values and a Messy Desk
The inventory asks about the important people in their life, little stuff that has been bugging them like a messy desk, goals, values, and a bit of their history re drugs and treatment. We’ll talk more in the upcoming weeks about their relationship with alcohol or other drugs and how it fits in with their goals and values.
The first four to six weeks of working with a new client is devoted to building the foundation for our work together, developing rapport, gathering history and context, setting the direction, and making small changes. I want people to be well prepared for the changes they want to make. They need to understand themselves, what motivates them to want to change, the barriers they will face, and who will support the intended change.
Must Haves & Can’t Stands
We’ll discuss what works or doesn’t work in supporting them, and what they liked or disliked about working with previous therapists, sponsors, coaches, or counselors. I ask permission to ask tough questions and to speak plainly. We discuss their “must haves” and “can’t stands” and talk about how to be together as coach and client if things get tough, or should they relapse. I ask all my clients to have not only a
plan for the change they are seeking, but also a plan for what to do in case of a relapse.
At the same time we are exploring what it is like to be coached. Each session begins by asking about what went well in the previous week, how their fieldwork went and what they learned. They are learning to look for what is going well in their life, to live from choice, and to have consistent accountability. The client is learning to trust and to set the direction each week for the coaching. They are learning that they are responsible for the choices they make and that they can say yes or no or renegotiate any coaching request.
By now the client may be getting ready to take action on dealing with their drug use (or other challenge brought to coaching). My client decides where they think they should begin, based on discussions of what they have tried previously and what that want. For instance, they may want to try to moderate or control their drinking, or to continue to use but with fewer negative consequences, or to pursue abstaining via 12-step or alternative support.
Though I have a personal preference for 12-step recovery I don’t force it on my clients. I let them know the facts: that Alcoholic Anonymous is the single most successful way to recover from alcoholism, and half the people who achieve and maintain abstinence use AA; the other half use a variety of support alternatives (such as SMART or Women for Sobriety or church) or do it on their own.
I support my client to start addressing their overdrinking or drugging wherever they are willing to start. If they want to try to control their alcohol use we talk about how to track each drink and stay in a safe blood alcohol range. Many find value in trying to control their use, if only to find out that it is really challenging and requires vigilant effort. Research shows that among those who get help to control their drinking, about 1 in 7 is able to control their drinking without further problems while 1 in 4 opts for and sustains abstinence.
Clean Crack Pipes
Some people don’t want abstinence, they want to use but have fewer problems. I help such clients via harm reduction. I helped one client who said he was no longer interested in 12-step recovery make a harm reduction plan for smoking crack that included finding a reliable dealer, a safe place to use, new clean crack pipes, and a regular sex partner. He found to his surprise that he was utterly unable to follow his own plan when smoking crack. His commitment to12-step recovery was strongly renewed by his venture into harm reduction. He said it got rid of his “if onlys”. Unfortunately this client still experiences relapse.
I coach those who are in relapse, so long as they can show up and benefit from coaching. Some can and some can’t. It did doesn’t make sense to me to drop people when they are using and in the most danger.
Progress in coaching is definitely slower when clients are using. We usually focus on staying safe and not harming others. I may ask them to limit drinking to no more than three standard drinks after work. Or to not smoke pot in the house or in front of the children. I ask them to keep a “mood and use” journal so we can see what patterns cause them to overdrink or use such as “Did I get angry and go to a bar after skipping lunch?” We look for ways to increase stability such as eating regular meals, and healthy ways to increase happiness such as getting regular exercise. We look for ways to enjoy life and celebrate positive changes.
As a Recovery Life Coach I am committed to helping my clients enjoy life and achieve the goals they choose. I believe there is very natural fit between Recovery Life Coaching and addiction recovery. My clients like the strengths-based approach coaching uses. They like being trusted to figure our what is best for them. They like celebrating their wins with me and making steady progress toward their goals. They like working on their whole life and not just on drug problems. My clients make steady progress toward their goals. They come back each week because I believe in them and am committed to helping them do what ever it takes to enjoy life in recovery.
The woman who drank wine and got weepy– I coached her first around stabilizing her blood sugar (eating regular meals with lots of protein). She was able to do that, and felt better. After a few months of coaching around her drinking, she agreed to go to an AA meeting and check it out. She has been sober ever since….
If you are interested in Recovery Life Coaching and want to receive a Complimentary Coaching Consultation or be put on my mailing list, please email email@example.com