The Recovery Coach Problem

Two weeks ago, I received a notice from the NJ Addictions Professionals Certification Board that they have created a credential called the Certified Peer Recovery Specialist. This replaces the terrible Recovery Mentor credential, and is just the latest term for a Recovery Coach. Two years ago, I wrote about Recovery Coaches and it has been of the most read articles on my site.

My biggest concerns about Recovery Coaches are that they are uneducated, untrained, unlicensed and unsupervised people that are collecting a fee for services to a very volatile and vulnerable population. The people who act as a Recovery Coach are usually in recovery themselves and often well meaning, but neither is a proper sole qualification to engage in this work (more on the Life Coach disaster below*). Many of the Recovery Coaches that I have come across cut their teeth in 12-Step programs and cite God as a profound force in their ability to recover. This is problematic at best, even moreso than typical “this way worked for me so therefore you should follow” it strategies. One should not infer that I don’t like 12-Step programs – I do – but I don’t want to see people use their AA or NA experience to give people advice on medications, family dynamics, suicidal thoughts or educational guidance. Another problem is that Recovery Coaches are, more often than not, against Medication Assisted Therapies and I know some proclaim that if you take Suboxone that “you are still getting high.”

All that written, having a certification that requires training, limits scope of work and requires supervision is a good start to fixing the Recovery Coach problem. The Certification Board described the credential as such:

This credential is available to Peers seeking to learn Peer Support skills in order to foster the recovery of others affected by addiction and co-occurring problems.The CPRS is not a private practice credential, as they are only licensed by the NJ State Division of Law and Public Safety, Division of Consumer Affairs.The CPRS will replace the Recovery Mentor. Please note that this is not a counseling certification (italics are mine), but rather a Peer Recovery credential that allows the holder to perform the following domains:

1) Advocacy

2) Ethical Responsibility

3) Mentoring and Education

4) Recovery/Wellness planning, within a supervised professional agency.

As of now, the training has only been approved to be provided by CARES in MorrisCounty. Their website states that the credential was inspired by the “Peer Specialists (that were placed) in hospital emergency rooms anytime someone is saved from an opioid overdose with Naloxone. The Peer Specialists meet with the patients in the ER with the goal of getting them into treatment and hopefully long term recovery.”

As long as the peer specialists (or recovery coaches or recovery mentors) are limited to this role and are not speaking out against medication** to those with addiction issues, this is a positive development. Like so many other programs and public policies though, it’s a good first step. There is more work to be done on this, and I still urge people to get a licensed therapist over a recovery coach.


* Life Coaches are another group that seek to circumvent education, training, licensing, supervision and experience in order to collect a fee and act as therapists. The counseling professions are a bit of a disaster (far less than 20% are competent, in my wide experience), but that still should not open the door to anyone who can get someone to listen to them to become a pseudo-therapist. One wouldn’t hire a legal coach, medical coach, financial coach (well…I’m not sure why anyone would get a financial advisor that wasn’t a fiduciary, but I digress), or marriage coach, but for some reason life coaches caught on. From the dawn of civilization until present day, there have always been charlatans, hucksters, carnival barkers and snake oil salesman. Then as now, they are best to be avoided.

** In reading this and other articles by me, one might assume that I am wildly pro-medication. I am not. I believe that medication can be effective to help people with severe addiction issues, as well as people with depression, PTSD, anxiety, bi-polar disorder and a variety of other medical problems (heart disease, diabetes, HIV). I just don’t believe in medication first, but rather after a series of behavioral changes (proper sleep, proper diet, regular exercise, quitting smoking) have been legitimately attempted. I am quite wary of Big Pharma, and have written about the problems of over or improper medication extensively.


6/23/2016 Correction: An earlier version of this piece stated that the NJ Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) had been involved with the creation and approval of this certification. After communicating with officials at DHMAS this morning, I was informed that they were not involved in the process at all and that the Certification Board erred in its statement (please note that CARES has not made this false claim).