Mapping Career Pathways and Professional Development for Recovery Coaches


Dr. David Best, Jessica Casteel, Dot Smith, and David Patton have recently posted a blog highlighting their efforts to enhance career development pathways for recovery coaches. This initiative is quite promising, and I hope we will see similar efforts developed in the U.S. and internationally. With the authors’ permission, I am reposting their blog as a means of encouraging discussion on this unique approach to enhancing the professional development of recovery support specialists.

Bill White

Mapping Career Pathways and Professional Development for Recovery Coaches

David Best (Professor of Addiction Recovery, Leeds Trinity University; President, Recovery Outcomes Institute, Inc.)

Jessica Casteel (Director of Operations, Recovery Outcomes Institute, Inc.)

Dot Smith (CEO, Recovery Connections)

David Patton (Senior Lecturer in Criminology, University of Derby)

 May 2022

Map and Compass

 Rationale and background:

As recovery residences, peer-based rehabilitation services, recovery community organisations in the US and Lived Experience Recovery Organisations (LEROs) in the UK gain increasing prominence and centrality, so does the importance of adequate training and personal development for volunteers taking on the roles of recovery coaches (or recovery navigators, recovery allies, recovery ambassadors or recovery companions depending on the preferred language).

Initially in the US, but also in the UK, this has led to a proliferation of courses that are often commercially-driven to provide training and support for initial and enhanced recovery coach status, often with some kind of certification on completion of the course.

However, very little of this has been linked to any kind of formal educational qualifications, far less to a vocational pathway for people in recovery who want to give something back, and some of whom want to go on to build a career in treatment or recovery services.

So what are we aiming to do?

The basic idea is that we will develop a model for tracking the knowledge, experience and wellbeing of recovery coaches regardless of the training they receive and develop a framework for helping them (and their organisations) to build bespoke training to support them in this journey. Our aim is to create:

-  A measure of recovery coach capital, wellbeing and needs

-  An evaluation framework for peer recovery coach training

-  A development model for supporting and enhancing skills

The perspective for this is based on the linked ideas of Recovery Capital and CHIME (Connectedness, Hope, Identity, Meaning and Empowerment) – the resources that people have at their disposal to support their pathways and the things that we know are evidenced to support positive recovery change.

But with recovery coaches or allies this has a twin track:

  1. Do they have sufficient understanding of assessing and building recovery capital to positively support recovery growth in the people they are working with?
  2. Is the process of being a recovery coach helping them to maintain and build their own recovery capital as it manifests in the domains of professional growth and personal wellbeing?

Essentially, recovery capital and CHIME provide us with eight domains through which we can track and map coaches’ capabilities and ongoing training and development needs:

  1. Personal recovery capital: How strong are their basic internal skills and qualities around personal empathy, relationship building, peer therapeutic skills?
  2. Social recovery capital: This will mean both their own supportive social network and their ability to engage prosocial groups and individuals to support the person in recovery?
  3. Community recovery capital: This involves their knowledge of diverse local community assets (both recovery-specific and general across the community) that can help them link the person in recovery into meaningful activities and to maintain the balance of their own life and wellbeing
  4. Connections: They should both be a key connection (role model, guide, supporter, advocate) but also have sufficient links and bridges to groups and networks to support recovery
  5. Hope: Their own demeanour and experience should transmit the belief that ‘you can have what I have got’ and the coach’s work should generate both collective efficacy (the person believes in the power of the relationship) and subsequently personal efficacy (that ‘I can do this’)
  6. Identity: A key component of the recovery journey is the shedding of the ‘user’ or ‘addict’ identity in favour of a more complex and positively valenced identity predicated on multiple group memberships and including identity as well as a range of other identities that relate specifically to the individual, for example, ‘father’, gardener’ or ‘member of a choir’ etc
  7. Meaning: Providing people with a sense of meaning and purpose in life is essential and this generally translates to engaging in various different types of meaningful activities, ranging from work, education and training courses, volunteering as well as involvement in religious organisations, sports, recreation, etc. Supporting and promoting meaningful activity is a key skill and outcome for a coach.
  8. Empowerment: This is about increasing both self-esteem and self-efficacy and is measured by the gradual transition from ‘we can’ to ‘I can’ as the individual progresses in their recovery journey.

It will be noted that the above list does not include some of those more traditional staples of recovery coach training such as motivational interviewing or trauma-informed practice. What this model is about is creating a macro-level assessment of recovery coach growth not a curriculum or agenda for what people need to know, which, in any case, will vary based on the context and their client group. The only comment on this is that recovery coach training should not resemble ‘drug work for beginners’.

This can then link into a model, which we are hoping to develop through a partnership between Leeds Trinity University, the Recovery Outcomes Institute and Building Recovery in Middlesbrough (BRIM) for ongoing education, training and formal qualifications for recovery coaches, whatever their labels and whatever their preferred intervention methods.