Today, there are a variety of options for people in recovery to find additional support outside of family, friends and loved ones. It may be difficult to discern what is most helpful in a given situation. Sponsors and recovery coaches are two well known means of support. Even though they both work with persons in recovery, their approaches are different. Learning more about the roles and limitations of both are helpful when deciding which is the best fit.
A sponsor works for free, generally as a volunteer peer support person who offers resources and information to a newcomer in a 12-step recovery program. The role of a sponsor is to guide the new person through the program, learn how it works and expectations. They will lend a listening ear, offer encouragement and provide advice and encouragement on staying sober in recovery. Due to the amount of time sponsors and “sponsees” spend together, they often form a bond or friendship based on the sponsor’s experience of their own recovery. Since recovery is a lifelong process, they, too, are always growing, learning and adapting to life as it happens which can have a great impact on the people they work with.
The field of recovery coaching is relatively new. A branch of general life coaching services, recovery coaching evolved in the early 2000’s as its own form of coaching with some getting paid for their services while others volunteer or work as part of an organization. The role of a recovery coach is to build a bridge, or link. between the services of sponsors in a 12-step program and professional counselors offering specialized interventions. Some recovery coaches aid others in connecting to community services such as employment, housing and benefits. They may also monitor progress through active recovery and even after treatment services have ended. “Sober companion” coaches may escort people in recovery to 12-step meetings and “recovery support specialists” work with recovering individuals to help them develop and follow a structured recovery plan.
Neither sponsors nor coaches can make a diagnosis, do the work for the person in recovery or make decisions on their behalf. It is up to each individual to assess who will be the best support system for their recovery. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach and different people may be helpful at different stages. A sponsor may help guide a person initially but perhaps switching to a recovery coach later can offer additional benefits, or perhaps utilizing both for a combination of supportive services. Whichever path is best, it is clear there are new and evolving ways of building a support network around individuals in recovery to help them achieve their goal of staying healthy and sober.