The Power of Peers


Estimated watch time: 33 mins

Available credits: none

Objectives and Summary:

Recovery coaches help people figure out where they want to go in their recovery journey and find ways to accomplish it. Many of these coaches are in recovery themselves, and through their lived experiences, they are able to provide helpful guidance that takes place outside of the treatment process. Luke Johnson, a peer recovery trainer, explains why these support roles are so important for people navigating their way through their recovery journey.

After watching this presentation, the viewer will:

  • Understand why peer support and recovery coaches are important parts of the addiction recovery process
  • Be aware of the unique roles that recovery coaches take on when helping clients heal from addiction
  • Have access to helpful resources for training, support, accreditation and other tools

Presentation Materials:

Presenter Information:

Luke Johnson is the Lead Trainer and a founding member of Springs Recovery Connection. Luke has trained over 180 coaches during his time with SRC. A gifted trainer, Luke claims his favorite parts of the Springs Recovery Connection CCAR curriculum are the paradigm of treating people as a resource, meaning they are the authority in their own lives and should be treated accordingly as well as how CCAR endorses that someone is in recovery if, and when they say they are. Luke’s compassion and ability to connect to those in recovery is a sign of his commitment to his own well-being.


Welcome to the Community Education Series, hosted by the Recovery Village and Advanced Recovery Systems.

So, a little bit about myself: I was born in 1989, as Shannon said. I have a bachelor’s degree in communication. I got into my own recovery — I’m a person in long-term recovery. I got into recovery in 2011, and from there, I worked as a house manager at a treatment facility. I kind of worked in a unique role where I would work Friday straight through to Monday morning, and all of our clients would go into what we call day treatment where, basically, they would go into a campus for eight hours, Monday through Friday. Then we would take them off-campus to the homes, where we would be in charge of watching and helping them. For me, I would be in charge of anywhere from eight to 15 people all by myself, going through the weekend. I learned a lot of stuff during that time and a lot of things not to do during that time. I found that there was no formalized training for people who come in at an entry-level position and try to help somebody else get into recovery, with the only anecdotal experience that we might have in our own recovery. From there, I’ve worked as a marketer for White Bison, founded Springs Recovery Connection, and then we developed our training institute about two years ago.

Today, we’re going to go over the potential struggles of entry-level staff working in treatment facilities, whatever its coverage, coaches and recovery coach training, and then, finally, embracing all pathways of recovery. So, we should probably start with where our clients might be when they first get into treatment. A lot of times, people have fear, apprehension, remorse — they’re just in a really scary spot and they might have a mistrust of staff. They might have a ton of frustration with the rules. And then also, they’re working with other clients, where they’re trying to fit in and they’re a long way from home. A lot of times, at least in my experience and others that I’ve seen, we might reach out to the staff who is working. And typically, that might be the lowest level of staff that you have, like a behavioral health technician or some sort of house manager. In most cases, a lot of those people are in recovery, but they don’t necessarily have their certified addiction counseling license or anything like that. They’re just kind of taking care of the day-to-day operations.

Well, there’s some positives that come from that. Many times, if these staff are peers or allies in recovery — I remember when I was in treatment, I would always go to the staff and ask them for questions, life advice, different things. I would develop relationships with people when I worked as a house manager, and we were able to provide a lot of guidance for clients. Like, a lot of times, they’d be going through some really intense therapy, addressing different traumas, going through, getting their head cleared, and it’s a scary spot to be. And a lot of times, they’re not able to talk to a nurse or somebody or a doctor all the time. So, they’re sitting there, talking to the guy that’s coming in and making sure that everybody’s going to bed on time. These entry-level staff — a lot of times, they’re living a testament to recovery. They’re able to have life-changing conversations as we talked about it, and also, there’s an expectation of lower pay because they don’t have any formalized training like an addiction counselor or a doctor or somebody would have. But with that, there’s different cons that come in at play. One of those cons is no training or a lack of training around recovery and mentorship.

I remember when I was working, I had a boss who was very into his own 12-step program, and he didn’t fully understand the complications of having dual-diagnosis clients and his specific recovery. He didn’t believe in medication, and I remember there were several instances where he would be speaking with a client who might’ve been severely schizophrenic, as well as bipolar, as well as trying to get in recovery. He would tell them that they shouldn’t take their medication and that they should pray, and that will help all of their mental disorders. So, there’s a lot of bias that goes in when we have only our own anecdotal experience of how we recovered our life back. Then a lot of times, we can be rigid in that, and that can influence or sideline conversations that we might have with clients. Sometimes, as I’ve seen, this could cause unintentional harm to a client’s progress that they might be making with their psychiatrist or with their therapist. It puts a client in a very scary spot and in a bad predicament — they’re feeling like they’re being judged. So, we bring in recovery coaches and recovery coach training.

I am a recovery coach. The recovery coaching movement kind of started from a gentleman named William White. William White is pretty much the foremost researcher of recovery, and what he found is there’s a critical component missing in today’s day and age, and that is this peer-to-peer relationship. We might have it through different mutual aid groups, like 12-step meetings or something, but we don’t have somebody who’s not trying to just help us recover and be like a coach. We have people that are trying to help us go through a specific program or form of recovery. So, he started creating the recovery coach movement along with a lot of other people around the late 1990s. So, a recovery coach is a person who helps remove personal and environmental obstacles to recovery. They link the newly recovering person to the recovery community, and they serve as a personal guide in the management of personal and family recovery.

Then what are recovery coaches not? Recovery coaches are not sponsors. They’re not somebody trying to guide somebody through a particular form of recovery. They’re not a counselor; they’re not a nurse or doctor. They’re not an attorney or a lawyer. They’re not a police minister or rabbi. They’re simply trying to help somebody figure out a plan for recovery and guide them through that. So, that brings in different roles and responsibilities. The ones that they come up with is: a motivator and cheerleader and ally and confidant, a truth-teller, a role model and motivator, a problem-solver, a resource broker, a lifestyle consultant. And then you could use that word “friend,” or you could say “friendly companion.” Depending on the different area that a recovery coach may work, they could use some of these or even all of these different roles and responsibilities, but typically, some of these are more apparent than others based off of the context that that recovery coach may find themselves in.

So, there’s four goals that we all have, and it’s to promote recovery, to remove barriers, to connect people with recovery support services and to encourage hope, optimism and healthy living. The different areas are — we’ve trained people anywhere, from recovery community organizations, which is what we are, where somebody comes to us and we try to link them with maybe a therapist or we try to set them up with a treatment center or sober living. We just try to come up with a plan for them. And we, our resource brokers, really — they might find themselves in treatment centers, sober livings, emergency departments, private practice, there’s reintegration programs. There’s a new program in our community where law enforcement is trying to bring on recovery coaches and go to specific calls and have them be there to try to help somebody get into recovery. And then medication-assisted recovery, and then the list can go on and on, really.

So, if someone comes into recovery coach training, there’s four different domains that recovery coach training addresses, and that’s advocacy, ethical responsibility, mentoring and education and then, finally, recovery and wellness support. A lot of people don’t know this, I guess, in my state. I’m not sure where everybody’s from in here, but there are nationally credentialed recovery coaches. NAIDOC actually has a certification process for this, and then there’s also one called the IC&RC, and they have a certification process for this as well. Different states are taking looks at creating an actual credential, and it all depends on what state you find yourself in, but people can get their license. In some states, people are able to charge insurance companies, and it’s just something that I think a lot of treatment centers might want to take a look at preparing themselves for as this progresses. In Colorado, there’s actually a group that’s working in tandem with the governor right now, trying to come up with a formalized process for this credential and what that might look like.

So, this brings me into the recovery coach training and what sort of things that we try to address through recovery coach training. This is a format where it’s not just, like, a lecture-type scenario. It’s, really, we facilitate learning processes. So, everybody who comes into the training really provides all the thoughts and ideas that go through the training, and we try to — in the beginning — identify relationship dynamics, A lot of times, when people first get into treatment, they might feel like they’re being treated as an object or something. What I mean by that is I remember when I came into treatment, like, I had a case manager that told me, “Either you’re going to do this, or we’re not going to pay for your treatment.” And then there were other instances where I was told, “You could either go to this meeting or you could go to this meeting, but you have to do 90 of them in 90 days and those are your choices. Otherwise, you’re not compliant with your program.”

Recovery coaches — we try to treat people as resources. So, we try to work with people. We work a lot on communication. Most of the time, we’re asking questions as opposed to anything else. It’s a lot like motivational interviewing, and we ask people, “What do you want your recovery to look like? What sort of things would you like to work on? What is recovery to you?” If somebody is having a problem where they don’t feel like they fit in in a particular format of recovery — let’s say a 12-step meeting or something — then it’s my job to try to help them find a different avenue where they could still have a community and still be a part of a program.

So, a lot of recovery — well, our organization, we are researching all the time, trying to figure out what sort of resources are available to the community. And if one of our participants in our program doesn’t feel like this is the correct thing for them, then we try to give them different options that they could choose. Next, we focus on “what is recovery?” I think this is a big question that a lot of people, especially in entry-level positions in treatment centers, really need to take a look at. A lot of times, we can operate off of an old paradigm where recovery is sobriety and that those two are synonymous with each other. I’m speaking from my experience when I’ve had relapses and I felt like I lost everything because I can no longer say that I’m 12 months sober. That was really hard for me, but now, I operate off of a new paradigm that we really address in a lot of these classes. And that is: Recovery could be so much more than that. It could be about me developing my relationship with my girlfriend that we talked about in the intro and trying to get married one day, or it could be trying to figure out what my passion and my life is. It’s more about what sort of life do you want to recover?

We operate, or we try to teach active listening a lot. And then the other component to that is motivational interviewing. We try to teach that questions are way better than statements or telling people what to do. We really try to teach people how to self-disclose. That’s one of the unique things of a recovery coach: The rules are a little bit different. There’s not so much of a power differential when it comes to recovery coaching, and so I’m able to talk about my story, but there’s a certain responsibility that comes with that. It seems like, a lot of times, people can think that if they share their story, they’re going to shortcut somebody’s process. As opposed to understanding that it might take this person two years to figure out what’s going on and it might’ve taken you 10 years to do it in your own story. So, you can help show them what that lesson could be in support, but self-disclosure is something you don’t want to do all the time, even though you’re allowed to as a coach.

We really try to operate on correcting biases in the course. I think that’s probably the biggest thing. There’s a lot of times that people might have problems with medication-supported recovery because they don’t understand how that could be really beneficial to somebody on opiates or opioids. We just try to help people understand that recovery is actually a broad spectrum, and everybody is unique. So, our own biases might get in the way of helping somebody if we let those influence the conversations that we have. We work on crisis intervention and try to teach our coaches how to go through that appropriately, and then we also work on cultural responsiveness, which is a huge thing when it comes to recovery.

As I said earlier, I worked at White Bison for a long time, and that’s an organization where we would go into tribal communities across the U.S. and Canada, Mexico. We would look at how the intergenerational trauma has caused so much of the alcoholism and drug addiction that goes on in those communities. There’s a certain cultural approach that we took in that organization, and so we try and teach a lot of those different lessons to coaches and let them realize how much somebody might be impacted in their addiction, just based off of even the culture that they grew up in or currently are in when they go to meetings or something. But we work on stages of change in stages of recovery. So, we really try to take it — I know this is probably all information you guys know, the stages of change, but a lot of people coming into entry-level positions don’t really understand this. So, somebody might be in a very early stage of change. They might be in, like, pre-contemplation or contemplation, and people that don’t understand this process are thinking that this person’s passive and treatment is using the wrong approach.

So, we try to work on our coaches with that — we go into pathways of recovery and we try to open up people in classes as much as they can to acknowledge that there are so many pathways of recovery, and every one of them should be celebrated. We go into boundary issues, self-care. How do you sleep? A lot of people that are recovery coaches are in recovery, and it’s pretty common for people to get into the recovery field, thinking that this would be a huge benefit to their recovery and it’s gonna help them just like maybe being a sponsor would be. But quite the opposite is actually true. Getting into the recovery field can actually complicate your recovery in a lot of ways. And if you’re not taking care of yourself, you don’t have anything to give to others, so we focus really hard on that.

Finally, we go into the recovery management plan, which is an eight-page document that operates off of the SAMHSA’s eight dimensions of wellness. So, coaches are working with people not just on, like, going to therapy and mental health or something like that — we’re working on, like, financial wellness. We’re working on spiritual wellness, physical wellness, even having your purpose in your life. So, we try to look at recovery holistically, and a coach tries to help somebody with so many different things. Finally, we have two other courses that we teach, and these all help fulfill those IC&RC domains, and then also the NAIDOC domains for somebody to get their recovery coach credential. One portion of that is ethical considerations, which is a 16-hour class that specifically works on ethics from a recovery coaching context.

And then we also work on professionalism. I was training a treatment center, I remember, last October. This was something that they were really interested in because when parents would come to, like, a family week, they would have a hard time distinguishing who the staff was and who the client was, and it was because a lot of the people in the staff were maybe a couple of years into their recovery. Everybody knows us in recovery are not always the cleanest bunch, and that was kind of hard for the treatment center to acknowledge and see that parents didn’t know who the difference was. So, in our professionalism course, we really try to help people that are in an entry-level position realize, like, the way you dress, showing up on time, having a resume, all these sorts of things are very beneficial to your job, and it’ll allow you to help other people in the future.

Finally, the last portion of this is going into embracing all the pathways of recovery. The first part is: What is recovery? If we’re going to look at a pathway of recovery, we should probably identify what recovery is in the first place, and we fully try to believe that people are in recovery if and when they say they are. That’s a thing that a lot of people struggle with at first in class, but if they’re able to make that paradigm shift, it does so many things. A lot of times, we’ve seen coaches get upset with, like, maybe somebody’s having a relapse or something, and they get frustrated with that. They feel like people aren’t in recovery because they’re struggling to try to get into recovery. So, through this, we try to let people know that people are in recovery if and when they say they are, and it’s not on us to judge.

A competent coach will aim to help their recovery, identify the life that they want to recover. We also believe that everybody is unique with unique needs, capabilities, and recovery is not linear. At different times, it might require different pathways. So, the different dimensions of wellness are emotional, spiritual, intellectual, physical, environmental, financial, occupational and social wellness, and peers are seen as a resource expert. So, a coach will need to network and research what sort of resources are available locally and practically to recovery. So, we had people sit down with their recoveries and identify, “What do you have? Do you have insurance? Do you have a car? What sort of resources do you have available now?” And then we take a look at what sort of resources they could use to get into recovery based off of that.

So, if somebody doesn’t have housing or a car, I’ll try to set them up with a sober home that might be close to a bus stop that they can take over to a meeting or something. At a place like Colorado Springs, we don’t really have much local transportation, public transportation, so our coaches need to work really hard to try to figure out that sort of plan for their recoveries to make sure that recovery is possible. A coach will then help a recovery, prioritize their needs if somebody is homeless and wanting to get into recovery. Or, if somebody is having mental health issues going on that isn’t on medication yet, getting into recovery and going to some sort of meeting is not even possible at that point. So, coaches try to prioritize, “Okay, let’s get this person into a psychiatrist or a therapist.” And then from there — or, I’m sorry, “Let’s get this person into housing first before we get them into a psychiatrist or therapist.” If they’re homeless or if they’re having mental things going on that they might require medication, we try to focus on that first before we can do anything else with recovery, because that just won’t be possible.

After their needs are prioritized, coaches come up with an actionable plan for the recovery to execute. If any pathway fails or recovery, the coach will help the recovery adjust accordingly and try something that may be a better fit. A lot of the agencies that we’ve trained here in Colorado Springs — they’ll have their house managers be coaches. And there are a ton of times where their house managers will be setting up their relapse prevention programs with their recoveries or with their clients. They’ll set up meetings going into a sober home, what have you, before the client’s able to be discharged. They try to do that several months before the client’s able to go. And there have been instances where maybe the client finally leaves their care and something comes up; they call that coach, and that coach could help figure them out a different sort of plan to help mitigate further relapse or just have success.

In review, recovery coach training is a blessing to any organization working in the recovery field. It takes somebody — who has little to no experience or education but just anecdotal experience — wanting to help somebody get into recovery, and it arms them with the proper skills that they might need to actually have meaningful conversations throughout the day. That happens all day while the client is not going in seeing a doctor; recovery coach training can give the tools to entry-level staff to have those casual conversations turn into life-changing conversations. There are state and national credentials and certifications that recovery coaches can attain. Our training institute offers the Recovery Coach Academy. We have ethical considerations, professionalism and the emergency department, but we also offer opioid response training and we have recovery coaching for veterans, essential skills, forensic settings. So, organizations that might work with people coming off of parole or probation. We have an emergency department and then, finally, supervision due to COVID. We’ve been able to take all these things online, so everything is done through Zoom and we’re able to train all over the state and the country.

Now, it’s time for questions. How does one start in this program? I mean, if I have the desire to pursue this education, what’s my first step? Your first step is, if you wanted to go through us, giving us a call and we could ship you the manuals. We have our trainings throughout the year we do monthly. So, just finding a training that works for you or works for your staff, and then we would send you the manuals. We do different deals based off of organizational discounts or what have you, and then that’s kind of how it all starts.

I have a question. First of all, I love that you refer to recovery coaches as resource brokers. I think that’s just great. But how, as a recovery coach, do you guys stay informed on all the available resources that there are in the community for your clients? ‘Cause that is a lot of information to hold on to.

We are always working on that, actually. As an agency, we’re kind of lucky because we have a ton of us, but we created our own website and we try to call these numbers annually and just make sure that the numbers are correct. And then in the training, the biggest thing that we focus on when it comes to that portion of the training is making sure that you give this resource a call as the coach first before handing the phone off to the recovery, because that way, you kind of know everything about it. So, a lot of these organizations close when grants expire or what have you.

And Luke, can I chime in on that also? Hey everybody, it’s Rebecca. I’m the director of development for SRC. So, one of the things we have to — we have about 15 coaches on staff now, and we’ve created some internal meetings, which we call the resource guru meeting. And we just sit and compare notes ‘cause we’re constantly referring clients to sober living, to MAT providers, to treatment, different places. And every coach sort of has their own experience with that, and because, collectively, we’re getting together as a group, we continually update our resources that way. The other thing too is, a lot of times, we deal with people who are sort of at the bottom of the — I mean, they’re really struggling. They’ve lost a lot. And that’s primarily where we’re always turning over stones, trying to find resources for people who may not have resources. So, a lot of times, people will call us just for resources. They’re not necessarily engaged in our program because we do so much research on that. 

Look, I have one other question for you too. When you start working with someone as a recovery coach, how long do you typically work with them? 

It all kind of depends. Personally, I think that I always do, like, an example in class. I wonder if I could share a screen that could kind of help this real quick. Can I — is there a whiteboard? So, the thought is kind of — as a coach, you’re trying to hold up a table, right? And if this is somebody who’s recovering, just one leg is not going to make it stand. So, ideally, I would be wanting to put as many legs of recovery as possible under this. If I know somebody has a therapist, if I know that they have a sponsor, those sorts of things. And then once they have all of that stuff, it’s time for me to go. They don’t need me anymore. So, it all kind of depends. We do have coaches that have taken people on for over a year now, but then there’s other instances where I’ve found, personally, probably three, four months. That’s kind of my average with people that I work with.

Can you talk a little bit more about treating people as, like — your recoveries as resources? 

So, the idea that, a lot of times, we may find ourselves in is — if I finally have several years of recovery, like, that is that’s crazy. Like, this is a disease that takes so many people and was so hard for me to finally conquer. To me, that might feel like that’s kind of the only way ‘cause I’ve tried so many other things. And finally, I figured out a solution in this and it’s very easy for coaches or certain programs to find somebody and be, like, “Here, this is what you need to do. This is what you need to do. And if you don’t do this, you’re going to fail. Or if you do what I do, you’re going to get what I got.”

Well, treating somebody as a resource is a lot different than that because we start asking the question of, “Well, what do you want your life to look like? What would be ideal for you and your recovery? How much time do you want to spend on your recovery? Do you want it to be more of a spiritual process, or what does that look like for you?” And then when people are able to start ironing that out and figuring out what it is, then I can maybe help figure out some other resources and plans to kind of put that together for them. And then if something fails and they come to me and they’re like, “I tried that. I do not like that at all,” it’s like, okay, I’m not going to tell them to keep going until you finally do. I’m going to be like, “Alright, let’s figure out something different. Maybe there’s something we haven’t thought of yet.” And so, that’s kind of the basis of it — they’re in the driver’s seat, and I’m trying to help them figure out what that is.

Thank you for watching this video. We hope you enjoyed the presentation.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.