I hear that from time-to-time from people in 12-step fellowships who do not understand the role of the Sober Coach. The question is usually designed as an affront to the sober coach, referring to the fact that 12-step sponsorship is offered at no charge.
I wish to shed some light on this issue. As a Certified Sober Coach and a 12-step-oriented individual, I see how the confusion… and the negativity towards the coach… may arise. I believe that root causes are:
- Condemnation prior to investigation
- Confusion concerning the role of the 12-step sponsor
Let me preface this next part by stating that these will be my personal opinions derived from my own experiences, both personal and from watching the world around me. I am not speaking, in any way, for or against any 12-step fellowship, as I respect their traditions and the spirit of confidentiality.
Judgement without education is only a guess
I tend to have a hard time with those who make accusatory statements without any basis on knowledge of the subject.
My conversations with those in 12-step fellowships who truly understand sponsorship and have also gained knowledge and an understanding of Sober Coaches… or Sober Companions, have been positive, interesting and relevant. The two roles are different. Their applications, although both focused on the sobriety and well-being of the alcoholic or the addict, each have their own place in the world of recovery.
Sponsors are amateurs
For me, I owe my life to my first sponsor. In hindsight, he performed his role perfectly. He guided me through the 12 steps and into a world of sobriety. Also, for me, I truly believe that without that fellowship and his tireless work with me, I would be dead. Deep respect.
However, when I opened up to him about some personal things that were confusing me, he simply replied, “Well, Dave, why don’t you go get some counseling for a while. Maybe that would help.” I did, and it helped.
Here are some things I have heard over the years. None of this was directed to me. I either heard these first-hand, or from someone’s sponsee. The sponsors said:
- “I think you may have to get a divorce.”
- “You should move out right away.”
- “Don’t take that damn medicine; you may end up back on heroin.”
- “Move in with me. It will [be better for you].” I forgot the exact words here.
I wish I could say that these are extremely rare occurrences, but I will say, from my perspective, that most sponsors who truly work their own programs to the best of their abilities, would never utter such dangerous statements. This stuff could get someone killed.
The job description of a sponsor is to take a sponsee through the 12 steps. End of job description.
A sponsor is not a substance abuse counselor, therapist, priest, marriage counselor, physician, sister or brother, mother or father, nor any one of fifty other titles. They are guides through the 12 steps of recovery.
And a Sober Coach is?
A sober coach is a sober life guide, not tied to any particular discipline of recovery, who works professionally with a client to help him or her to create (or re-create) a life centered around abstention from alcohol and/or drugs.
A sober coach spends time with a client, either in person or via forms of remote communication, to determine the client’s plans & goals. Working closely as a team, the coach and client map out a plan of action to achieve those goals; a plan that the client is absolutely willing to pursue. Accountability is held to strongly by the coach, and the client must either achieve each goal-reaching segment in the allotted time, or be willing to re-structure the tasks into a more do-able timeline.
Sober coaches hold their clients to tight and tough standards. Sober Coaches, unlike 12-step sponsors are not in it to benefit their own recovery. Coaches are held to the same professional ethics as any other mental health service provider, and should at least be certified to show that they possess the education to work efficiently with their clients.
Sober Coaches resource and refer to help their clients to find the most useful tools to accomplish their goals. They may be a sort of “shadow” for those who need closer protection while gaining a foothold in their recovery. Coaches and companions serve a wide variety of professional services, all aimed at supporting the client in his or her quest for finding a sober lifestyle.
So there are definite differences between a sponsor and a sober coach. Perhaps this short rant has helped define some of those differences.