many thanks to Irina Bogomolova for her time and insight in writing this review. What we teach, we learn.
There is something about the recovery field that draws you in. Maybe you’re in recovery yourself, know someone in recovery, or maybe you just have a desire to help and this is your population of choice. You wonder what it takes, what skills should you cultivate, who do you need to know? Is your personal experience enough? The idea of being an addictions counselor might overwhelm you, while the idea of being a point person for resources and guidance sparks excitement. Whether you know that you want to be a recovery coach, or you’re simply just figuring it out, going through a recovery coach training could be a path to answers, and knowledge.
In the cold months of 2016, I was asked to review a Connecticut Community for Addictions Recovery (CCAR) training by a facilitator in Colorado. The training was conducted over the span of two weekends; a total of 30 hours. I said yes because I was given a scholarship to cover costs, I was asked to practice one of my passions (putting words on paper and calling it art), and I was determined to reconnect with the community that I was so deeply involved with, but losing my passion for. I recognize that the circumstances that pushed me to say yes are likely not the same circumstances of an individual seriously considering this training, and so I spent my 30 hours indulging less in my goals, and more in those of the other participants. Did they get what they showed up for?
Our training was led by two facilitators, Lacey Berumen PhD, M.N.M, C.A.C.III, who serves on the National Board of Directors of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and Rod Rushing who became a CAC III following his own recovery journey. Rod realized that an unmet need of recovery supports was so glaring that he went to Connecticut to learn about recovery coaching from the leader in the field- CCAR. Since then, Rod’s program, Peer Coach Academy (PCA) and CCAR have developed a mutually supportive relationship.
Of the 14 participants in the training, 10 stated that they were in recovery; the other four either had family members dealing with substance use disorder, or were in the field. Of the 14 participants, five were either currently in the field, or studying to be in the field.
Day 1 started with introductions. I requested that along with name and background, each participant state why they chose to do the training. Below are some of the responses.
I am interested because there is that gap, here is your treatment and then we are done until next time. –Tony, 10 years sober, contractor in the field
I decided if I made it out alive, I wanted to help others find their way out. -Gary, 25 years sober, IT
I lost a sister to heroin addiction and nearly lost a son who is now in recovery. I really want to help families. -Michelle
I am working on a master’s degree for clinical mental health. For me, this bridges the gap. -Brittany, sober since 2008
I want to give back. I want to get the stigma erased. -Gavin, in recovery since 2012
After introductions, we read out loud the Academy Learning Objectives which included things like, “List the components, core values and guiding principles of recovery, build skills to enhance relationships, address ethical and boundary issues,” etc. This was followed by the participants, and the instructors creating guidelines for the room. It was here that I recognized that this training was not a one way regurgitation of materials, but a dynamic discussion with participants and instructors equally involved. As a room, we decided on six agreements; confidentiality, “I” statements, one person talking at a time, no side conversations, assuming the best, and a parking lot for questions.
We covered many topics over the course of the two weekends; definitions of recovery, definitions of a recovery coach, boundaries, stages of recovery, cultural competency, and others. The conversation that struck me the most out of the 30 hours of training was the topic of recovery, defined. For me, one of the greatest successes of this training is the inclusive definition of recovery. Although CCAR includes SAMHSA’s (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) definition, it takes it a step further and provides a simple definition, “A person is in recovery if they say they are.” This was a hot topic in the room, raising concerns, (“Well can’t anyone say they are in recovery?”) and agreement, (“Recovery is self-defined. It’s whatever empowers that individual”).
Before we got on the topic of definitions of recovery, Rod stated, “One of the biggest downfalls is that we don’t understand where people are at.” Allowing recovery to be self-defined allows those in the field to be more accepting of where others are at, and where they want to end up. It seems that the CCAR training was less about providing facts and modalities (though these were present) and more about teaching us to listen, to be, and to act appropriately, in line with the needs of the other. It was about awareness of our own biases and the impact these can have on individuals that we intend to help.
It’s not the coach with biases that is the concern. We all have biases. It’s the coach that thinks they don’t have any biases. -Lacey, summarized from the training manual
I got that my background is very 12 Steps and that if I’m helping someone all I have to offer is the 12 Steps. Which is…closed minded. Just being able to look at what recovery is to you, helps me become more open minded. -Jordan
Another success of the training was the diversity in the room. Having people from a variety of backgrounds allowed us to not hear about what it means to be open-minded and inclusive, but actually experience it for ourselves.
One of the greatest pluses is the variety of the group. If everyone was on my path then I wouldn’t be gaining as much; this experience has been really rich for me. -Celeste
Despite the individual differences amongst the participants, the desire to help others was uniform across the room. On Day 1, Gary opened up about his suicide attempt from years ago. During lunch he approached me and said, ‘I just want you to know you can write about anything I say. I don’t mind, as long as it helps people.” It was evident that I was in a room of people that would share their story, and give up their story, as long as it fulfilled their desire to help someone else.
At the end of our course, the participants were interviewed, asked questions such as what did you think of the curriculum, would you recommend it to others, were your intentions met, etc. All the feedback was positive and some is included below.
I would recommend this course to others because it is filling a gap. Peer recovery coaches can be the bridge between the clinical and personal path to recovery. -Jen
I would recommend this course to others because I now see I had a very narrow focus. This 40 hours has broadened my view, has opened up my heart. It is beneficial to take ourselves through this process. I checked into the biases I have built over the last few years. -Celeste
It is the best money you could spend in the recovery field. -Gavin
When asked if the course fulfilled participants’ intentions, the most common response was that the training met and exceeded all expectations.
To attend this course, I gave up two weekends, missed a wedding, and a powder day in the mountains. I ask myself now, was it worth it? As noted at the beginning, my intention of the course was to pull focus away from myself, and instead place it upon the participants. I wanted to grasp whether or not they fulfilled their goals, and with that intention, I can easily state that I did meet my goal. Honestly though, my biggest hope for being in the training was re-sparking my passion within the field. I was overworked, jaded, and over it, walking in the room. 30 hours later, I was exhausted and happy to be done. But in those 30 hours, I spoke about recovery, I challenged the view of abstinence only, and just as everyone’s presence played a role in opening my mind, I am confident I opened theirs. It may not have been immediate, but my passion did creep in during class discussions, and even more so in one-on-one conversations during breaks.
When I consider the question of would I recommend this course to others, I heavily lean towards yes, with a caveat on who, “others,” is. I do believe this course is very beneficial for those outside of the field, looking for a way in that doesn’t require a degree yet provides a level of legitimacy. But beyond that, the people who I really wish to see in the room, are treatment providers who stand behind one mode of treatment, and one pathway to recovery. This course challenges biases that are so prominent in the industry. If an individual is really intending to help others, 30 hours of a CCAR training is a great place to start, and be reminded, that it isn’t about you, it’s about them.
The system is not set-up to meet people where they are at; the system is set-up to meet people where the system is at. -Rod
We may not be able to overhaul the system, but having individuals in the system that are aware of the shortcomings would be a great start.
-Written by Irina Bogomolova, Founder and CEO of Choice in Recovery