Sober: Coach, Companion, Mentor, Advisor or What?

Sober: Coach, Companion, Mentor, Advisor or What?

Having found my own recovery in Los Angeles, I had always heard the whispers of sober companions and the work they did. At the time of my early recovery there weren’t as many companies providing the care and to become a companion was highly coveted. What usually came before the talk of a companion present in a 12-Step meeting, was the sighting or talk of a celebrity there as well. At that time I had always just assumed that being a sober companion would mean working with the Hollywood elite or powerful and wealthy individuals, which was enticing. The idea of that type of  work sounded amazing to me and I used to think to myself, “I would get paid (handsomely) for helping someone stay sober, guiding them and directing their recovery…. sign me up!” As the years went on and my work in the field of addiction treatment progressed, I did not actually act as a sober companion until much later into my professional experience. Interestingly enough, even working as a companion was always shrouded in some level of mystery. I did not receive much training from the few organizations I worked for and from the beginning it was troubling to me just how loosely structured the work was. Often times, I was not given any direction related to the process or the goals of the case and left me often feeling lost or unsupported by my supervisor(s). Not to mention all the different titles! As the addiction treatment industry grew fast and immensely in the recent years I began to see so many titles for, what appeared to be, the same position. Why was this the case?

Even as a professional in the field I found this confusing and led me to wonder how the average parent or loved one may feel when doing research of their own. I believe the primary factor in the current state of such a chaotic niche within the addiction treatment field is the overall lack of regulations that plague the sober companion service. The niche service of sober companionship can be hugely effective, but has operated in a huge grey area since it’s conception. Treatment centers, therapeutic private practices and just about every other behavioral healthcare service is governed by a regulatory board, boundaries or third-party agencies. For the most part, with the minor exception of some of their clinical staff, most sober companion organizations do not operate nor have they operated under any regulations at all.

Peer-to-peer support is sober companionship. In the most technical of terms that is the service that companions and any of the various titles for a similar position provide for their participants. Being the first sober companion organization to achieve Joint Commission accreditation we had to narrow down the exact description of service these sober companions provide in an effort to establish, finally, regulations around how the service is marketed and received. And it makes sense! To think about how almost ALL other service types in the field of addiction treatment must adhere to black and white policies, it has always baffled me why sober companionship has lacked the same approach. Could it be the lack of insurance coverage for peer support care or possibly that the lack of a contained setting was too difficult to manage? Maybe now is finally the time since technology has allowed for clinical services to become mobile in a way that was never available 10 years ago. I’m sure I could write a whole other blog post about the many reasons, but I will save that for another time.

What is peer-to-peer support? It is care provided strictly with the presence of an individual that possesses their own personal experience with recovery and mental health disorders, who in turn provide suggestion and direction focused around the action based decisions made in early recovery for another. These individuals are not therapists, counselors or psychologists and in the event they actually have credentials they should not be operating as such due to ethical boundaries. I would also like to clarify that these individuals are not 12-Step sponsors and should never operate as such. Being a 12-Step sponsor would require an individual guiding another through the 12-Steps of an Anonymous program and working to help that individual develop a relationship with a higher power. Sober Companions may talk about 12-Steps, take their participants to 12-Step meetings and offer guidance similar as a sponsor would, but the distinction is clear.

Now the disappointing result of the lack of regulations is that sober companionship is often looked down upon. Given a bad name by the numerous experiences of families and individuals who have been taken advantage of, lied to and manipulated. Working as a sober companion and with Catalyst Recovery, I have come across and spoken with too many families about these horrible experiences and they happen, often times, without recourse. A treatment center can make an egregious mistake, and you can call the Department of Healthcare Services and that center may face loss of licensure. There has been no one to call about the negligence of sober companions and the companies that provide the service. Becoming the first Joint Commission accredited provider, we at Catalyst Recovery hope to prove that this service can be done right. With accountability and oversight. With the integration of clinical care to bolster the amazing service that is peer-to-peer support. We want to challenge the current system and way that system has operated for over a decade in an effort to realize the goal of any healthcare professional; How we can better help those who are suffering. Having peer support makes all the difference in someone’s sustainable recovery, just ask anyone with over a year sober if having guidance and direction from those you related to helped. In a residential treatment setting, often times that one Tech staff who spends that 20-30 minuets a day checking in with a resident about their day, struggles and story can make all the difference between that resident staying in treatment or leaving. We want to bring that same measure of care and individual attention out into the field and with the advances we are making it won’t be long before we have changed the entire perception. Peer-to-peer support is here to stay and here to grow.

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