Should I Work With a Coach or a Therapist?

Coaches were once only known in the field of sports, but now there is a coach for nearly everything and anything - business, career, relationships, divorce, health and wellness, travel, general life coaching, and quite possibly anything you could imagine.  Coaching has also become popular in the field of substance abuse with the birth of addiction recovery coaches, also commonly called sober coaches.  With the increasing prevalence and popularity of sober coaches, many are left wondering if they are better off working with a recovery coach or therapist specializing in addiction.


Recovery coaching is a form of strength-based support for individuals with addictions, especially for individuals with a drug or alcohol dependence.  The primary job of a recovery coach is to help their clients maintain sobriety by helping them identify triggers, create coping strategies, find resources, help them make decisions that support their sobriety, navigate their newfound life in sobriety, and provide accountability in helping them reach their goals.  Recovery coaches may also assist with general life issues such as career, education, relationships, spirituality, sleep-hygiene, daily structure and routine, and various other life areas, as these are all intimately linked to the individual’s inherent ability to maintain sobriety and live a productive and successful life.


Therapists may help their clients recover from addictions in similar ways as recovery coaches by using similar accountability tools and by focusing on the areas mentioned above, however, therapists also focus on psychological issues in addition to behavioral ones.  In other words, in addition to the focus on maintaining sobriety the focus of therapy is placed on the psychological pathology of the individual as well.  Therapists help their patients improve cognitive and emotional skills, reduce mental health symptoms, and cope with life challenges.


Therapists themselves differ greatly amongst each other in license, focus and approach.  The words therapist itself is a general term often used to describe licensed mental health counselors, licensed clinical social workers, psychiatrists, and psychologists.  Each of these mental health professionals differ with regards to educational background, field experience, and capability.  Psychiatrists for example may prescribe medications while the others may not.  This is only one difference between the ability of the various types of therapists, however, all are equipped to assess, diagnose, and treat mental health and addiction related issues.


Therapists generally focus in different areas such as marriage, grief, family, depression, anxiety, addiction, and other such specific areas.  Therapists also are often trained in or practice a particular therapeutic approach such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Behavior Therapy, Humanistic Therapy, Integrative or Holistic Therapy, Psychoanalytic Therapy (Psychoanalysis), and various other approaches.



What Are Some Differences Between a Sober Coach and a Therapist?


Qualifications and Licensure

One of the biggest and most important distinctions between a recovery coach and an addiction therapist is their qualifications.  Licensed therapists need a minimum of a master’s level education, experiential hours working in a therapeutic setting, and must pass a state licensure examination, in addition to meeting other requirements.


Recovery coaches or sober coaches on the other hand do not legally need any licensure or qualifications, as anyone can call themselves a coach and market themselves as such.  That being said, recovery coaches do often at minimum receive certification from a coaching program.  Some recovery coaches may also have higher levels of education including masters or doctoral degrees, although no higher education is required to be a recovery coach.


More often than not a recovery coach or sober coach is a person in long-term recovery from addiction, making them better able to relate and identify with their clients.  The same may also be true for therapists, however, therapists would probably be less likely to disclose their own personal history to their patients.


Appointments and Support

Therapists commonly see their patient for their scheduled appointment, often 45 minutes, and then do not interact with their patient until their next scheduled appointment.  Recovery coaches on the other hand may have a more casual relationship with their client, offering support via phone or text between appointments.  Sober coaches may also work as or work with sober companions who can be with a client as often as needed on a 24/7 basis.



Therapists work in a clinical and therapeutic setting.  Although therapists may make home visits, the majority of therapists work out of a private practice or outpatient/inpatient setting.  Recovery Coaches on the other hand often do not work out of a private office.  Rather, they often work with their clients in their client’s environment be it their home, outdoors, at the gym, at recovery meetings, or other locations that are mutually agreed upon.



Therapists must enforce and uphold concrete boundaries according to the ethical guidelines enforced by their licensure board.  For example, all therapists must uphold confidentiality of their patients, only disclosing information to 3rd parties that their patients sign a release form for and give permission.  These rules may only be broken for emergency purposes when 911 needs to be called in the event of suicidal or homicidal ideation, or child protective services in the event there may be domestic abuse.  Recovery Coaches on the other hand, although they may uphold their own standards of confidentiality, do not need to.



Although every coach and therapist is different, coaches generally focus more on the present and future while therapist may help their patients cope, process and learn from their past.  Furthermore, coaches primarily will focus on sobriety while therapists may focus on a variety of mental, behavioral, emotional, and relational issues in addition to maintaining sobriety.



The Truth

The truth is that sober coaches are not necessarily better than therapists, and therapists are not necessarily better than sober coaches.  The truth is that no profession, qualification or area of expertise owns the capability to facilitate personal change.  The truth is that both therapists and sober coaches have a primary goal of improving an individual’s personal life, including actualizing potential, facilitating growth, and resolving unwanted or harmful symptoms.  The truth is that real change is much more dependent on the individual receiving help than on the professional’s title, licensure or qualifications as well as the rapport and trust developed between the professional and the client.  Therapists and sober coaches can be utilized in conjunction with one another.


When to See a Therapist

Definitely opt to see a therapist if you are experiencing mental health symptoms stemming from anxiety, depression, or other such mental health issues including personality disorders.  If you are trying to heal from past trauma or cope with grief, therapists can also be helpful in processing and recovering from these issues.  Additionally, if you struggle with negative self-talk or self-esteem issues, working with a therapist may be of value.  Therapists also may be better able to help with interpersonal relationship issues, especially marital and relationship discord or family conflict.


When to See a Sober Coach

Sober coaches may be a good idea if you feel more stable with mental health issues such as anxiety or depression.  Also, if therapy has not worked for you to maintain sobriety or if you feel you have gotten as much out of therapy as you can, this may be a good time to try a sober coach.  Additionally, if you feel you need more support staying sober throughout your days and weeks, sober coaches may be of value.  If you feel stuck, unmotivated or if you want to accelerate your process in recovery, a sober coach can help guide you.  If you need more hands-on and behavioral support to break unhealthy habits and build new ones, sober coaches can help with accountability.

We have also written a blog on this subject titled "What is the Difference Between a Coach and a Therapist?" which can be found by clicking here.

For more information on addiction treatment, therapy and mental health, sober coaching, sober companions, addiction psychiatry, consultation and addiction treatment placement, or to inquire about our private concierge therapy services and/or our teletherapy services (online therapy/virtual therapy) in New York City please contact our undisclosed therapy office location in the Upper East Side of NYC today at (929) 220-2912.

Lin Sternlicht & Aaron Sternlicht

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