A Partner on the Road to Recovery

Date: 03/25/2019



For people in recovery from opioid use disorder, it may be not be enough to work with a physician and therapist. In cases where recoverees need additional support, a recovery coach can play an important role in the journey.

A recovery coach provides peer-to-peer support for a recoveree, serving roles such as cheerleader or mentor as the individual navigates the path to recovery. Coaching provides an important complement to treatment from medical and behavioral health professionals for many recoverees.

“The primary thing we do is to help strengthen people’s foundation for their recovery and their enthusiasm and desire to stay in recovery,” said Debra Matteson, Recovery Coach Coordinator for Healthy Acadia, a community health organization serving Hancock and Washington counties. “People face a lot of challenges when they start to address their substance [use] disorder.”

Those challenges can include everything from meeting basic needs like food, housing and employment to legal and emotional challenges.

Debra, who has been a recovery coach in Hancock County for just more than a year, feels compelled to give back after experiencing the crisis first-hand.

“I’m a person in long-term recovery,” she said. “And basically, about five years ago, I started to lose friends – and even more tragically, children of friends – to opioid addiction and to opioid overdose. I really felt a strong sense of urgency that I wanted to personally do something about this.”

Through her role, Debra has coached several recoverees and said the extra support can go a long way.

“We are companions to people who just need an extra person on their team and on their side,” Debra said. “There’s a lot of isolation that comes with substance use disorder, there are a lot of people feeling left out. We are a mentor and an ally, and we can help them choose different ways to become involved in their recovery.”

Denise Black is a certified recovery coach trainer and the Recovery Supports Program Manager for Healthy Acadia. Over the past two years, she’s helped build a program that’s trained more than 200 recovery coaches.

Like Debra, Denise is also in long-term recovery. She was inspired to become a recovery coach, and train other recovery coaches, because of the strong support she received on her own journey.

“When I was ready to make a change in my life, it was incredibly important for me to have women around me that had walked that path, who had shared that experience, and who could share that with me and their learned experiences with me about what worked and what didn’t work to help guide and navigate me,” Denise said. “That was a gift that saved my life.”

Denise draws on that experience every day to meet her recoverees where they are and show compassion during a vulnerable time.

“We have the privilege of sitting with people when they are in a space when they are contemplating change in their life,” she said. “It’s profound.”

Because recovery coaching is about a peer-to-peer relationship, a thoughtful process is required to match recoverees and coaches to ensure the relationship is successful.

“We learn more about who our recoverees are as people,” Denise said. “What are their backgrounds? Where do they want to be in their lives? What path of recovery are they seeking or thinking about?”

Once they get to know the recoverees and their goals, the program tries to match them with coaches who have similar backgrounds, experiences, and even similar goals in their lives.

“Because we have taken the time to do that, we’ve had a really high rate of success with coaches being matched beautifully with recoverees,” Denise said.

Recovery coaching is still a relatively new concept in Maine, but it’s been progressing rapidly.

Last year, Northern Light Health took note of the process and reached out to Denise to discuss aligning with Healthy Acadia’s effort and bringing access to recovery coaches to patients.

“Blue Hill Hospital and Island Family Medicine inquired more and they brought us in to have conversations and to see how we could integrate recovery coaching into the medical setting,” Denise said. “Given this was brand new in this region, for the hospitals to grab onto it and be interested so soon is very innovative and groundbreaking for this area.”

Healthy Acadia and Northern Light have Health have been building the relationship strategically, being deliberate about moving forward.

“We don’t want to overload the medical providers,” Denise said. “We’re still building capacity, and they’re still building capacity.”

Part of building that capacity is finding and training more recovery coaches to meet the growing need.

“We’re in active recruitment mode,” Denise said. “We need to engage community members and there are so many folks who have really been touched by the epidemic we’re experiencing right now in one way, shape or form. People feel like they don’t know what to do, it’s overwhelming to think alone, how can I help?

“Well, you can help. There are lots of different ways, and it could be becoming a recovery coach. It’s about a movement to convene a community to get engaged about this issue.”

To learn more about recovery coaching, visit the Healthy Acadia website at https://healthyacadia.org/initiatives/preventing_substance_misuse.html