What is the Difference Between a Program of Recovery, a Sponsor, and a Recovery Coach?

aa coaching relapse Sep 07, 2020
A photo of hands holding sticky notes with the text: What is the difference between Sponsors and Coaches?

I often get questions about what I do and why someone would want a recovery coach when programs like AA are free. My job is to complement a program of recovery, adding a whole new layer on top of your sponsor—something more high level.

An important note here: I am a child of AA. I’ve done the program for 10 years. I’ve sponsored, I’ve had sponsors, and I believe its the only program that can work for me. 

The job of a sponsor is to guide the newcomer through the program, help walk them through the 12 steps, give them instructions, and help them get connected to their higher power—which is in charge of relieving the bondage of addiction. Good sponsors will give resources and opinions that are invaluable. 

And their advice is mostly gonna take you back to The Book or ask you to go to a meeting or perhaps look beside you and go help someone else. All of this is powerful action. It’s all part of the program and it’s fantastic.


But that’s where it ends, sponsors aren’t professionals. They aren’t trained to give you a holistic view of the other factors that influence your addiction history or what you can do with the rest of your life. I’ve had great sponsors and I’ve had lousy ones.

For five years at the beginning of my recovery, I knew nothing more than sponsorship—both being a sponsor and having sponsors. 

And then I had a really long relapse and it was very hard for me to get back. That’s when I started getting in touch with a different fellowship through She Recovers and I met a Recovery Coach and a whole new world opened up to me. 


A Recovery Coach is not attached to any particular program. With a coach, you can go to AA but you’re not gonna work with the steps, you’ll do that with your sponsor. But you can also go through other recovery programs (Like Hip Sobriety, Smart Recovery, or Recovery Dharma.) 

The coach’s job is to understand, from the very beginning what is going on with you: Are you sober curious, do you have a bad habit, or are you dealing with a severe addiction? What factors might have influenced your addiction and how can you consider those throughout your recovery journey? What options do you have for creating a life that you’re thriving in? A coach’s plan is individual and highly customized. 

While a sponsor helps you get to terms with who you are and what’s going on, walking through that connection with the steps, a coach is going to help you create a plan for the future. 

In my own coaching, I always request that the people that I work with, if they are true addicts like me, find a program of recovery. I will let my clients know what their options are, that there’s no right or wrong program (but again, the one that worked for me was AA.) 


I work alongside a program of recovery. I walk hand in hand with my clients. Because there is payment involved, you’ll never think “I don’t want to call my sponsor because I don’t want to bother them.” It is my job to pick up the phone and be with you. We’ll also talk about what you’re reading, what you’re watching, how you’re spending your time. I have more ownership over what we can do together because I’ve made a professional commitment. 

My coach was the first one to recommend that I start to heal from codependency and trauma, which are things my sponsor wouldn’t have been able to recognize and address. My coach and I worked through the things that went hand in hand with my addiction to alcohol. In 5 years of AA those sources of my addiction never even occurred to me. 

The program is the framework, but you’re a very complex human being, so it’s incredibly valuable to have someone help you walk through the whole multitude of layers that your life did and does entail.


You can run around the block and you’ll sweat and it works and it’s free, that’s really great. Or you can hire a trainer and go to the gym, and there’s cost involved. One is free and it works yes, and the other one is a different approach with a little more built-in accountability. 



As always, drop me a note at [email protected] with questions or if you are interested in adding my 1-on-1 Coaching or my Virtual Course to your life.


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