Debbie Jane Wales

What are some of the most important qualities or points in being an effective Recovery Coach?

Published: 17 March 2022
Author: Debra Jane Wales

I've been asked this every time I mentor now so I thought I would address it more widely. Of course everyone will have their own ideas of what makes an effective Recovery Coach, but these are my non-negotiable :-

Be very clear on what YOUR definition of Trauma is. If your'e currently up to par on the definition of Trauma, you will know it is not necessarily a Single Time Event as used to be presumed, it is now generally defined as the bodies response to adversity, challenge, toxic stress over a period of time.Essentially the more repeated and long standing the stimulus the more our Window of Tolerance gets smaller when the stimulus is not addressed it makes it  easier to elicit the Stress that's QUICKER & SOONER!. HOWEVER I will add to this by saying at the same time we cannot presume that it is one or the other. Someone who had a STE which caused psychological terror for example could be experiencing their own version of repeated and long standing stimulus by constantly re-living the event or re-defining how they live in the world. Another important point in this equation is defining even further by deciding...What does conditioning/trauma mean personally mean to you? 'My teacher called me out in class' or 'I was repeatedly and severely neglected and sexually abused'?? ( Examples). A highly traumatized individual has a different need and fear factor to the drip drip of the kind of conditioning that hasn't completely rocked a world view. Highly traumatized individuals really feel the need to be witnessed.

I also like to add that genetic neurobiology can play into the equation - what a person came in to life with, which means taking your definition of Trauma should not be simplified, and ought to be determined person to person ( as with the above too) so that if a person is not 'Getting better' by your standards, it may not be because they are not trying but because they are struggling to get there. Patience, Compassion, Understanding and the Presence to respond accordingly is paramount. 

Be very clear on what you ARE ABLE to work with and also what you are WILLING to work with. 

This is in part determined by point one, because once you have defined what it means to YOU ( as opposed to the definition of)you are also able to ascertain who you are able to work with effectively.  Add to this skill set, training, personal insight ( in the sense of living it as opposed to being around it provides an even clearer picture and understanding)and WILLINGNESS with NON-JUDGEMENT. What IF you had a person who in the past been a sex offender, paedophile,or had a Narcissistic tendency but had the awareness to want to change...Could you do it with ZERO judgement? If you cannot then walk away regardless of your training.It is vital in working with anything you like your client and know how to presence it.  Believe me when I say a highly traumatized individual ( and you can presume that any of the previous I have stated will be - that's more than likely how they got there)  will instinctively know if you are not on their side.And if you don't believe people like this deserve a second chance, then don't give them one and leave it those of us who do. 

Be actively working on your own stuff...daily and moment to moment.

Nothing worse, ineffective ( and hypocritical) than a Coach or Therapist who is not actively dealing with their own crap. It's fairly impossible to work or understand  another if you cannot attune, co-regulate or be honest and present with what you're bringing to the field.Apart from this it's not a good role model.This means more than meditation, mindfulness, and yoga by the way. Be actively looking at and dismantling your own beliefs and patterns so that if you are triggered you know what you're dealing with...and be honest. We're none of us perfect and have other life commitments but we have to as coaches or therapists be able to WALK OUR TALK. 

Be able and willing to deal with conflict and confrontation   

Whaaaat? you may say! Believe me a Highly traumatized individual may challenge you all the way. ( Which is why I repeat- Determine who and what you are able and willing to work with). I am a diagnosed BPD - still today one of the most stigmatized clusters in therapy. I have been told in the past 'Resisting' 'Not trying or letting go" 'Not doing the work'' Confrontational'  blah blah I could go on.Hell yeah...that's what it may look like but if you cannot have a heart or the stomach to be around it, understand it, or have compassion and relational leadership then again don't work with it. Mental health deserves more than it is currently getting from the wider audience. Apart from anything a coach ought to be able to know how to deal with confrontation, and decide if it's an emotional immaturity on their part or whether they have the tools to work with it. We NEVER blame a client for our lack of skill set.. 

This doesn't mean you have to sit and take it all 'On the chin" as they say, if the stress response is too switched on there's nothing to say...if you are triggered there's more so nothing to say except be honest.Feel free at this point to call a Time Out ( avoiding the words Time out...grrr) but be very clear from the outset that you will re-engage and when.Never leave someone with their own assumptions of whats going on -  at the least it's unkind and at the worst they will imagine all kinds of things..which is more so unprofessional and dangerous.. 

Be clear on what you will accept and not accept in the way of 'Behaviour' from the outset.  

Behaviours are simply maladaptions to a life lived in a certain way and a neurobiology. ( if your first thought here is 'YES but I got over XXX' or 'I don't talk this way and I went through XXX') then work a little more on your preconceived judgements, while understanding once more...Everyone is different in their biology, their life, internal and external environments, internal and external support systems and opportunities  to name a few. All of this may affect how they come across. 

It always makes me laugh when I see   'Bad language will not be tolerated!'.Good luck with that one. Violence is one thing and never acceptable, but bad language in a stress response is understandable to me...i've been there before. You just need to know how to deal with it sens Shaming and belittling. Trauma survivors, and addcits have received more than their fear share of that...From others and their selves. 

Avoid Positive Psychology in the beginning...Know when to implement...

Nothing harder to bear with a highly traumatized individual in particular than TOO MUCH POSITIVITY. It's a fact!! Our brains are not able to get there in the beginning so we feel shamed ' It must be me" 'I'm useless" We also feel as though you are not fighting our corner. I recall when I was heavily involved in the whole positivity and spiritual deal with some big global speakers and leaders as per my training -.I like most survivors who don't yet have a voice kept quiet fearing the threat of what may happen if I spoke up - I cannot tell you when to change your language -ing, you simply have to know your client and pay very close observation to any subtle nuances...The same goes with trying to make them feel better by saying...'It's only a label'. ( or any other reason you may have for saying this). OMG nothing more un -compassionate. I cannot tell you how many people have said to me about being Autistic - it's only a label. No it freaking isn't it has a consequence attached to it. We wouldn't say to someone with cancer - 'Ah it's ok. it's only a label.'.Be very sensitive to language and people's life experiences. 

Empathise and share your experience at the right time but never make it about you

When someone is telling you something do not jump in with 'I've done this...I've felt like...etc A highly traumatized individual has had their brain changed significantly and while this may be a show of Empathy and Camaraderie from you it can sound like they are having their experience hijacked.?? This isn't TRAUMA OLYMPICS or One Upmanship. Clients may like to hear your experience but know when to share this...again it's a skill in sensing somatic and non verbal nuances...

Finally...Love them back to Life!     

This may sound strange and this isn't LOVE is all you need! No, you NEED a whole lot more, but have the UTMOST RESPECT, LOVE,UNDERSTANDING, PATIENT, COMPASSION, AND PRESENCE for your client...if you can't or don't then leave well alone. If your work and lifeload is so full you cannot be there 100% in every sense redefine your own life. Survivors require a 100% of us when they are with us.If you think this is too much then you're in the wrong vocation. 

I think I will leave it there. I could add more, and you can but these I believe are non-negotiables so you and your client are very clear from the outset. 

Debra Jane Wales - Healer & Therapist