What to look for in a Sober Companion? When we meet with families and concerned parties, one of the questions we ask is “What would be your very best possible outcome for your loved one or colleague?”
The typical answer is something along the lines of “We want them to completely stop their drinking / drug use, to be happy in themselves and to return to being the loving member of our family that we remember from the past”.
Treatment services come in many forms and guises, but after residential rehabilitation there is one thing that all professionals will agree with – that if you have the financial and logistical opportunities to engage a Sober Companion then your chances of achieving your desired outcome goes up substantially.
So, with this in mind, I thought I’d write a list of the sorts of qualities to look for in a Sober Companion in order to achieve these desired goals.
1) Age appropriate:
Make sure the Sober Companion is of a similar age (or slightly older) within around 5 years in younger adults (20s), 10 years in older adults (40s) and 15 years in senior adults (60s and above). There is some wriggle room, but these are good, healthy guidelines.
However, it doesn’t stop here, as it’s equally important to match the client with someone of the same gender, and to a certain degree, similar interests (sports, music, concerts, theatre, cars, technology, etc). This is particularly important with younger clients, as they really need to rely upon the Sober Companion for guidance in daily activities, behavioural stimulation and new challenges. We could go further on this point and also have same sexual orientation (knowing that our sober Companions are fully responsible and ethically charged to never engage in a relationship with the client).
Religious and cultural awareness are also highly important in matching the Sober Companion to the client, especially when part of the assignment may be (not always) helping the client to revisit their family community heritage.
2) Sobriety of the Sober Companion:
Be absolutely certain that the Sober Companion has great, solid recovery themselves, typically a minimum of 4 years of continuous sobriety though preferably over 8 years. I’ve seen far too many cases in this unregulated sector of the industry where the Sober Companion has barely enough of their own recovery experiences to keep themselves sober, but yet here they are being left to supervise the recovery of a highly vulnerable and precarious newly sober recovering addict.
The Sober Companion can’t pass on to the client what they don’t have themselves, so it’s really important that they have a quality of recovery that is not just solid, but also attractive and aspiring for the client. This is truly relevant, as the Sober Companion wields much influence over the client due to the close proximity of them both over extended periods of time. So, they really need to be someone who projects the type of attributes about recovery that we aspire for the client to attain and maintain.
3) Genuine & sincere recovery:
We know that recovery is far more than just about not drinking or using, but that it is all about the whole quality of life package of whether the person is happy, content and confident in all of their affairs. So, look for these traits in the Sober Companion.
Are they taking care of themselves physically – do they exercise and take care of their nutrition intake? Are they emotionally mature, or are they prone to worrying about themselves and circumstances? Check out their behavioural health – do they present themselves appropriately and politely? And observe their spiritual health by noticing if they take care of others’ and show empathy.
4) Identification & empathy:
Once of the most relevant pre-assessments we make of our staff before offering them an assignment is confirming that the Sober Companion has accurate personal identification with the client’s issues, i.e. did they use similar drugs or alcohol, in similar situations, and experience similar feelings as a result of the desperation caused before and during the search for recovery. We need to include process addictions here too, for example, a client may cross addict into sex and love addiction.
Can the Sober Companion successfully identify with these challenges also? To complement this further, check that the Sober Companion has got a broad life experience and can adapt comfortably between being street smart and behaving formally in all variety of occasions, especially within the culture of your family.
It’s imperative that the Sober Companion is self-confident and knows how to boldly lead, without being overpowering or controlling. The client needs to respond positively to their leadership style without becoming resentful. Furthermore, before the Sober Companion begins, ensure that the family all agree on the specific Care Plan and that the outcomes match up and aren’t blurred.
It’s going to be very difficult if the Father has one expectation and the Mother has another, because the client can then play one parent off against the other as a form of manipulation. This truly disempowers the Sober Companion, making their duties much harder to achieve, and most likely prolonging the treatment journey. So, agree on the Care Plan and then trust the Sober Companion to fulfil this goal. If you don’t believe the Sober Companion can achieve these goals, it’s most likely due to their inability to maintain leadership over the client.
6) Education, certification, experience & membership:
It’s extremely important in this emerging culture with many different people proclaiming that they’re Sober Companions without any education, training or standardisation of quality. However there most certainly are Recovery Coaching standards used in the USA for Sober Companion qualifications.
Please check that your Sober Companion has achieved this level of competency. It’s specifically important because it also means that the Sober Companion can then get insured to practice and isn’t operating as a cowboy in a business that’s about serving people’s lives. Other levels of qualifications that are important would be first aid training, conflict resolution and close protection. It’s also a good thing if the Sober Companion has been CRB checked.
Ask about how many other cases the proposed Sober Companion has been on. There is no greater education in this sector than personal experience.
Also, enquire what Membership affiliations the Sober Companion is joined up with. The European standard is called EARS – European Association of Recovery Specialists. There are a few in the USA too. Most of the memberships will expect a certain amount of days experience before accepting someone as a full member.
7) Case Management:
Each Sober Companion should have a Case Manager who sits above them and manages the whole case, liaising between the family and the Sober Companion, also maintaining an overall relationship with the client. Make sure the Case Manager is experienced and able to express themselves congruently and with confidence. If the Sober Companion does not have a Case Manager, then know that you are potentially dealing with an amateur and not a professional. There are some great Sober Companions who do not have a Case Manager, but this is not an ideal situation. Furthermore, ask whether your Sober Companion is receiving supervision from a therapist. Again, all professionals will have this feature in their practice and an amateur would be displaying their naivety if they didn’t receive and believe in the strength of their supervision / supervisor.
You now know what to look for in a Sober Companion. Sober Services has been operating Sober Companions since 2008 and are able to stand by all of these 7 points of strength in all of our Sober Companions. There may be other Sober Companions out there, so please ask them if they adhere to these standards before proceeding with their services. After all, we all believe our loved ones deserve the best care possible. Please don’t purchase your Sober Companion because they’re cheapest. Go with the Sober Companion that is the best and most suitable for your loved one or associate.
Other terms used for Sober Companions may be Sober Bodyguard, Sober Bodyguard, Sober Guardian, Sober Coach, Recovery Coach, Sober Escort. Sober Transporter.