Addiction and drug rehab expert Ben Brafman was interviewed about the sober coaches phenomenon by the Sun Sentinel. Download a copy of the article or read it in full below.
August 8, 2014|By Nicole Brochu, Staff writer
Once considered a high-priced option only Hollywood celebrities could afford, so-called “sober coaches” are going mainstream.
In South Florida’s booming recovery community, they can be available by phone or in person 24 hours a day, helping people make the difficult transition from treatment center to everyday life.
“It’s just so hard to keep people sober for the amount of time it takes to get over that hump, so it’s definitely a good alternative,” said Randy Grimes, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneers center who started an intervention and sober coaching business in West Palm Beach after kicking an addiction to painkillers. “Clinically, it’s been shown that the more accountability and structure they have in their [post-treatment] environment, the better they do.”
Sober coaches are not meant to take the place of rehabilitation or 12-step programs, but to add an extra layer of support. Amid the sobering statistics, with about 50 percent to 90 percent of addicts relapsing after treatment — many within the first 90 days — the sober coach is gaining legitimacy in plugging the gap from treatment to real life.
Especially in “recovery capitals” like Florida. The Sunshine State, which The New York Times recently called an “oasis of sobriety” for its proliferation of treatment programs, is one of the few in the country that consider sober coaches a professional class — offering certification for trained and qualified “recovery support specialists.”
Among the minimum criteria: a high school diploma; 1,000 hours of work experience; a passing score on a written exam; and a clean criminal background check, according to the nonprofit Florida Certification Board.
In the still-developing field, the work can take many forms. Sober coaches can transport clients to or from a treatment program, or accompany them to high-risk events like a wedding or family reunion. They can serve as a 24-hour “companion,” living with the client for a limited period of intense monitoring; or as an all-available mentor, spending hours a day in-person or on the phone guiding the client through the day or a particular challenge.
“It’s like being a trainer,” said Patty Powers, a New York City-based recovery coach who gained fame on the A&E reality show, “Relapse” and has clients in South Florida. “I help facilitate the changes they need to make in the real world. I don’t want them to become dependent on me.”
Alex Hinton, a Delray Beach-based sober coach for Ocala’s Sober Escorts Inc., said the No. 1 priority is to help clients gain perspective on their new life.
For one thirtysomething who lived and partied off his family wealth, that meant having Hinton move into his Palm Beach County home for 30 days. Hinton helped him make healthy breakfasts and follow a structured routine of meditation and gym workouts, talked him through fights with his girlfriend — then backed away so he could take the lead in his own life.
“My goal is to work myself out of a job,” Hinton said.
Sober coaches are not a new concept. For years, Hollywood studio executives have been known to pay a handler up to $5,000 a week to keep a struggling actor sober and camera-ready. But the coaching role is evolving in the mainstream recovery world, finally transcending its image as an overpaid baby-sitter to celebs like Lindsay Lohan, Matthew Perry and Owen Wilson, local experts say.
“The [recovery] industry in general is trending, and [the sober coach] is becoming identified as a super-important role,” said Lisa Baruch, business development director for the Futures of Palm Beach treatment center in Tequesta.
When former addict Rick Parrish started Sober Escorts 10 years ago with “$600 and an idea,” the concept had little serious consideration outside Hollywood. Today, business is booming.
“Over the past few years, we’ve just been swamped,” Parrish said, estimating he spends $1 million a year just to pay his 50-person staff.
The job tends to pay pretty well, though prices range widely.
Sober Escorts charges about $100 an hour, or $600 a day, depending on the need or intensity of service. Powers charges $150 to $200 an hour for hourly sessions, or up to $2,000 a day for clients who need around-the-clock email and phone access.
“The money is all over the place, and that’s a problem,” Ben Brafman, founder and CEO of the Destination Hope treatment center in Fort Lauderdale, said of coaching prices. “There’s no standard.”
Destination Hope doesn’t use sober coaches because the service is already built into the center’s treatment plan, Brafman said. He added, however, that he does “like the idea, especially in the beginning,” for those graduating from recovery programs that don’t offer after-care service.
Because the field is still in its infancy, though, Brafman warned those in recovery to use caution.
Before hiring sober coaches, he said, make sure they’re properly trained and certified, and if they’re a recovering addict, as most are, that they have years of sobriety under their belt. The potential pitfalls are plenty.
“You can get into ethical dilemmas, dual relationships, co-dependency,” he said. “There’s a fine line between helping someone and enabling them.”
For those who can afford it, sober coaches can prove an important linchpin in the continuum of care, especially after thousands of dollars have already been spent on treatment, said Grimes, the football-player-turned-interventionist.
“If you think about it, they’ve invested so much in their sobriety, why not take that important step when they go home?” he said.
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