What an exciting time to work in behavioral health! Practitioners are in a new frontier of best practices based upon significant research that provides a growing understanding about brain disease and appropriate interventions in behavioral health and recovery. The growing strength and influence of people in sustained recovery informs a philosophy that there are multiple pathways to recovery and that no door is a wrong door.
In the spring of 2008, over 75 recovering individuals and family members came together and within three months had incorporated Friends of Recovery New York. The founding Board developed an advocacy mission that no policy should be made without us and that “nothing about us without us” can drive any decisions that impact the recovery community. A short time later the National Parity Act and the Accountable Care Act both passed. This confluence of events created another opportunity to affirm that addiction and mental health disorders are treatable and would be covered by insurance with parity with other medical services. Incorporation of coverage for addiction and mental health disorders within primary health further indicated that new opportunities would and could emerge for alternative services such as peer services and nontraditional access points.
Friends of Recovery New York seized upon these opportunities and focused on training Recovery Coaches and trainers of Recovery Coaches to provide a voluntary, paid workforce of peer coaches that would be available to mobilize responsively to the new opportunities. We have now collectively trained over 750 coaches in New York State along with an additional 80 trainers.
The access points for recovery are multiple and layered. Recovery Coaching intervenes with the criminalization of people’s behavior that results from brain diseases. Coaching meets individuals in their own space with their own needs. Coaching assists in the development of action plans fully developed by the individuals. Peer coaches are viewed as a genuine resource for individuals who may not find or want traditional treatment options. There also is the possibility of screen and referral services through the health home/medical model that is emerging in NYS.
As a person in sustained recovery who has become a practitioner and then an administrator in the addiction field, my world view has been significantly influenced by the new alternatives available for community resources and to individuals seeking help. Community recovery resources such as coaches joining with the mental health advocate/peer movement has clearly impacted the public policy discussion about the right to have available services.
The most significant component for many with this New Perspective on Health is the opportunity for those in recovery to proclaim their recovery, to move out of the shadows and to address issues of discrimination and stigma. The opportunity to engage families and provide hope and instructive assistance is growing and remarkable. Recovery is foundational to achieving success. Certainly, my recovery allowed me to achieve an advanced degree and to serve clinically and administratively in rural underserved settings.
Comrades instead of competitors are created because of the mutual commitment on the part of mental health and addiction peers to provide guidance and support to achieve recovery. The acknowledgment that medication is available and effective also has further reduced barriers for comrades, not competitors, in recovery. These are the direct consequences of the new health perspective that includes the right to care.
These new health perspectives also raise anxiety and uncertainty. We have a structural outline, but resources and employment opportunities are still limited. We need to join our voices and develop policy and strategies for training, standards and skills development to continue to influence the direction that health practices travel.
Laura Elliott-Engel, MA, CASAC-G, LMHC, CARC, is also the Executive Director of the Council on Addictions Recovery Services, Inc. located in Olean New York.