HomeAddictionHelping Recovering Addicts through Life Coaching: Expert Interview Series with Dr. Pat Williams

Helping Recovering Addicts through Life Coaching: Expert Interview Series with Dr. Pat Williams

Written By: Harris House

Category: Addiction, Blog, Recovery

helping recovering addicts

Dr. Pat Williams is an internationally acclaimed coach, speaker, and author whose mission is to inspire others to live their lives optimally and purposefully. Here, he applies his coaching expertise in helping recovering addicts.

Can you tell us about your background and interest in life coaching? What’s your approach to coaching?

My early professional life was that of a clinical psychologist for 16 years, specializing in PTSD, mood disorders, sexual abuse survivors, and families experiencing some disruption. However, my post-graduate training was in humanistic psychology and client-centered approaches, so I eschewed seeing my clients as broken but instead capable and in need of a new road map.

When I started executive coaching in 1990 with high-level managers, I realized that coaching was a more effective use of my skills. Then the Personal Coaching movement emerged in the early 1990s, and I transitioned to full-time life and wellness coaching in 1996.

I developed my own life coach training academy in 1998 and trained thousands of graduate-degreed professionals to add coaching to their repertoire of services. I have been seen as a pioneer in the field and am often called the Ambassador of Life Coaching. I have written six books on professional coaching and one new book for coaches, consultants helping professionals and their clients, called Getting Naked: Uncovering Your Authentic Self at Work, Home, Relationships, and in Life.

How would you define transformational living? Why are you so passionate about helping individuals transform their lives?

Transformational living is purposeful living with the desire and intent to live beyond mediocrity … to not settle, but to reach for one’s dream.

I believe that all humans come with one or several life purpose quests just waiting to be realized and expressed. My goal is to be a committed listener and coach to help my clients say what they have not said, hear what they have not heard, and to dream out loud with a committed listener to discover ways of expressing their true strengths and purpose.

How can a life coach help someone struggling with addiction?

For a Life Coach to assist someone affected by addiction, the person must be ready for change, or at least “window shopping” or considering change – what we might call “pre-contemplation.”

The coach/client relationship offers the person with the addiction to become more conscious and aware of their choices and to learn to respond more to what life gives them rather than react and choose the numbing and harmful effects of addiction.

In the coaching profession, we hold a belief that all people are capable, creative, and resourceful, and while sometimes the client does not yet believe that, it is the glue of the coaching relationship.

Coaching is a part of the continuum of care and seems especially appropriate when one is redesigning their life after addiction treatment … helping cope with the losses, the changes, the new decisions.

A coach suspends judgment, which is quite powerful, and may help the client feel heard and understood, and to discover their personal power that has been diluted and hidden.

Coaches must assess a potential client to see if there is a fit and determine if the client appears to be coachable. These can be formal assessments or interviews to assess readiness.

How would you approach helping recovering addicts overcome their struggles?

In approaching a client affected by addiction, the coach must discover (or uncover) how the client sees recovery. Looking for a passion, a desire, a hope that has been hidden away.

Most coaches use a “wheel of life” exercise as conversation starters in all interconnected areas of a client’s life. This helps discover their greatest gap in satisfaction and may be the focus of coaching that re-creates purposeful living.

What are some of the specific challenges those suffering from an addiction face when trying to transform their lives?

The inherent challenges with those affected by addiction who want to transform their lives are many and varied.

A good coach must be aware of any physical, social, economic, or emotional challenges that may require interconnecting with other professionals.

Unachieved goals and unrealized potential are both unaddressed threats to the addicted client’s sober future. Life coaching can break the unproductive cycle and steer the client toward a place of realized dreams, where the focus is on the wonderful possible future, instead of the destructive past. I call this Discovery, rather than Dysfunction. Or, one could say that coaching helps one to focus on a process of “illumination” more than a process of “elimination.”

What methods don’t seem to work for individuals trying to overcome an addiction?

Methods that don’t seem to work when coaching addicted clients is trying to fix or offer solutions.

Great coaching starts with establishing good rapport and asking open-ended questions of possibility, or what we call “powerful questions.” These are questions that neither the coach and probably the client don’t yet know the answer to, such as “how would you like your life to be in six months?” or “what dream have you given up on?” or “If a miracle happened tonight, how would your life be different tomorrow, and how would you know?”

What advice or thoughts would you offer to someone who feels hopeless after multiple attempts to overcome their addiction?

Many people who believe they have tried everything have opportunities for coaching. So the coach must not offer what everyone else has been offering. The coaching relationship must be that of a non-judgmental guide on the side, gently pushing the client to make new choices, try new things, and see the outcomes as results, not failures. What was learned, what needs to change, what resources are needed?

What resources would you recommend to individuals struggling with addiction? What about resources for their families/loved ones?

Resources for those in the throes of addiction and life disruption are many and varied. I personally recommend:


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