Recovery from substance use disorder is challenging. Access to healthcare, safe and affordable housing, support systems, and more act as barriers. This is why peer recovery coaching programs are essential. Peer recovery programs utilize the skills of those with lived experience to guide recovering substance users to a place of health and wellness.
Kevin Foust, CHW, is the recovery services program coordinator at Recovery Services Unlimited in Battle Creek, MI. He began working at RSU in August 2018 as a transitional housing manager. “I worked as a peer recovery coach myself, connecting people to resources and the peer recovery community, helping them overcome their own individual barriers,” he says.
After receiving multiple promotions, Foust realized how essential training and continuing education are in the substance use field. “I believe that the more training I have, the better service I can offer the client. A lot of my skill is substance use, and I look at the various factors impacting recovery. The CHW perspective broadens the number of factors you have to consider. CHWs work on addressing all aspects of health.” With this realization, Foust enrolled in a Community Health Worker (CHW) certificate program.
“Most people hear health and think of medical care and illness. As a CHW, we work on lesser recognized aspects. What is the environment the individual is staying in? Do they have employment? Do they have access to healthcare? Do they have access to any services that would promote better health?”
Asking these questions and considering a broader range of factors helps Foust guide his clients to recovery.
A career built on connections
To Foust, the CHW career is ultimately about connections. “We connect individuals to resources; we connect them with the better version of who they can be. They are where they’re currently at, know where they want to be, and we connect them with resources and relationships that foster them to become who they want to be.”
Connections are essential to living well, but this is especially true for recovering substance users. Research shows that strong social support systems are a vital tool for recovery. Peer support from those who’ve gone through recovery can strengthen recovery for other people with substance use disorders.
Foust demonstrates the importance of connecting with a former client. The man had a learning disability and didn’t understand his mental health when he entered the 90-day housing program. Everyone in the house must obtain employment. Foust’s team also connects them to the recovery community, primary care, and appropriate housing opportunities.
“The first time he graduated, he started drinking immediately. The second time he graduated, he drank within the first week. The third time he was in our program, I took a more direct approach. We got his medications figured out and helped him understand the medical system. Here he is, two years sober, working a job he loves.”
Foust “There’s an individual I was working with. He’d been kicked out of treatment several times. He came into our program, and he had nothing. Not even clothes,” Foust explains. But this client was motivated to get custody of his child. Foust understood this motivation and worked with the client to help him achieve these goals.
“By the time he graduated, he had a house, a new car, and 50% custody of his son. I went with him to all of his court hearings, helped him improve his credit, and ensured he was connected to the recovery community.” This client is the shining example of why recovery programs are so essential. “He hosts meetings sharing about his experience, strengths, and hope now.”
Building these connections strengthens recovery. But relationships go beyond the field of substance use. Foust explains that it’s essential for CHWs to have connections to the issues they address. “Lived experience in one or several factors we hope to help individuals overcome is pertinent.” That lived experience may be with poverty, medical conditions, substance abuse, or mental health, but it makes a difference for clients. “Then the clients know the person they’re working with has firsthand experience overcoming this issue. It inspires more hope.”