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No Longer on the Sidelines

Mountain biking towards flatirons

Collegiate coaching turns sidelined addicts into recovery champions.

Walking into the quiet space of Collegiate Coaching Services in the heart of Boulder, Colorado, anxiety fades away as warm, earth-toned furnishings and soft light cast from table lamps creates a space that feels more like a waiting room in a spa than one for recovery counseling. Correction: recovery “coaching.” Owner and clinical director Tracy Markle, who was a college track and field athlete, advocates the concept of “therapeutic coaching.”

“I really just believe in the coaching approach,” she says. “It’s collaborative, it’s goal-oriented, and it’s supportive, yet the coach believes that this person is capable of reaching goals that maybe [the person doesn’t] believe in. They walk side by side with their client and ask the question, ‘How can we make your life better?’”

That kind of perspective, coupled with support that focuses on clients’ strengths rather than weaknesses, leads to mutual accountability. The therapeutic coach is not a cheerleader; he or she holds the clients responsible for their actions, encourages them, and pushes the young adults to do more than they thought possible. What the clients learn, they put into action, much like an athlete takes training from practice and applies it on the field.

In the case of Markle’s clients, they take what they learn from Collegiate Coaching Services and apply it to both their academic and personal lives. Markle has designed a program with biology, psychology, and sociology at its heart. She explains that her team assesses with the clients what they need to do to maintain good physical health, good mental health, and good social health. First, they need to abstain from their addiction, whether it is drugs, alcohol, or, increasingly, technology. It is an abstinence-based program. Second, they need to understand their psychology. Many of them have felt marginalized, she says, maybe because of their parents’ divorce or possibly due to learning difficulties. Existing on the margins has led many of them to feel isolated, so Collegiate Coaching Services helps connect clients to social outlets and like-minded peers.

“We’re in the business of helping people show up to their life,” Markle says. “That’s the premise of everything we’re doing.”

Collegiate Coaching Services works with clients aged 18 to 30, many of who suffer from anxiety. That’s one of the reasons the coaching model works well for these clients. They are transitioning from primary treatment, which largely has been structured, to after-care recovery, which comes with freedoms that can feel overwhelming. The clients need someone to coach them through the early recovery process, to stand beside them, to physically walk through the door with them to their first 12-step meeting. “We are here to help them integrate back into their life,” Markle says.

In the 20-plus years she has been working in the recovery field, she acknowledges she has never seen a bigger issue than the anxiety she is seeing among clients now. “Anxiety is becoming more and more of an issue,” she explains, “which then can trigger some of the compulsive ( ) behaviors, like drinking too much, smoking too much marijuana, or spending too much time on the Internet.”

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