What is a sober coach? With Melissa Kelly, PHD

Today, we are delighted to share with you a guest blog post from the incredible Melissa Kelly, PhD. 

Melissa is not only a Sober Coach and Speaker but also the Founder of Sober Girls Ireland, as well as the host of the Working Sober Podcast. With her wealth of knowledge and experience, Melissa is here to provide us with a deep dive into a topic that is not widely understood by many - sober coaching.

In this insightful article, Melissa will guide us through understanding what exactly a sober coach is and shed light on the vital role they play in supporting individuals on their journey towards sobriety. For those who might be unfamiliar with the term, sober coaching is a profession that has gained significant recognition in recent years. It involves assisting individuals who are on the path to sobriety, providing them with guidance, support, and motivation throughout their journey. If you've ever wondered about the ins and outs of sober coaching, this is the perfect read for you.

What is a sobriety coach? by Melissa Kelly, PhD.

Melissa’s alcohol-free journey

 Back when I quit drinking over 3 years ago, sobriety coaches were not even on my radar. They did exist, I just had no idea they were there. I struggled with my relationship with alcohol most of my early 20s, and by the time I was 26 I knew that quitting drinking (or at the very least taking a break) was something I wanted to explore.  

Towards the end of my ‘drinking career’, I was drinking once a week on Friday evenings. Whether that was going out to the pub with friends or drinking wine alone on the sofa watching reality tv. I relied on alcohol to escape, relax, unwind, and switch off after a tough work week. I was working in research and doing my PhD at a top university, essentially my dream job. I was making a great salary, in a committed and healthy relationship, but my relationship with myself was falling apart. Everything on the outside looked normal, but inside I was deeply unhappy and unfulfilled. I was blacking out most weekends from drinking and having crippling anxiety for days afterwards. It would take me 3-5 business days just to get back to baseline functioning. I knew that alcohol was the main source of the pain I was feeling, but I was scared of letting go of my only emotional coping tool.

When it came to quitting drinking, I thought the only options I had were to go to AA, speak to a therapist, or go it alone. The thought of quitting altogether and being ‘sober’ terrified me. So for over two years, I tried and failed to take a month off of drinking. AA didn’t resonate with me, although I acknowledge it is such a helpful resource for many people. Plus, at the time I didn’t want to fully quit. I wanted to take a 30 day break, and the label ‘alcoholic’ didn’t sit well with me. I wish someone had told me to look into a sobriety coach (alcohol-free life coach, recovery coach, etc.) because that’s exactly what I needed at the time.

Well, my 30 day break in May of 2020 turned into over three years. Once I had some sober time under my belt, I couldn’t deny how much better I felt without alcohol. In 2021, I finished my PhD in consumer psychology and risk communication and decided to become a coach to help other women just like me who were struggling with their relationship with alcohol.

I used my background and education in psychology paired with my own learnings from my sobriety journey to educate on social media and coach my 1:1 clients. I’ve now worked with dozens of women around the world helping them go alcohol-free in a way that works for them.

So, what is a sobriety coach?

A sobriety coach is a professional who provides one-to-one support to individuals interested in changing their relationship with alcohol and quitting drinking. A coach will help you clarify your goals (quit, cut down, take a break?), keep you accountable, and provide expert guidance on your alcohol-free journey. They bring their education, expertise, and lived experience to the table to help you follow through on the changes you want to make.

Coaching is a collaborative, dynamic relationship. A good coach assumes that their client is already a complete and competent being, and will work to draw out the wisdom and insights already within them. It is not a replacement for therapy or treatment of mental health conditions.

Coaching is focused on the present and future. Think of a running coach. They’re going to create a plan that fits with your lifestyle, adjust it if necessary, and hold you accountable. They help you break through mental blocks, push through when things get challenging, and cheer you on when you finish the race. They give you tools to cope with difficult emotions that come up on your running journey, but they’re not untangling deep emotional trauma from when you were younger.

Understanding our patterns

In my coaching practice, I typically work with my clients to help them understand their triggers, get back in control over their cravings, and celebrate the milestones along the way. This will look different for everyone, but at the basic level it involves creating awareness over our own thoughts, feelings, behaviours, and patterns.

One client of mine realised that her alcohol cravings were linked with fears around her children growing up. Another client realised her cravings were taking place between 3-5pm when her work day ended, because her inner dialogue about her work day was very negative. These thoughts and feelings linked with our cravings are often subconscious, so we don’t know they are present until we dig deeper and tease them apart with the right questions.

Collecting data

A good coach will create a safe space to practice letting go of self-judgement and criticism. One way I do this in my practice, is I help my clients neutralise what is happening. I help them view the process of quitting drinking as a big experiment, collecting data along the way. Data is factual and when we look at the science of how alcohol impacts our brain and behaviour, we can stop believing that our inability to quit is a moral failure and start finding healthier tools for coping with life.

Coaching is not therapy

Coaching is currently an unregulated industry, meaning anyone can technically call themselves a coach. Whereas therapists are licensed mental health professionals, complete years of education and training, and are held accountable to industry standard practices. Coaches are also not qualified to diagnose, treat mental health conditions, or work through emotional trauma. That being said, many of my 1:1 clients combine coaching and therapy together on their alcohol-free journeys.

Is coaching right for you?

If you’ve tried over and over again to quit, take a break, or cut down on your drinking but haven’t been able to do it on your own, you could be a great fit for 1:1 coaching. I offer free 30 minute consultations for anyone interested in working together.

They are zero pressure and regardless of whether or not we decide we’re a good fit to work together, you’ll leave the consultation with a deeper understanding over your relationship with alcohol and some next steps to take.

Melissa Kelly, PHD


As Melissa has outlined, sober coaching takes a holistic and comprehensive approach to working with clients.

It goes beyond abstaining from substances; it encompasses emotional well-being, lifestyle changes, building healthy relationships, and finding alternative coping mechanisms. A skilled sober coach like Melissa will address and explore these aspects to support clients in creating a sustainable and fulfilling life in sobriety.

A sober coach is not just a support system but also a guide who helps individuals navigate their sober journey. Whether someone is newly sober or in recovery for a long time, a sober coach can provide personalized strategies, accountability, and encouragement to achieve sobriety goals.

To learn more about Melissa, and to get in touch with her to explore sober coaching, check out www.melissakellyphd.com/sobrietycoaching or email info@melissakellyphd.com. You can also join Melissa over at @sobergirlsireland on Instagram to join her welcoming and friendly community featuring virtual and in-person events, supportive group chats, and educational workshops around drinking less to feel better.


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