The Difference Between A Therapist and A Sponsor

Therapist | LakehouseRecoveryCenter.comWhen a newly recovery addict begins to regularly attend 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, he or she is encouraged to look for a sponsor. A sponsor is someone who can guide a sponsee through the 12 Steps. A sponsor might also be a friend and a support for a sponsee throughout the beginning stages of sobriety. In fact, when the sponsor/sponsee relationship is secure with a strong rapport, it can be the foundation upon which a newly sober individual can find hope, support, and faith in the process.

Sponsor Is Not a Therapist

However, a sponsor is not a therapist. While the sponsor will guide a sponsee through the journey of getting and staying sober, a therapist will guide a client on the larger journey of his or her life as a whole. And it’s important to make this distinction. It’s common among new recovering addicts to rely upon the sponsor for more than what a sponsor can offer.

Even though you might find the perfect sponsor, he or she is not your therapist. Although it’s true that having a supportive relationship with someone who believes in you is essential for growth and healing, there are differences of scope between what a therapist can offer and what a sponsor can offer.

Having Both Is Essential

A sponsor is not a therapist or a mental health counselor. He or she cannot assess for depression or anxiety. A sponsor cannot make the appropriate recommendations for your mental health. For that reason, it is best to also work with a therapist in recovery – in addition to a sponsor. A mental health professional can tend to your mental health while you’re in the recovery process. A therapist can safely help you unearth any unresolved trauma, and work through the ambivalence that comes with breaking an addiction.

Below you’ll find two lists. One contains tips to keep in mind when looking for a sponsor. The other contains tips to keep in mind when looking for a therapist:

  1. When you’re looking for a sponsor you might want to keep the following in mind:
  • A sponsor should have more experience in their sobriety than you. In fact, they should be secure in their sobriety and firmly rooted in living sober.
  • Those who are heterosexual should choose a sponsor that is not of the opposite sex, and the opposite is true for homosexuals. The point is that you don’t want a sexual attraction to get in the way of your growing recovery. Your sponsor should provide sober help, not take you out on a date.
  • Your sponsor should be well versed in the 12-steps and in living sober in general. There are some in recovery who attend Alcohol Anonymous (AA) meetings, but who give the 12-step program lip service. If you want to find someone to help you “work the steps”, you’ll need someone who knows those steps well.
  • Don’t dismiss your intuition when you’re choosing a sponsor. The intuitive side to you can lead you towards sober help and point to the perfect sponsor.
  1. When you’re looking for a therapist you might want to consider:
  • If you know what you’re struggling with (depression, anxiety, bipolar, PTSD), you might want to look for a therapist that specializes in that particular area of treatment.
  • It’s best to find a therapist whom you think you will have a good rapport with. The relationship that you have with a therapist is an essential component to recovery. Also, the level of trust you have for a therapist will also play a role in your mental health recovery.
  • Many therapists have a busy schedule. If you feel that you would like him or her to be available for emergencies, find out what a therapist’s procedure is for contact between sessions.
  • A therapist who is open to staying in communication with your psychiatrist and doctor might also be useful. In this way, you can have a team of professionals on your side who are communicating with one another.

Both therapy and having a sponsor can be wonderful tools during life transitions, such as seeking sobriety. Knowing when to utilize each of these professionals will support your sobriety and overall well being.


Messages sent through this form are confidential. Required fields are marked with (*).

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.