Since my transition several years ago from a traditional abstinence-based treatment approach to harm reduction psychotherapy, many clients whom I continued working with through my transition have remarked at how dramatically the harm reduction approaches have empowered them to move forward in their therapy and in their lives.
One client offered to share her experiences here to allow others to learn more about what harm reduction approaches can possibly do for them. Every effort has been made to keep her identity anonymous:
"AS A PERSON that has experienced both the rigid abstinence-only format of rehabilitation and the more flexible process of harm reduction treatment approaches, my preference is for harm reduction.
As an addictions counselor, I'm inspired by the courage and determination that people are able to summon up to help them cope with chronic, complex, often life-endangering problems.
I'm sharing an example below from a mother who is kind (and brave!) enough and willing to share her story so others may have a better understanding of the rollercoaster journey that so many like her take. Her story is similar to many others with addicted children, but this is her unique path. The love of her child, her personal spirituality, along with courage and determination have supplied the hope for her to move forward in her life:
This type of anniversary no one ever wants to be in a position to celebrate.
GRASP represents a nationwide network of support groups for parents and family members of those who have died from accidental drug overdose.
I spoke about what led me to become involved with GRASP and it's parent group Broken No More: my experience with addiction and mental illness in my family, my recent awareness of our country's failed drug policies and how my work with my clients has been transformed as a result.
The anniversary meeting was an opportunity to acknowledge the growth of the Bucks County GRASP group, which offers those suffering from their devastating loss the opportunity to connect with others in an atmosphere of safety that helps to promote their healing.
I just got back from the inaugural retreat of GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing), a support group for family and friends of those who have suffered accidental overdose deaths. About 40 GRASP members from around the United States made the trip to Tampa FL, and it was great to meet many folks that up until now I had only known via GRASP's Facebook page.
The retreat combined an opportunity for everyone to connect and participate in some experiential exercises around grief and loss as well as take part in a lively workshop led by the dynamic Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) duo of Meghan Ralston and Stephen Gutwillig. Meghan and Stephen educated us about harm reduction and how the failed public health drug policies of the United States contribute to thousands of accidental overdose deaths every year.
An essay by Paul Carr in last weekend's Wall Street Journal which describes how he stopped drinking and what he learned along the way, is a great example of a harm reduction approach to an alcoholic figuring out what he needed to do to get and stay sober and the changes he’s made in his life that have worked so far. He talks about his ‘relationship’ with alcohol and the positive and negative aspects of that relationship leading to the changes that he made in his life.
Many of the comments/responses on the website following the article are disheartening to me because they reflect the gigantic gap in the recovery and treatment community about what elements are helpful for people to get and stay sober. Sadly, there’s an air of arrogance and even contempt from both treatment professionals and those in recovery for this man who found a way that works for him.