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.
I talked about the influences in my transition to integrating harm reduction principles into my work with my clients as well as my advocacy efforts to help change the failed public health policies that criminalize and stigmatize those with substance use problems.
As an addictions counselor, it’s always a pleasure to work with parents who have the instincts and skills to maintain good communication with their teenager as well as the courage (and energy!) to set appropriate and consistent boundaries and limits.
Sometimes, however, these skills can be a double-edged sword and work against us, especially when the emotional and behavioral instability of our child keeps pushing us out of our parental ‘driver’s seat’ and into the passenger seat—or even worse, the back seat.
Being in the family back seat contributes to the fear that develops when we start losing control of a child’s behavior. This fear often motivates us to become even firmer in our resolve to ensure our child’s safety while keeping ourselves sane along with the rest of our family.
Your child’s drinking or getting high is worrisome and often a challenge to figure out what steps to take. Flexibility and being open to different approaches to prevention, counseling and treatment for substance use is crucial. Harm reduction approaches can offer you an approach allowing you to get back into the ‘driver’s seat’ of family control if you find yourself in the passenger seat—or even worse, the back seat.
The philosophy of harm reduction is based on our knowledge that human beings will always be engaged in behaviors that carry risks, like alcohol and other drug use and unsafe sex. Harm reduction embraces the value of each person’s dignity and the respect of a person’s right to make choices. This shifts the focus from attempting to restrict or prohibit risky behaviors to reducing the negative consequences associated with them.
Angry outbursts, erratic sleep patterns, sudden mood swings, and changes in personality. If you’re a parent of a teenager, these behaviors can be the status quo—actually, we often take these behaviors for granted. When teens are in trouble, when they are struggling to cope with issues that are too difficult for them to handle, drinking or getting high makes these behaviors worse often to the point of frightening us.