Interview by Ethsix Magazine – Harm Reduction

January 29, 2008 at 3:50 am Leave a comment


One of the most impressive magazines to come out of the social work media world in a long time is Ethsix. Impressive in that it shows that a magazine that reports on important, relevant social issues can be cleverly written & visually stunning. Ethsix’s name comes from the sixth code of ethics from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), which is the responsibility to advocate on behalf of social justice. Ethsix is expertly organized & edited by a one Ms. Eve Ekman – social worker, journalist & artist extraordinaire. The third issue is in the making, but certainly check out the first two (generously offered in full for download on their website) as well as continued updates on issues and events at the Ethsix blog.

I was recently interviewed by Ethsix in their 2nd issue, on the topic of harm reduction. For those of you unfamiliar with harm reduction, it is a pragmatic approach to reducing the negative consequences of destructive behavior. I became a believer in harm reduction therapies during my years as an addictions therapist, working with DUI offenders through a drug court program. It quickly became clear to me, even though the prevailing mindset at the time was an abstinence-based model, that immediately confronting a person with their addiction and forcing them to accept abstinence or leave treatment was not only unrealistic, but it also placed our clients in a situation where they either had to lie or leave treatment if they were still struggling to give up their drugs of choice. Harm reduction allowed each client to go at their own pace with determining their level of addiction and dealt with relapses in a realistic, non-judgmental manner.

Harm reduction abides by the social work ethic of empowerment in that it gives clients the tools to evaluate symptoms and arrive at their own conclusions about their use. If a client does turn out to have a substance use problem, they are much more likely to have internalized this fact than if I had just labeled them that in our first session. And if a client decides to try to quit or cut back, my taking a collaborative, non-parental approach will allow them to be more honest in session without fear of reproach.

Here’s a clip from the article. For the rest of the piece, as well as some amazing social justice reporting, check out the 2nd issue of Ethsix Magazine!

“”Harm reduction to me addresses reality,” she says. “The reality is that simply telling someone they are an addict, or telling someone that the behavior they’re engaging in is risky, doesn’t typically do what it takes to help them reduce or quit that behavior.” Instead, Valentine engages clients in a discussion about their addictions…

…Opponents argue [that harm reduction] only encourages people to continue their destructive behavior. However, the argument is not moderation versus abstinence. Most of those who practice harm reduction admit that abstinence is often the best option, but the difference is that they will never parentally label someone an addict and force them to quit. As Valentine explains, a continuum from moderation to abstinence is often more beneficial in the long-term than encouraging abstinence from the start.”


Entry filed under: Ethsix, Quoted, social work. Tags: , , , , , .

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