What is Harm Reduction Counseling?

Harm Reduction

The concept of harm reduction was initially founded and introduced in the 1980s, as an alternative to abstinence-only focused interventions for adults with substance abuse disorders. Since then, the practice has evolved and is seen as revolutionary in the field of addiction. Harm reduction is based on programs, practices, and policies with an aim to minimize the negative social, health, and legal impacts that are associated with drug use. The main focus of harm reduction is a positive change, no discrimination, no judgment or shaming, and no coercion to stop using drugs as a precondition for getting counseling. The strategy is grounded in human rights and justice.

What is Harm Reduction Counseling?


Harm reduction counseling focuses on compassion and acceptance, as well as meeting addicts or alcoholics where they are at. This is done by developing a program that is individually based and acknowledging their ability to change for the better. There is a realistic view taken and the approach values using incremental steps. Evidence proves that many patients shift their goal to complete abstinence. For many, this feat is unimaginable at the start of the process.


Harm reduction encompasses a range of approaches that apply to illicit and licit drugs. These include drug consumption rooms where needles and syringes are supplied, programs about needles and syringes, housing for non-abstinence addicts, and employment initiatives. Facilities offer drug testing, prevention of overdosing and overdosing reversal, as well as programs on safer drug use. These approaches have had a positive impact on individual and community well-being and are cost-effective. This approach is for individuals who are not ready to commit to complete abstinence. However, patients are able to move forward with less destructive and fewer potentially dangerous consequences of drug abuse.

This approach challenges the traditional approach of abstinence for the treatment of drug abuse by focusing on reducing the harm to the individual as well as society. This is done by taking them away from informal places where drugs are used, avoiding risky injection practices, sexual risk-taking, and life-changing behavior.

Public Health Philosophy

Harm reduction is seen as a public health philosophy and service delivery to reduce the risks of drug use. It also aims to respect the individuals and treat them with dignity, compassion, care, while respecting their human rights.

Harm reduction works to reduce the harmful effects of the addiction, as well as the addiction itself. Oftentimes there are many factors surrounding drug use. As a result, counselors must consider the multi-faceted behaviors from severe abuse to complete abstinence.

Origins of Harm Reduction

The harm reduction approach became popular in European countries in the 1980s. During this time, government officials were searching for ways to combat the growing HIV epidemic. In fact, the practice took off after the threat of HIV spreading, among and from injecting drug users, was recognized. Harm reduction became an approach not only for reducing transmission of blood-borne infection but also for treating substance use disorders. However, within the context of the crack cocaine epidemic in the 1980s, it was exceedingly difficult to implement any programs that might condone drug use.

Aside from needle exchange and overdose prevention, community-based organizations all led to a gradual integration and greater acceptance of harm reduction by local and state governments. A sizeable part of this work was conducted by people who use drugs or who have a history of drug use. The history of harm reduction in the United States has led to the development of some of the most important methods for treating persons with drug use disorders and has saved countless lives in the process.

Additional Reading:

As drug overdoses soar, more providers embrace harm reduction

Guide to Developing and Managing Overdose Prevention and Take-Home Naloxone Projects – Harm Reduction Coalition

Blue Sky Counseling Omaha – Mental Health Counseling

I, Carly Spring, M.S., LIMHP, LADC, CPC, offer my specialized expertise to assist in the healing process to anyone who may be experiencing and suffering from a vast spectrum of mental health issues. Such mental health issues include behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, grief, loss, trauma, addiction issues, and life transitions. I believe strongly in applying a holistic perspective addressing your whole person not just the bits and pieces of you. Contact us with any questions or to discuss gambling addiction services in Omaha today.

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