True Person-Centered Services

What does it mean to offer person-centered services?  Most programs advertise as person-centered, but if you look deeper, they often offer packaged, one size fits all services.

Minnesota Alternatives has defined person-centered care below and integrates it into all practices:

  • Engagement as a priority - human beings have an ingrained opposition to being forced
  • Focus on customer satisfaction
  • Locus of control is with the client - they are in charge of the process
  • Relevant personalized treatment planning
  • Program services are flexible in both intensity and duration
  • Welcoming and warm environment
  • Culture that promotes honesty/authenticity- non punitive
  • Relationships that provide trust, non-judgment and acceptance
  • Understand the power of environmental conditions - enriched environments induce positive brain development
  • Offer support, education, accountability
  • Peer support
  • Include practical assistance and community outreach

Why People Need to Understand Harm and Risk Reduction:

While the words "harm reduction" can mean many different things, the essence of harm-reduction is the pragmatic recognition that treatment must meet active substance users ''where they are" in terms of their needs and personal goals. Thus, harm reduction approaches embrace the full range of harm-reducing goals including, but not limited to, abstinence. This means that small incremental positive changes are seen as steps in the right direction.

When providing true person-centered services, providers must embrace harm and risk reduction interventions, as not everyone embraces a goal of abstinence.


  • Substances have multiple meanings and adaptive values to people. These include self-medication, coping with negative emotions, sense of identity, personality integrator, liberator of creativity, and a primary source of pleasure. Given the roles that substances play in people's lives, they often have a desire to moderate, or reduce the harm, without stopping altogether.
  • Cessation of drug use does not have to be the first goal of intervention. Harm Reduction establishes quality of life and well-being – not necessarily cessation of drug use – as criteria for successful interventions and policies.
  • Many clients have not made a decision to stop but they still need assistance. Non-judgmental, non-coercive service providers can be effective helpers with clients anywhere along the continuum of drug use.
  • Acknowledges that licit and illicit drug use is part of our world and chooses to minimize its harmful effects rather than simply ignore or condemn them. Harm Reduction recognizes that the realities of poverty, racism, social isolation, past trauma, and other social inequalities affect people's vulnerability to and capacity for effectively dealing with drug-related harms.
  • Understands drug use as a complex, multi-faceted phenomenon that encompasses a continuum of behaviors from severe abuse to total abstinence, and acknowledges that some ways of using drugs are clearly safer than others.
  • Ensures that drug users and those with a history of drug use routinely have a real voice in the creation of programs and policies designed to serve them and affirms drug users themselves as the primary agents of reducing the harms of their drug use.
  • Data suggests that many substance users avoid seeking help because they do not have life-long abstinence as their objective, so by accepting goals other than abstinence as reasonable starting places for treatment, Harm Reduction opens the door to this group of people.

Another very useful resource for alcohol harm reduction strategies is a book titled, How to Change Your Drinking, by Kenneth Anderson.

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