The Harm Reduction Training (HaRT) Scholars program provides paid internships for graduate level social work students from Boston College, Bridgewater State University, and Simmons University at harm reduction organizations. This broadens their understanding and knowledge to better prepare them to serve individuals with opioid use disorder (OUD).
As one of three graduate schools to participate, Boston College developed a program that provides a hands-on, frontline experience for students that highlights progress and some realities associated with implementing harm reduction. “The main way we provide training to students in harm reduction is through supervision,” one placement site manager noted. “In supervision, we discuss various models of addiction including abstinence and harm reduction and always encourage students to think of ways to support clients in the goals the clients have chosen for themselves.”
The students were prepared, knowledgeable, and eager to understand the different approaches to treating OUD. “My student responded very well to the harm reduction model,” a site supervisor observed. “He valued all approaches and prioritized the model based on the client’s unique needs and goals.”
Similar to what patients can sometimes experience when receiving care for OUD and/or substance use disorder, HaRT scholars observed varying attitudes and methods of implementation of harm reduction. One student noted, “The goal is to keep the patient connected and for them to know that there are resources available to help them because addiction has no exact answer. The placement provided an environment to learn more about harm reduction and I was always able to ask any of the other clinicians questions if I needed support.” Another student encountered a more inconsistent approach, stating that, “There were some disparities. Harder lines were drawn for some clients than others.”
This experiential learning in which scholars can see the benefits and biases that can be associated with implementing harm reduction will provide for meaningful lessons both in the classroom and in the field as social workers.
Implementing a new, innovative, cutting-edge program requires time, energy, and the willingness to adapt. Boston College is doing that by continuing to mold its program with the goal of providing optimal hands-on learning for students.
In year two of the HaRT Scholars program, Boston College will expand student diversity, revise its foundational class curriculum to incorporate an increased emphasis on substance use and harm reduction, and will foster closer working relationships with site supervisors.
One of the most inspiring, forward-thinking changes for year two came from the scholars themselves. “It has been noted by the students that the harm reduction model/teaching doesn’t appear to come from a trauma-informed lens. A student commented that ‘Harm Reduction and Trauma Informed Care is not integrated.’ As a result, Cindy (Project Coordinator) will be intentional about teaching, supporting, and integrating seminar discussions about harm reduction and trauma-informed care.”
Observations from Boston College’s School of Social Work provide insights that will help inform our future programming and investments. The partnership has been a rewarding undertaking that is yielding promising results for the students, faculty, participating organizations, and RIZE.