Interview with Harm Reduction Therapist, Kevin Braga, LCSW

What are some misconceptions about substance use/misuse?
Sadly, there are many misconceptions about substance use/misuse. One is about how substance abuse is a result of moral failure or a personality flaw. But this misconception is erroneous and is an attempt to overly simplify something which, in actuality, is more complex and convoluted. The proclivity to misuse substances involves many factors including one’s biology, environment and social life. The numerous reasons why someone uses/abuses substances can hold multiple meanings across a person’s life. If we approach each person with understanding, less judgment and more curiosity, we will be more helpful in finding solutions.

What do you think are the essential ingredients to helping people?
Genuineness, compassion, empathy and patience.

How did you get into this field?
While at the Columbia School of Social Work, I had a professor, Don McVinney, who introduced me to Harm Reduction. He was passionate, committed to the cause and filled with enthusiasm. I always felt a special attachment to the substance use field but it was Don who first connected me to the people who were actively engaged in helping move this type of work forward. I’m forever grateful for his faith in me and for challenging my traditional viewpoint and teaching me there is no one size fits all approach.

Can you talk about a satisfying professional experience?
I worked with a gay man using crystal methamphetamine who strongly believed the only way he could feel better and connect with other men was through drug driven sexual experiences. Throughout our work, he felt more self empowered, confident and was more comfortable with vulnerability. His mindset about what it meant to be a gay man expanded and shifted into something more meaningful for him which was about deeper connections with others, feelings of acceptance and being more forgiving and self loving. Being a witness to his profound changes was professionally satisfying to say the least.

What should we be paying attention to right now?
There’s a lot of hype right now about how technology is strongly going to change the way in which treatment providers help their clients manage their substance use and mental health concerns. I’m both cautious and excited to see how advancements in technology will help my clients change certain problematic behaviors.

How do you deal with stress?
I make an active choice each day to do something soothing like exercise, meditate, and connect with loved ones.

Fill in the blank and elaborate if you wish: If I wasn’t a therapist I’d be a _______?
Dancer. There are numerous ways of expressing oneself and dancing is just one. It’s fun, creative and challenging.

How do you enjoy spending your free time?
I see myself as equal parts outdoorsy and homebody. I love exploring NYC neighborhoods with friends as well as being at home with a good book or binge-worthy show.



Kevin Braga is a harm reduction psychotherapist and clinical social worker with extensive knowledge and background in working with substance misuse and co-occurring mental health disorders. Kevin has a special interest in working with the LGBTQ population. Before coming to The Center for Optimal Living, he worked for over 10 years at The Addiction Institute of Mount Sinai where he facilitated multiple groups in different programs including the Intensive Outpatient Program and “The Crystal Clear Project.” Kevin leads the Gay Men’s Interpersonal Process Group
at the Center for Optimal Living. Specialties: Group therapy, DBT, LGBTQ populations, Crystal Methamphetamine misuse, young adult/college population and relationship and identity concerns. Email Kevin:, Phone: 212-213-8905 x 118.

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