As a primary prevention practitioner and promoter (a PPPP, of course), I have enthusiastically watched it gain support and popularity over the past few years. Today, more people than ever before believe that prevention works. They value primary prevention strategies and their support continues to grow. Recently, however, I’ve noticed an unintended consequence of the push towards primary prevention. It seems that most folks want to call what they are doing primary prevention…whether or not it actually is. I’ve lately joked with colleagues that you can put the label on anything and, VOILA!, it’s primary prevention. Primary prevention victim therapy? Sure! Primary prevention offender management? You got it! Heck, a primary prevention jail – why not?
Seriously, there is no end to the strategies that I have seen labeled primary prevention. But these aren’t primary prevention. While important, necessary efforts, they take place after the behavior we’re trying to prevent occurred. We have a name for that and it’s not primary prevention.
So what is one to do when faced with people emphatically exclaiming that their therapy program is primary prevention? This is my dilemma. Given the unfortunate history of prevention folks sometimes framing their work as “better than response,” how do I point out that a strategy isn’t primary prevention without seeming like a jerk? True, some people simply need education about the types of prevention, but I’m not really talking about them. I’m talking about the folks who want to do primary prevention and who get very angry at the suggestion that they might not actually be doing it. How do we approach those people? Aside from acknowledging the value of the work they are currently doing and gently suggesting ways to build on it with primary prevention strategies, my 6pm-after-a-long-day-at-work mind is at a loss.
And before you say it, I know that ultimately the semantics don’t matter. I don’t care if you call it “primary prevention” or “the sh*t we do,” as long as it aims to create a culture in which the bad stuff doesn’t happen in the first place.
So fellow PPPP’s, do you have an answer?