Advocacy for Counseling and Counselors: A Professional Imperative. (Practice & Theory)

Article excerpt

Lee (1998) defined advocacy as "the process or act of arguing or pleading for a cause or proposal" (p. 8). Within this context, he recommended that counselors become agents of social change, intervening not just in the lives of their clients but in the world around them as well. Advocacy for clients and advocacy for the counseling profession receive equal emphasis in that counselors may plead the cause of others, may argue for the advancement of the counseling profession, and may, in both instances, find themselves intervening with systems and organizations as well as individuals and families.

Unfortunately, advocacy for clients and advocacy for the counseling profession are frequently viewed as opposite and incompatible activities. For example, McClure and Russo (1996) suggested that the counseling profession has moved away from its activist roots and become less socially engaged, processes viewed as undesirable. They noted that the struggle for public acceptance of the profession and an increased emphasis on accreditation and credentialing are factors that contribute to the inability of professional counselors to be effective advocates for social change. An alternate position exists, one in which the two processes of advocacy are not juxtaposed but are seen as complementary and intertwined. From this perspective, the establishment of a legitimate position for professional counselors among the mental health professions is viewed as necessary for counselors to be perceived as credible and, in turn, would empower them to become effective advocates for clients and agents of social change (Chi Sigma Iota, 1999).

A review of the literature in counseling, including searches of electronic databases (e.g., ERIC/CASS, PsycINFO), the American Counseling Association library, and books and journals in the field, revealed few resources on advocacy for the profession. Most of the advocacy literature focuses on strategies for addressing the needs of clients through social activism (e.g., McWhirter, 1997), with attention to special populations such as oppressed groups (Lewis & Arnold, 1998). Literature on client advocacy has existed in various forms for more than two decades. For example, counselors in schools have been encouraged to include advocacy as part of a comprehensive program to help minority students (Perry & Locke, 1985). Rehabilitation counselors have been urged to consider advocacy as an ethical imperative (Vash, 1987). In addition, teaching self-advocacy skills to clients is viewed as an important role for counselors (White, Thomas, & Nary, 1997). Indeed, the history of counseling has grown out of the concern of early pioneers in the profession for the educational, career, and moral needs of those we serve. Addressing clients' needs is essential to what we are as a profession. However, were it not for efforts to ensure the place of counselors in schools, community agencies, colleges, and private practice, few of us today could legitimately call ourselves "professional counselor," for no such title existed until 28 short years ago (Sweeney & Sturdevant, 1974). What has been achieved, however, is only part of what is required.

Eriksen (1997) noted that "no one has researched advocacy [for] the counseling field. The only literature in existence is newsletter articles written by advocacy and government relations staff or by board members of counseling associations" (p. 2). The result of a lack of attention to professional advocacy is felt most strongly in schools, colleges, agencies, and practices where counselors must compete for jobs and reimbursement for their services along with the members of other mental health professions (Eriksen, 1997; Sweeney, 1995). Too often, credentialed professional counselors are unable to access positions or earn payment commensurate with their level of competence (Chi Sigma Iota, 1999; Engels & Bradley, 2001; Myers & Smith, 1999). …