The Fierce Urgency of Now: Diffusion of Innovation as a Mechanism to Integrate Social Justice in Counselor Education

By Ratts, Manivong J.; Wood, Chris | Counselor Education and Supervision, March 2011 | Go to article overview
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The Fierce Urgency of Now: Diffusion of Innovation as a Mechanism to Integrate Social Justice in Counselor Education


Ratts, Manivong J., Wood, Chris, Counselor Education and Supervision


The authors present diffusion of innovation theory (Rogers, 2003) as a framework for integrating social justice into counselor education. An overview of diffusion theory is provided along with how the tenets of diffusion of innovation can be used to alleviate fears and anxieties that come with adopting an innovation such as social justice in counselor education.

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Bringing social justice into the mainstream of counselor education can be a challenge. M. Lewis and Lewis's (1971) call for a social justice-based counselor education program has yet to be fully realized in part because ideas that are viewed as a threat to the existing structure of an organization are often easily dismissed. Leading counseling scholars (Lee, 2007; Toporek & McNally, 2006) have echoed M. Lewis and Lewis's call; however, many counselor education programs continue to overstate the use of individually based helping models that occur in the traditional office setting (Durham & Glosoff, 2010). Although office-based interventions such as microskills are important, these skills are not always effective when addressing client problems that are systemically based (Toporek, Gerstein, Fouad, Roysircar, & Israel, 2006). Ratts, Toporek, and Lewis (2010) added that individually based helping models are often problematic because they fail to address the origin of client problems. Prilleltensky (1994) contended that individual therapeutic modes of helping are destructive because they help to preserve an oppressive status quo.

There is a sense of urgency for counselor educators to incorporate a social justice counseling perspective into their programs. The problems clients bring to therapy are real and often rooted in social, political, and economic conditions (Ratts et al., 2010). The training of students in counselor education programs needs to reflect this reality if the profession is to arm emerging counselors with the skills they need to be successful. Preparing emerging counselors for the realities of the profession can be achieved through a social justice framework (Toporek, Lewis, & Crethar, 2009). Social justice counseling acknowledges the interplay between clients and their environment (Ratts, 2009). Moreover, social justice counseling builds off feminist and multicultural therapy tenets of empowering and liberating clients from oppression by using advocacy as a means to address individual, social/cultural, and institutional forms of oppression (Crethar, Torres Rivera, & Nash, 2008).

Unfortunately, many counselor educators have not fully embraced social justice as a learning outcome in their programs (Ratts, 2006). The lack of buy-in from all areas of the profession may be due to the fear and anxieties that come with integrating an innovation such as social justice into an already established field. For example, there is widespread belief among those in the field that counseling is a value-neutral and apolitical process (Canfield, 2008). Challenging this belief can be difficult because it disrupts the social order of things in counselor education. Furthermore, questioning a program's traditions or simply offering a novel approach to counselor training can be a risky undertaking because it challenges the existing structure of a program. Challenging how things have always been done in a program, especially one steeped in tradition can be a threat to tenure (Toporek & McNally, 2006).

If social justice is to move from the margins to the center of the counseling profession, it must begin with counselor educators. The challenge thus becomes how to gain buy-in from a profession that has not fully embraced the social justice perspective. Challenging a profession to break old habits and adopt new ideas and ways of practicing is difficult. As daunting a task as it may seem, the responsibility lies with counselor educators. As with most things, innovations take time to embrace and require a good plan.

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