Bringing Advocacy Counseling to Life: The History, Issues, and Human Dramas of Social Justice Work in Counseling. (Practice & Theory)
Kiselica, Mark S., Robinson, Michelle, Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD
During her term as president of the American Counseling Association for 1999, Loretta Bradley selected the topic "Advocacy: A Voice for Our Clients and Communities" as her presidential theme. Explaining her choice of this theme, Bradley and Lewis (2000) stated that advocacy is an important aspect of every counselor's role:
Regardless of the particular setting in which he or she works, each counselor is confronted again and again with issues that cannot be resolved simply through change within the individual. All too often, negative aspects of the environment impinge on a client's well-being, intensifying personal problems or creating obstacles to growth. When such situations arise, effective counselors speak up! We think of advocacy as the act of speaking up or taking action to make environmental changes on behalf of our clients. (p. 3)
Bradley's presidential theme reflects a growing movement to expand the practice of counseling from its traditional focus on the intrapsychic concerns of clients to a broader focus on the many extrapsychic forces that adversely affect the emotional and physical well-being of people. This movement is commonly known as the "advocacy counseling," "social action," and "social justice" approaches to counseling and psychotherapy.
According to Lee (1998a), counselors work as advocates when they plead on behalf of a client or some social cause. Advocacy work is considered a form of social action for two reasons. First, counselor advocates do their work in the social contexts in which client problems occur. Second, counselor advocates take action to eliminate or reduce social problems such as poverty, unequal access to opportunity, and various forms of prejudice, which adversely affect clients (Lee, 1998a). Similarly, a social justice approach to counseling and psychotherapy refers to using all of the methods of counseling and psychology to confront injustice and inequality in society (Jackson, 2000; Mays, 2000; Strickland, 2000).
Collectively, advocacy counseling, social action, and social justice work involve "helping clients challenge institutional and social barriers that impede academic, career, or personal-social development" (Lee, 1998a, pp. 8-9). In all three approaches, it is understood that mental health professionals will leave the comfort of their offices and complete their work in other settings such as a client's home or school, recreational and community centers, churches, local agencies, and even the offices and meeting places of policy makers such as school board members, legislators, and government administrators. The provision of direct services to clients is complemented by indirect forms of helping that involve influencing the people and institutions that affect clients' lives (Kiselica, 1995, 1999c, 2000).
The purposes of advocacy counseling, social action, and social justice interventions are to increase a client's sense of personal power and to foster sociopolitical changes that reflect greater responsiveness to the client's personal needs (Lewis, Lewis, Daniels, & D'Andrea, 1998; Toporek, 2000). Because advocacy counseling, social action, and social justice approaches to counseling have the same purposes, we use the expression "advocacy counseling" throughout the remainder of this article to refer to all three approaches.
Advocacy counseling has taken many forms, has a long history, and cuts across the disciplines of counseling, psychology, social work, sociology, and religion. Advocacy counseling has targeted domestic issues, such as the sociopolitical hardships experienced by African American (see Sander, 2000) and Native American (see Herring, 2000) populations in the United States, and international problems, such as abusive child labor throughout the world (see Lee, 1998b).
Because advocacy work is so crucial to promoting the well-being of people in the U.S. and abroad, Earl Ginter, the editor of the Journal of Counseling & Development, invited us to write an article highlighting and illustrating the history, principles, and human experiences that are at the heart of advocacy counseling. Most of all, Ginter asked us to bring the process of advocacy counseling to life so that counselors will have a realistic understanding of what social justice work in counseling entails. Accordingly, we have accentuated the human experience of advocacy counseling throughout this article. This article begins with an overview of the history of advocacy counseling. Next, the counselor attributes, skills, costs, pitfalls, rewards, and ethical issues associated with advocacy counseling are highlighted. The article concludes with a discussion of the personal moral imperatives that inspire social activism and the challenge of developing a personal advocacy style.
THE HISTORY OF ADVOCACY COUNSELING
Although advocacy counseling has a long history that cuts across several centuries and numerous national borders, we have limited our review to key historical events and leaders from the U.S. during the twentieth century. To illustrate the significant human aspects of advocacy counseling, we begin this historical overview with profiles of two of the most influential advocacy counselors of this century: Clifford Beers, who began his advocacy work for the mentally ill during the early part of the 1900s, and Lawrence Gerstein, who has advocated for the oppressed people of Tibet since 1991. Then, we highlight the contributions of other advocacy counselors from the 1900s to illustrate the range of activities that constitute advocacy counseling.
Clifford Beers: Advocate for Those With Mental Illness
In 1908, Clifford Beers (1908/1956) published the first edition of his now classic book A Mind That Found Itself: An Autobiography, which was a gripping account of his horrific experiences as an individual with mental illness who was committed to psychiatric hospitals shortly after the turn of the twentieth century. This book has been reprinted numerous times over many decades as it has taken its place among the most influential publications on mental illness that have ever been produced. Beers's highly acclaimed publication became the springboard from which he would launch a crusade known as the Mental Hygiene Movement, whose purpose was to raise awareness about mental illness and to promote new and humane treatments of individuals with mental illness (Tenety & Kiselica, 2000). The details of his life and work presented here are drawn from a biography of Beers written by the historian Norman Dain (1980).
Beers's experiences as a psychiatric patient. Prior to the onset of his illness, Beers had lived a very comfortable and well-adjusted life. He attended Yale University where he was cited for his brilliant recitations in English. While a student at Yale, he also wrote and published many jokes, which appeared in The Yale Record, and later in Life Magazine. He was an attractive, admired young man who nevertheless found himself slipping deeper and deeper into a very serious depression. After graduating from Yale in 1897, he managed to obtain a series of well-paying jobs in New York City, and he seemed to have a very bright future. But his depression grew worse and worse until one day in June 1900, in a state of complete hopelessness, he went to his second story window, climbed out, hung from the sill and let go, an instant later crashing onto the concrete sidewalk below. The bones in both feet and both legs were shattered. After receiving medical treatment for these serious injuries at Grace Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut, he was transferred to Stamford Hall, a state hospital located in Stamford, Connecticut, whose mission was to treat nervous and mental diseases and opium and alcohol addiction.
For the next several years, Beers would endure a living nightmare as he was committed and confined to several state hospitals for people with mental illness. He struggled with delusions of persecution and wild mood swings. When he became difficult to manage, the hospital orderlies frequently beat him to the ground, choked him until he became unconscious, strapped him into a straitjacket, and tossed him into a seclusion room where we would be left for days at a time. During many of these periods of brutal confinement, he would rant and rave about how he would one day reform the psychiatric hospitals of the world. The orderlies and several of the physicians who treated him ridiculed him and discounted his threats as the irrational mutterings of a lunatic. Little did they know that he would go on to become the most influential advocate for people with mental illness in our nation's history.
Beers's advocacy counseling for people with mental illness. Within a few years of his eventual discharge from the hospital, Beers (1908/1956) published an account of his ordeal in a book titled, A Mind That Found Itself: An Autobiography. The book captured the horrified attention of the nation. Beers used his newfound celebrity stemming from the popularity of his book to win audiences with some of the most powerful people in the corporate world and in the professional circles of psychology and psychiatry. For example, he was invited to teas and other socials with millionaires --such as the Fords, the owners of the Ford automobile empire--to whom he would give personal addresses regarding his experiences as a mental patient. The Rockefellers, other wealthy families, and the charitable foundations they sponsored donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Beers for his Mental Hygiene Movement. In addition to these fund-raising achievements, Beers had a way of making …
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Publication information: Article title: Bringing Advocacy Counseling to Life: The History, Issues, and Human Dramas of Social Justice Work in Counseling. (Practice & Theory). Contributors: Kiselica, Mark S. - Author, Robinson, Michelle - Author. Journal title: Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD. Volume: 79. Issue: 4 Publication date: Fall 2001. Page number: 387+. © American Counseling Association Summer 2010. COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group.
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