Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Applying a Social Justice Framework to College Counseling Center Practice. (Professional Issues)

Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Applying a Social Justice Framework to College Counseling Center Practice. (Professional Issues)

Article excerpt

Counselors are often challenged to address issues of social justice in the counseling context, and they must be deliberate and innovative in their attempts to respond. Counselors will be required to relate social justice considerations to their practices and to the theoretical foundations of these practices; they must then operationalize an approach that suits their particular practice setting. The authors present the early results of their attempt to meet this challenge.


A social justice approach to counseling (or any other endeavor) is based on (a) the acknowledgment of broad, systematic societal inequities and oppression and (b) the assumption of the inevitable, if unintentional, location of every individual (and every professional field) within this system. In turn, this assumption then obliges responsible action that contributes to the elimination of systematic oppression in the forms of racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, and other biases. This concept is closely related to multiculturalism, with its emphasis on cultural, racial, and ethnic issues, one of which is social injustice and oppression.

It is easy to find examples of the increasing attention that is being given to social justice in counseling and psychology. Lorraine Bradley, during her term (1999-2000) as president of the American Counseling Association (ACA), chose social justice and advocacy as the thematic focus of her term (see Kiselica & Robinson, 2001). Bonnie Strickland, the recipient of an Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology from the American Psychological Association (APA), has commented extensively on the topic of psychology's unintentional support of patriarchal, Eurocentric, classist social norms (Strickland, 2000). According to Strickland, professionals in the mental health field have frequently reexamined and reevaluated their positions regarding these norms, yet additional reconsideration by psychologists and counselors of their most basic assumptions is still needed.

We still consistently place the reason for the occurrence of psychopathology within the person. Thc anxiety, depression, and dissociative disorders which may be adaptive signals of stressful life conditions arc pathologized as the emotional weakness of the "mentally ill." ... We must expand our boundaries by remembering that our theories and methods were designed to he replaced. Today's notions ... will be as outmoded to the next generation as hysteria, the schizophrenogenie mother, and lobotomies are to us now. (Strickland, 2000, p. 336)

Outside observers of the mental health field have come to similar conclusions. In his address to the APA's 2000 annual conference, the Reverend Jesse Jackson reminded psychologists of Dr. Martin Luther King's charge to professionals in the field 30 years earlier (King, 1968). Jackson explained King's view that the social sciences are instruments of change and that, to this end, psychologists and counselors should "question the precepts of society, and reject those that permit injustice to form and grow" (Jackson, 2000, p. 328). According to King, psychologists should not allow themselves to be comfortable members of an unjust status quo: "Even as you help people make terrible choices between one evil and another, you can reject the limitations imposed by those forced choices" (Jackson, 2000, p. 329).

Members of professional associations such as the APA and the ACA are focusing their efforts on these goals. It is notable that the expressed goal of Counselors for Social Justice, an ACA division, is to promote individual and collective social responsibility and to encourage the eradication of oppressive systems of power and privilege. Related goals are contained in the mission statements of the ACA's Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development and of APA Divisions 17 (Society of Counseling Psychology) and 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues), among others. …

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