Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Applying Social Empowerment Strategies as Tools for Self-Advocacy in Counseling Lesbian and Gay Male Clients

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Applying Social Empowerment Strategies as Tools for Self-Advocacy in Counseling Lesbian and Gay Male Clients

Article excerpt

The Social Empowerment Model (SEM) is based on a conflict theory that assumes society consists of separate groups that have advantages of power and control in relation to social, psychological, political, and economic systems (Rappaport, 1981; Zimmerman, 1990). Moreover, the construct of empowerment is a potential conceptual cornerstone of identity (Banja, 1990). In the United States, concerns for empowerment have emerged from the ever-present conflict created by discrepancies between "American" core values (e.g., freedom, individuality, diversity, and conformity) and the reality of life for various peoples across the nation (e.g., class stratification, minority status, prejudice, marginalization, and discrimination; Naylor, 1999). Lesbians and gay males constitute one group of people in the United States marginalized by the majority culture (Kitzinger, 1996). Given the powerlessness that pervades the experiences of lesbians and gay males, it is necessary to foster psychosocial practices in counseling that promote self-advocacy in this particular group of clients (Grills, Bass, Brown, & Akers, 1996). In addition, counselors working with lesbian and gay male populations must be informed about the social policy context confronting these clients and be aware of its impact on their lives (Hartman, 1996). Given the oppression experienced throughout history by lesbians and gay males in this country (Kitzinger, 1996), individuals of a sexual minority status recognize that being "self-determining is not a luxury but a necessity for empowerment" (Grills et al., 1996, p. 139).

In general, counseling is recognized as an empowering process for clients (McWhirter, 1994). Presumably, counseling can offer strategies to be used by lesbians and gay males to circumvent discrimination, scapegoating, and inequities that undermine the development and maintenance of a healthy self-concept. However, R. E. Perkins (1996) advised against using therapy as a viable solution for problem solving. Although lesbians and gay males seek therapy as a means of coping with the ordinary circumstances of everyday life, R. E. Perkins suggested, specifically, that when lesbians bring these challenges to counseling, they take their concerns "out of their communities and into a private, special relationship with a therapist" (p. 73). Therefore, individual therapy deprives lesbian communities (and gay male communities) of a whole realm of experiences, which, in turn, deprives individuals who identify as lesbian or gay of their abilities to support each other (R. E. Perkins, 1996). We support the use of lesbian and gay male communities as a part of the therapeutic process. However, R. E. Perkins's recommendation of relying primarily or solely on the homosexual community for support is troubling from the standpoint of her implications that lesbians (and gay males) are not part of or do not function in a larger society (e.g., heterosexual domains). Clearly, any recommendation for counseling must be empowering and specific to the needs of lesbian and gay male populations within the context of the multiple communities and identities they inhabit.

Recently, with a few combined political gains and the transition away from the social science paradigm of homosexuality as a mental disorder (Kitzinger, 1996), empowerment as a positive dimension of self-advocacy has more significant implications for lesbian and gay male clients. Social empowerment requires individuals to reconstruct their interpersonal and intrapersonal spheres to yield positive self-concepts and to diminish heterosexism (Zimmerman, 1995). Prejudice, legal restraints, and discrimination are moderators (forms of oppression) imposed on lesbians and gay males by heterosexual groups in society that adversely affect the quality of everyday life for such individuals. Lesbians and gay males "discover that the culture they grew up in is, to a great extent, irrelevant to their needs because the norms, values, and traditions of that culture assume and facilitate heterosexuality" (Rust, 1996, p. …

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