Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

A Critical Analysis of the Social Advocacy Movement in Counseling

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

A Critical Analysis of the Social Advocacy Movement in Counseling

Article excerpt

Social historians have long noted that periods of major reform in American political life seem to come around generationally, about once every 30 years or so (Wheeler, 1990). These periods of reform have been reflected in health care professions such as social work, psychology, and counseling, which have traditionally been viewed as having a more humanistic, liberal sociopolitical bias (Lillis, O'Donohue, Cucciare, & Lillis, 2005). A response to various reforms (or lack thereof) is social advocacy counseling, a movement within the profession of counseling with roots in the early 20th century (Kiselica & Robinson, 2001). It has been suggested that the social advocacy movement is the "fifth force" within the profession of counseling (Ratts, D'Andrea, & Arredondo, 2004, p. 28), an outgrowth of the multicultural movement.

This movement promotes social justice as a fundamental principle of counseling through the systematic elimination of social illness caused by various forms of oppression and social inequality. The major focus of advocacy tends to be on issues related to power, privilege, allocation of resources, and various forms of prejudicial discrimination and violence toward underrepresented individuals or groups. The fundamental goal is the eradication of social illness by the leveling of power structures, equaling privileges, and combating discrimination. Many counseling professionals advocate for such concerns as a function of their professional and social responsibility (Smith & Chen-Hayes, 2003).

Social advocacy counseling entails interventions aimed at individual client needs as well as sociopolitical attempts to foster systematic change in society. Myers and Sweeney (2004) suggested a two-pronged approach toward social action to effectively advocate for the needs of clients as well as the profession. Akos and Galassi (2004) promoted a model of developmental advocacy as a way to enhance the effectiveness of the contemporary school counselor. Loretta Bradley (1998), a former president of the American Counseling Association (ACA), championed social advocacy in her address at the ACA Midwest Region Conference, Kansas City, Kansas, titled "Advocacy: A Voice for Our Clients and Communities." One of the first books on social advocacy in counseling, edited by Courtland Lee and Gary Walz (1998), proclaimed social action as a "mandate" for counselors. Myers, Sweeney, and White (2002) called for a national plan, because they believed that advocacy is a professional imperative.

* Call to the Profession

On the surface, the social advocacy movement in counseling indeed appears to be a called-for mandate. Ideas promoted by the movement, such as advocating for professional issues, advocating for the needs of underrepresented and disenfranchised individuals and groups, taking political positions on current social issues, and working to eradicate systems and ideologies that perpetuate discrimination and disregard for human rights are all seemingly logical, reasonable ideologies that identify important matters for counselors. However, we believe that the most pressing mandate for the counseling profession at this time is an in-depth examination of the social advocacy movement. Such an examination, through critical and deconstructive analysis, is required to firmly establish the movement in the profession and to understand its impact on the profession, individual members, and distinct groups. Only after undergoing such scrutiny can the mandate of social action indeed be justly determined, particularly as a professional and/or personal mandate.

We believe that the social advocacy movement lacks sufficient moderation and sometimes attempts to promote various agendas (e.g., personal, political) under the guise of "social action." It makes bold claims for which it has little or no substantive evidence, such as clinical effectiveness. We certainly applaud related research efforts conducted thus far (e. …

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