Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

Humanism, Feminism, and Multiculturalism: Essential Elements of Social Justice in Counseling, Education, and Advocacy

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

Humanism, Feminism, and Multiculturalism: Essential Elements of Social Justice in Counseling, Education, and Advocacy

Article excerpt

This article explores the association between and among humanism, feminism, multiculturalism, and social justice in counseling, education, and advocacy. In so doing, it shows how these theoretical forces, individually and collectively, are essential to professional counseling client welfare, education, and the promotion of social justice. The author also outlines suggestions for future integrative work in these areas.


It is important to consider the commonalities among theoretical perspectives in counseling, education, and advocacy that emphasize wellness, shared understanding, and human development from a contextual perspective. Humanism, feminism, multiculturalism, and social justice counseling and advocacy are four such approaches that are increasingly being used in the mental health professions to promote client welfare, student development, and a healthier society. The following sections of this article briefly describe these theoretical forces and their relevance for new directions in counseling, education, and advocacy.


Humanism is at the foundational core of counseling and counseling psychology (Harina & Bemak, 1997). Historically considered the third force in the counseling profession (Ivey, D'Andrea, & Ivey, 2011), early humanists like Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow rejected the prevailing medical model and its biological determinism as it existed during their times. Today, many humanistic-oriented counselors and educators continue the humanistic tradition, emphasizing principles and practices that focus on healthy human development, human strengths, and an understanding of people in their environmental contexts (Lundin, 1996).

Humanistic counselors and educators use a holistic approach that respects people's inherent dignity, creativity, and ability to reach their own definition of self-actualization (Hansen, 2006; Scholl, 2006). Guided by such humanistic principles, these practitioners strive to understand each individual's unique experience. This includes working to understand how clients make meaning of their life experiences and perceptions of gender, race, ethnicity, and other aspects of their personal identity (Kirschenbaum, 2007; Rogers, 1977, 1980).

Operating from such principles, humanistic counselors endeavor to foster optimal and healthy human development when working with clients whose well-being is often impaired by stressors they encounter in their life. Humanistic counselors recognize that the stressors that undermine clients' health and well-being frequently arise from incompatible interactions between the environmental conditions and reactions that the client encounters in life and his or her sense of self (Raskin & Rogers, 1995). More specifically, Carl Rogers's person-centered theory (Raskin & Rogers, 1995; Rogers, 1980) posits that anxiety and other manifestations of distress arise when people experience environmental conditions that result in feelings of personal marginalization and devaluation that are inconsistent with their own sense of themselves.

Abraham Maslow's humanistic theory includes another perspective relevant for the present discussion. Although Maslow was one of the first to study optimal human behavior, he is best known for his hierarchy of needs theory (Maslow, 1943, 1954, 1968). This theory suggests that people experience stress, which may be manifested as psychological disorders, when they are unable to satisfy progressively more complex human needs. These needs range from basic physiological survival needs to safety, love and belonging, esteem needs, and finally to the need for self-actualization. Frequently, factors that block people's ability to satisfy these human needs are environmentally based (Lundin, 1996). These environmentally based barriers to healthy human development are often more pronounced among people who routinely face marginalization and other forms of injustice. …

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