Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

Entering Communities: Social Justice Oriented Disaster Response Counseling

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

Entering Communities: Social Justice Oriented Disaster Response Counseling

Article excerpt

Counselors need to learn how to effectively and respectfully enter into communities hit by disasters and create collaborative partnerships with community members. Using critical consciousness theory, the authors describe a humanistic, culturally responsive approach to disaster response counseling for marginalized individuals and communities and discuss empowering clients through culture-centered interventions and providing social justice advocacy.


With increasing frequency, counselors are needed to respond to communities that have experienced disasters. Although more counselors are responding to disasters, there is concern that these mental health practitioners lack the cultural competence to work effectively in diverse and marginalized communities experiencing catastrophes (Kennedy, 2006). Preconceived notions about marginalized communities and the desire to rescue persons affected by disasters may prevent counselors from fostering the empowerment of persons coping with various problems associated with living through a major catastrophe (J. A. Lewis, Lewis, Daniels, & D'Andrea, 2003).

Current models of disaster response counseling are effective in training counselors to work outside of traditional settings, conduct assessments for trauma symptoms, and acknowledge the importance of self-care among emergency responders (National Child Traumatic Stress Network and National Center for PTSD [NCTSN and NCPTSD], 2005; National Organization for Victims Assistance [NOVA], 2001). However, these types of training do not typically address the need for disaster counselors to (a) direct attention to the unique cultural mores, beliefs, values, and traditions that characterize people experiencing different catastrophes; (b) understand how power imbalances adversely affect the victims and survivors of disasters; or (c) learn about the historiography of communities subjected to disasters.

Two negative results are likely to ensue from the aforementioned omissions in current disaster response counseling training models. First, failing to address the cultural factors just noted would predictably undermine counselors' overall effectiveness when working in culturally diverse and marginalized communities that are coping with the impact of a disaster. Second, the implementation of culturally biased disaster response training models results in counselors providing direct services that may unintentionally violate the mores, beliefs, traditions, and values of culturally different persons who suffer from catastrophic events in their communities. The provision of such services represents a unique form of injustice, albeit unintentional, that is imposed on culturally diverse persons who are already experiencing the adverse impact of catastrophic events.

Recognizing the need to create disaster response training programs that promote counselors' competence in multicultural--social justice counseling and advocacy, we developed a new framework that extends traditional training models in these areas. In doing so, we have drawn from critical consciousness theory (Freire, 2000) to reconceptualize disaster response training by highlighting the importance of cultural responsiveness and social justice counseling and advocacy services in disaster response counseling situations. Critical consciousness theory incorporates an understanding of communities' sociopolitical realities, issues of systemic oppression, and awareness of personal and cultural biases (Freire, 2000; Goodman & West-Olatunji, 2009a). Counseling interventions that are based on this theoretical perspective emphasize collaboration and reciprocity between counselors and clients with a goal of creating authentic healing relationships.

The purpose of this article is to describe an innovative approach to disaster response training that is grounded in critical consciousness theory. Particular attention is directed to ways that such training endeavors can foster counselors' competence in multicultural-social justice counseling and advocacy when entering into communities that are coping with different types of catastrophes. …

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