Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy (Online)

Counsellors, Counselling, and Social Justice: The Professional Is Political

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy (Online)

Counsellors, Counselling, and Social Justice: The Professional Is Political

Article excerpt

Nancy Arthur

University of Calgary

Sandra Collins

Athabasca University


This introduction to the Counselling and Social Justice special issue highlights the centrality of social justice in counselling, the negative impact of social injustices and cultural oppression on client well-being, and the importance of expanding professional focus and counsellor roles to engage in system-level change, with and on behalf of our clients. The Culture-Infused Counselling model provides a conceptual framework for integrating culture and social justice into all aspects of counselling practice. The contributions to the special issue bring to life ways to apply social justice principles with diverse client populations, in different contexts, nationally and internationally.

One of our key goals in proposing a special issue on Counselling and Social Justice was to stimulate critical thinking about the roles and responsibilities of counsellors and counselling psychologists in addressing social injustices. The term social justice appears more and more frequently in professional discussions and writing, as well as in the popular media. In this special issue, we invite reflection on the implications of this concept for the professional practice of counselling.

Social justice has been a foundational value for the professions of counselling and counselling psychology, based in the historical roots of vocational counselling at the beginning of the last century. The emphasis on social justice has resurfaced in the professional literature during the past decade. There is growing recognition that people's health and well-being may be positively or adversely influenced through economic, social, and political structures, as well as educational and organizational systems. In addition, differential access to services, resources, and social capital is most often tied to membership in particular nondominant groups, typically associated with gender, ethnicity, age, ability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and/or religion.

The differential access to professional services such as counselling, for example, contributes to societal inequities. Over the years in our own counselling practices, we have become increasingly concerned about the drift in resources available for serving the public, away from education, prevention, and health promotion for supporting positive mental health toward an emphasis on remediation of psychological issues located within the individual client. Over time, and through our observations of the repeated impacts on individuals, the call to examine the structures and influences that lead to psychological distress has been wakened in our personal and professional lives. Although we certainly see the importance of investing resources to support people who are experiencing psychological distress, we have often speculated about and taken action to draw attention to the external and environmental forces, the societal messages, and differential distribution of resources that form risk factors for mental health concerns.

In our own work in the field of multicultural counselling, we have examined the social construction of identities and how dynamics in our society lead members of some groups to be positioned as less powerful, to be socially stigmatized, and to face barriers to their educational, vocational, and personal development. The model of Culture-Infused Counselling (Arthur & Collins, 2010; Collins & Arthur, 2010a, 2010b) was premised on the principle that cultural contexts need to be taken into account in both conceptualizing client problems and selecting appropriate interventions. In some cases, this means that the target of intervention must expand to the systems level, which impacts all aspects of counsellors' roles and responsibilities. The model consolidates previous work on the development of competencies for multicultural counselling practice and has been recently revised to make the focus on social justice more explicit. …

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