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

Beyond Charity: Social Class and Classism in Counselling/Au-Delà De la Charité : Classes Sociales et Préjugés De Classe En Counseling

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

Beyond Charity: Social Class and Classism in Counselling/Au-Delà De la Charité : Classes Sociales et Préjugés De Classe En Counseling

Article excerpt

People who struggle with economic hardship and inequity should benefit from as much counselling and therapeutic support as anyone. Poor and working-class people are routinely subjected to oppressive conditions and difficult experiences, resulting in ongoing high levels of stress (Abrams & Ceballos, 2012; LeondarWright, 2005; Sherry, Adelman, Farwell, & Linton, 2013; Smith, 2005, 2008), and low income is associated with a host of psychological and mental health problems (Sheperis & Sheperis, 2012; Smith, 2008; Wang et al., 2005; Wurster, Rinaldi, Woods, & Liu, 2013). Yet, as a group, low-income people, along with the elderly and racial-ethnic minorities, were among the 80% of Americans found to be underserved by psychology (Wang et al., 2005). In fact, psychotherapy seems to have limited effectiveness with poor clients, poverty being related to recidivism and lack of counselling success (Liu & Arguello, 2006; McCarthy, Reese, Schueneman, & Reese, 1991).

Social justice proponents have begun to promote a focus on poverty, and there have been some encouraging developments. In 2000, the American Psychological Association adopted a "Resolution on Poverty and Socioeconomic Status" that affirmed the psychological needs of people living in poverty and the responsibilities of the profession to them (Lott, 2012; Pope & Arthur, 2009). Psychological research on poverty has begun, with scholarship often focusing on the need for compassionate understanding of, and more effective practice with, poor people (cf. Ali, Liu, Mahmood, & Arguello, 2008; Arthur & Collins, 2010; Smith, 2008; Vera & Speight, 2003).

Systemic and cultural aspects of race and ethnicity are rightly a focus of social justice and multicultural approaches to counselling. Likewise, an analysis that acknowledges systemic sexism and heterosexism is basic to working effectively with gender (Lalande & Laverty, 2010). However, although often referenced as one of the big three cultural dimensions-race, class, and gender-social class has not received the same rigorous and sustained attention within psychology (Liu, 2006; Liu, Ali, et ah, 2004; Smith, Foley, & Chaney, 2008). A class analysis has not been substantially incorporated into social justice counselling perspectives (Liu, Pickett, & Ivey, 2007). Smith (2008) said, "specifically, what is missing from counseling psychology's social justice agenda is the naming and explication of a form of oppression that operates so that poor and working-class people are systematically disadvantaged" (p. 809).

This article addresses the need for counsellors to work more effectively with working-class people by becoming better informed about social class. In the next section, I will briefly illustrate some of the complexities of class membership by sharing a little of my own class background and experience. I will then look more closely at the sometimes-slippery concept of social class, exploring how it is defined, how people are situated in the different classes, and the interplay of social class with classism-discrimination based on perceived social class. I will sample the research, particularly focusing on measures of social class and effects of classism, class-related experiences and attitudes, class and the counselling alliance, and scholarship on working-class families and communication that supports an emerging understanding of class cultures. Finally, I will consider the implications for counselling practice, training, and research of an awareness of social class as systemic and cultural. My thesis is that counselling working-class people must move beyond a charitable desire to help disadvantaged individuals and incorporate a more nuanced understanding of class and classism, both our clients' and our own.


I want to contextualize my interest in this topic by situating myself in terms of social class. I was born into a very poor home in small-town Manitoba and raised among a large extended family of poor and Indigenous mixed-blood relatives. …

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