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

Diagnosis and Social Justice Advocacy: Reconciling Tensions for Students and School Counsellors/Diagnostic et Plaidoyer Pour la Justice Sociale : Concilier Les Tensions Pour Les éTudiants et Les Conseillers Scolaires

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

Diagnosis and Social Justice Advocacy: Reconciling Tensions for Students and School Counsellors/Diagnostic et Plaidoyer Pour la Justice Sociale : Concilier Les Tensions Pour Les éTudiants et Les Conseillers Scolaires

Article excerpt

While prevalence data indicates that many Canadian children and adolescents experience mental health issues, few have their mental health needs met (Canadian Psychological Association, 2007; Waddell, Offord, Shepherd, Hua, & McEwan, 2002). As Kindergarten to Grade 12 schools are central to the daily lives of children and adolescents, there is a role for the school system in better addressing their mental health needs (Flett & Hewitt, 2013; Waddell, McEwan, Shepherd, Offord, & Hua, 2005; Waddell et ah, 2002). Much of the existing Canadian literature is written from the perspective of school psychologists with an assessment and diagnostic focus, but there remains a paucity of literature from a school counsellor perspective. The school psychologist perspective may be more readily represented given that the national Canadian Association of School Psychologists was founded in 1984 and publishes the Canadian Journal of School Psychology (Canadian Association of School Psychologists, n.d.). Conversely, the roles of Canadian school counsellors continue to be defined provincially and nationally, which limits the unified voice of the profession (Keats & Laitsch, 2010). This discussion focuses on how school counsellors can utilize the diagnostic system endorsed by school psychologists alongside other perspectives that may prove useful in supporting students with mental health concerns.

With the recent focus on social justice advocacy within the professions of counselling and education (Kennedy & Arthur, 2014; Shriberg, Wynne, Briggs, Bartucci, & Lombardo, 2011), school counsellors are positioned to consider how social justice advocacy presents possibilities for supporting the mental health of students. Layering social justice advocacy over the longstanding diagnostic system provides Canadian school counsellors with opportunities to better address the mental health needs of children and adolescents. However, combining the existing diagnostic system with social justice advocacy creates tensions for school counsellors and their clients. Diagnostic categories enable individual-level social justice by allowing students and families to access and navigate mental health services, while constraining systemic-level social justice activities that question the dominance of the diagnostic system (Speight & Vera, 2009; Strong, Gaete, Sametband, French, & Eeson, 2012; Williams & Greenleaf, 2012). The purpose of this article is to draw attention to tensions and possibilities between the perspectives of diagnosis and social justice advocacy, and to initiate discussion about reconciling tensions so they facilitate, rather than constrain, the mental health services offered in schools.

To begin, a brief overview of diagnosis and social justice advocacy is presented, focusing on how these perspectives shape the actions of school counsellors, the students and families they serve, and the educational system in which services are provided. Following is a discussion of the tensions that emerge for school counsellors and their clients when combining diagnosis with social justice advocacy. Through an examination of how the discourse of diagnosis and social justice advocacy enable and constrain certain actions, potential strategies emerge for school counsellors to reconcile these perspectives and to reprioritize systemic-level social justice advocacy. Rather than arguing for the primacy of one perspective, an integrative approach is emphasized that highlights the utility of social justice advocacy and the discourse of diagnosis.

THE DISCOURSE OF DIAGNOSIS

As a thorough discussion of the diagnostic system is beyond the scope of this article, the focus will be on aspects that are particularly relevant when considered alongside social justice advocacy. Consider Parker's (1990) definition of a discourse as a historically and culturally bound meaning-making system that positions people based on ways of being in the world. …

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