Social Justice Counseling: Toward the Development of a Fifth Force among Counseling Paradigms

By Ratts, Manivong J. | Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Social Justice Counseling: Toward the Development of a Fifth Force among Counseling Paradigms


Ratts, Manivong J., Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development


A case is made to consider social justice as a fifth force complementary to the psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral, existential-humanistic, and multicultural forces in counseling. This article explores how social justice is shifting the counseling paradigm and how the ACA (American Counseling Association) Advocacy Competencies (J. A. Lewis, M. S. Arnold, R. House, & R. L. Toporek, 2002) complement this movement. Implications are also discussed.

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The counseling profession is in the midst of a transformation. Specifically, there is a growing movement within the profession calling on counselors to return to their roots by infusing a social justice perspective into counseling theories, paradigms, and practices (Toporek, Gerstein, Fouad, Roysircar, & Israel, 2006). A social justice perspective in counseling acknowledges issues of power, privilege, and oppression (Fouad, Gerstein, & Toporek, 2006). Moreover, a social justice counseling approach uses social advocacy and activism as a means to address inequitable social, political, and economic conditions that impede on the academic, career, and personal/social development of individuals, families, and communities. The belief is that social advocacy is a necessary step to address issues of equity for those who have been marginalized in society. This is a position that aligns with the American Counseling Association's (ACA; 2005) ACA Code of Ethics, which states in Section A.6.a., "when appropriate, counselors advocate at the individual, group, institutional, and societal levels to examine potential barriers and obstacles that inhibit access and/or the growth and development of clients" (p. 5).

The need to make social justice a clearer presence in the field is primarily fueled by forces such as the continued marginalization of those who live on the fringes of society (L. Smith, Baluch, Bernabei, Robohm, & Sheehy, 2003); the growing awareness that well-intentioned counselors are not adequately drawing the connection between oppression and mental health issues (Jacobs, 1994); and the increasing realization that counseling paradigms, which focus solely on the individual without regard for environmental factors, may be limiting (Prilleltensky, 1994). These concerns have led to calls to expand the counselor role to include social justice advocacy (Fouad et al., 2006; Lee & Hipolito-Delgado, 2007).

The resurgence of a social justice counseling perspective led Ratts, D'Andrea, and Arredondo (2004) to refer to the profession's attempt to return to its roots as a fifth force in the field. Based on this perspective, social justice counseling follows the psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral, existential-humanistic, and multicultural counseling forces that exist in the profession. Other scholars have also followed suit indicating that social justice counseling is a reemerging force that is shaping how human behavior is explained and the ways in which counseling is currently being practiced (Fouad et al., 2006; Goodman et al., 2004; Lee, 2007).

Labeling social justice as a fifth force is not a position shared by everyone. For example, S. D. Smith, Reynolds, and Rovnak (2009) suggested that the social justice counseling movement should be viewed as a "recurring wave" (p. 484) because the concepts are not new. S. D. Smith et al. further added that this movement needs to be grounded in more research if it is to gain credibility in the field. I concur. Social justice has been a part of the counseling profession since its inception, and more research needs to be conducted to determine best practices. However, classifying social justice as a fifth force is not suggesting that it is a new concept. Rather, it has more to do with acknowledging how the social justice perspective has matured since its infancy in the early 1900s. Moreover, it is about recognizing the depth, breadth, and widespread impact the social justice perspective is currently having on the counseling profession. …

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