Counselor's Role as a Social Justice Advocate

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

In addition to treating mental health, counselors must be social justice advocates for their clients and communities. Learn the definition of social justice advocacy and the six ways that counselors can be social justice advocates.

What Is Social Justice?

Berta is a school counselor who notices that one little boy in kindergarten often wears the same clothes and appears unkempt and disheveled. This little boy is not one of Berta's child clients, but she feels pulled to intervene. Berta decides to make a house visit. She eventually discovers that this little boy's family has been homeless. Berta locates a housing shelter that accepts the family and will work with the mother in applying for employment. Berta is not just a school counselor; she is a social justice advocate.

Social justice contains two parts: one part is making sure that everyone in society has equal access to opportunities, rights and freedoms, and the second part is helping the disadvantaged people in society. Berta was participating in social justice advocacy, which is supporting a person or particular policy in ensuring social justice. She was a social justice advocate on an individual level, though counselors are encouraged to strive for social justice on a community and systematic level, as well.

Counselors find themselves as social justice advocates because many times mental health therapy is simply not enough. For example, an immigrant unemployed mother who can't afford medical insurance for her kids may be constantly worried and anxious that they will get hurt or need medical care. Simply treating this mother's anxiety is not enough; the counselor can also help her get linked to nonprofits or community medical resources to ease her worry as well.

Justice, fairness and equal opportunity are just a few concepts that encompass social justice.
Image of social justice

Influence Counselors Have on Social Justice

In advocating for social justice, counselors can help reverse individual and community biases and prejudices. Counselors can take a stand against intentional and unintentional oppression and discrimination of minority groups or anyone who is being treated unfairly. Counselors can help individuals gain the self-awareness needed for empowerment and positive social change.

Six Domains of Social Justice Advocacy

Most counselors enter their profession from a deep desire to help others overcome life's adversities. For this reason, they often enjoy opportunities where they can advocate for social justice. The reality is that counselors often find it hard to make time for social justice advocacy within their busy 8-sessions-a-day workday, but director of doctoral programs in the School of Counseling at Walden University, Carl Sheperis, urges counselors to think smaller. Even one small action towards social justice is better than nothing.

Following are the six domains that counselors can act as a social justice advocate:

Client Empowerment

Empowerment is the belief in one's ability to take action. Even though counselors often have the knowledge and resources to act on behalf of their client in advocacy, clients will only have their counselors temporarily. Therefore, empowering clients to be their own social justice advocate is imperative. Counselors can empower clients through education, identifying client strengths, teaching clients the value of positive thinking and self-talk, and teaching a client new skills, such as communication skills.

Client Advocacy

A counselor can advocate for their client with any entity that can assist their client. This can include agencies, organizations, community resources, healthcare systems, educational systems, etc. A counselor that schedules a meeting with a school teacher and principal of one of her child clients who is being bullied and discriminated against by peers at school. The counselor suggests rules or policies to use in the school to fight bullying/discrimination, as well as an incentive program that rewards prosocial behavior amongst students.

Community Collaboration

A counselor can also join forces with community leaders. A counselor who sees an increase in aggressive and violent behavior amongst her adolescent clientele may work with the community police force and other community leaders in arranging a parade and community BBQ for non violence. This event can help raise awareness for the need for non violence within that community. This is an example of a counselor as a community collaborator and social justice advocate.

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