Counseling Today, Dignity, Development & Diversity

Love, hope, justice and multicultural counseling

Judy Daniels and Michael D’Andrea August 12, 2007

We begin the new year by focusing on several key concepts that underlie the multicultural counseling movement. Although the concepts of love, hope and justice are central to the work that culturally competent counselors do, these constructs are not always given the attention they deserve in counselor education training programs or at workshops presented at professional counseling conferences. With this in mind, we direct attention to the relevance of love, hope and justice for the multicultural counseling movement in general and the work that culturally competent counselors do in particular.

The meaning of love

In the 50-plus combined years that we have spent in the counseling profession, we can recall few times when the concept of love and its relevance to the work professional counselors do has been discussed in substantial ways in either counselor education training programs or professional workshops. This is particularly disconcerting from a multicultural perspective, especially given the important role love has played in the evolution of the multicultural counseling movement. 

The genesis of the multicultural counseling movement can be traced to the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s. That movement, of course, was greatly influenced by the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. It could be argued that one of King’s greatest contributions in shaping the civil rights movement was his call to promote a love ethic, which he asserted was vital to building a more just, sane and peaceful society. The goal, according to King, was to create a “beloved community” in which persons from diverse cultural, racial and ethnic groups and backgrounds could live and work together in dignity and peace.

In presenting his views about the need to build a beloved community in our nation and world, King described three kinds of love: eros (a sort of aesthetic or romantic love); philia (the sort of love that is expressed in affection among friends); and agape (a love based in a deep understanding and acceptance of the redeeming good will of all persons; an overflowing love that is purely spontaneous and creative). He emphasized that the quest to create a beloved community needed to be based in agape love. In writing about this point, he said, “Agape does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people. … It begins by loving others for their sakes … and makes no distinction between friend and enemy; it is directed toward both. … Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community.”    

The small group of Black counselors and psychologists who pioneered the multicultural counseling movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s were clearly impacted by the zeitgeist of those times, including the civil rights movement and King’s contributions to that historic phenomenon. This was reflected in how these pioneers confronted various forms of cultural and scientific racism and White supremacy that permeated counseling and psychotherapy theories and practices. Their efforts were driven largely by a deep and abiding love for their own racial-cultural group and their commitment to transforming the racial epistemological hegemony that characterized the fields of counseling and psychology.

These pioneers experienced intense resistance and disrespect from many White persons in these professions. However, their deep love for their work and their commitment to confronting injustices in the counseling profession resulted in the formation of new organizational entities (including the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development, formerly called the Association of Non-White Concerns, in the American Counseling Association) and numerous other changes. These initial efforts and the continuing expression of love and determination by hundreds of other multicultural allies culminated in a major professional outcome that is still transforming the field of counselor education and professional counseling practice in the United States.

Fueling love with hope

The power of love that underlies much of the work of multicultural counseling advocates is not based on a soft-hearted or sentimental love of the human family. Rather, it is based on the sort of tough-minded, determined agape love that King wrote about during his lifetime. A careful analysis of his writings reveals that this transformative love is fueled by a persistent belief and hope in people’s ability to create a more sane, just society.

This issue of hope is certainly central to the work counselors do with their clients. Without promoting and realizing a genuine sense for a hopeful tomorrow, counselors are unable to help clients access their own repository of psychological and spiritual resources when confronting serious personal life challenges. Promoting hope is a particularly important consideration when working with persons from marginalized groups whose visions of a better future have been clouded by the cataracts of oppression and injustice.

When working with these clients, culturally competent counselors do not offer false or superficial forms of hope. They understand that such efforts only work to antagonize persons who continue to be subjected to various forms of racism, sexism, classism, ableism, ageism, heterosexism or other forms of cultural oppression. These forms of injustice can effectively erode even the most resilient person’s sense of hope for a better future and their own unique human potential and beauty.

Instead, culturally competent counselors foster the empowerment of their clients by empathically addressing the totality of their clients’ lives. This involves:

  • Respectfully connecting with culturally diverse clients, helping them talk about their intrapsychic pain and assisting them in unraveling the confusion and frustrations that characterize their lives.
  • Providing opportunities for these clients to explore the adverse impact of toxic interpersonal-environmental-contextual factors that undermine their sense of hopefulness and well-being. In doing so, culturally competent counselors often find themselves utilizing many of the multicultural and social justice advocacy competencies that ACA formally endorsed in 2003. 

Fostering justice with courage and struggle

Increasing numbers of counselors are coming to more fully appreciate how such advocacy services result in more substantial, positive and lasting psychological and developmental outcomes among clients from diverse groups and backgrounds. The increasing number of culturally competent counselors interested in understanding how they can further promote these helping outcomes soon recognize that they must be willing to engage in various social justice struggles in the communities where they live and work. 

This understanding comes from important new insights about the connection between using agape love and the importance of promoting clients’ hope for a better future as they implement a broad range of social justice advocacy services. Members of ACA have acknowledged the importance of training counselors to become more effective social justice advocates. This was manifested in the establishment of the Counselors for Social Justice division several years ago and the work that many CSJ members did to secure formal endorsement of the advocacy competencies in ACA in 2003. Interested readers can learn more about the advocacy competencies by going to the ACA website at www.counseling.org.

Although there is growing interest in the important role counselors can play as social justice advocates, it is important to point out that this sort of work is wrought with unique challenges. These challenges include displaying the courage required to engage in various social and political struggles that are necessary to help build more just, democratic, empowering and sane schools, universities, human service agencies and communities. Such struggles also require the sort of agape love and genuine hope that will sustain counselors in times when they are subjected to various dangers. This might include withstanding professional and personal danger resulting from different types of backlash. This backlash reflects other people’s desire to maintain a status quo that is not always just or fair for many people from diverse cultural and racial groups in our society.

James McWhirter, a longtime leader in ACA and a professor at Arizona State University, commented on the linkages that exist between many of the ideas presented in this column. This includes addressing the need for counselors to maintain their own hope in promoting justice by engaging in different types of struggles. As McWhirter states, “For hope to work, it needs to walk along with truth, fairness and, far too often, struggle. And in this struggle, all of us benefit. I believe the world is a little bit better today because of your struggle.”

As we begin the new year, we hope you will join us in reflecting on the importance of communicating a genuine sense of love for our clients as we strive to assist them in realizing new dimensions of hope that will sustain and revitalize them during challenging times. To those counselors genuinely committed to promoting multicultural competence and social justice advocacy, let us also commit ourselves to drawing upon our individual and collective courage as we continue the struggle to promote love, hope and human dignity and development through diversity throughout the year.