Tag Archives: Social Justice

Social Justice

The use of evidence-based practices with oppressed populations

By Geri Miller, Glenda S. Johnson, Mx. Tuesday Feral, William Luckett, Kelsey Fish and Madison Ericksen December 3, 2018

Therapy must always be tailored to the individual; there is no one-size-fits-all model. However, certain approaches have been empirically verified for use with a variety of clientele. It is critical that all counselors, especially those working with client populations that are oppressed, have both an overview of evidence-based practices and specific techniques related to these approaches in their clinical toolboxes to help them provide the best counseling services possible.

Counselors are frequently required to use evidence-based practices and need to know how to use them effectively in counseling clients who are oppressed. Specifically, the unique development of the therapeutic relationship between oppressed clients and privileged clinicians must be understood and addressed. Multicultural counseling experts Derald Wing Sue and David Sue maintain that the dynamics of oppression shift the influence of the therapeutic relationship. Thus, counselors must alter their application of evidence-based practice techniques.

Solution-focused brief therapy and low socioeconomic status

Take a moment to think about what the basic needs of your own life are. What is impossible for you to live without? For many of us, our basic needs are continually met. Therefore, they often go unnoticed — they are woven into our everyday lives and ways of being in the world.

For others, questions such as “Will I eat today?” or “Will I have a safe and warm place to sleep tonight?” are asked daily. Often, the answer is “no.” Concerns such as clean drinking water, access to hygiene products and finding adequate shelter affect an inordinate number of individuals in the United States. School counselors and licensed professional counselors have a moral and ethical obligation to address these matters, with the intention of removing barriers and cultivating a safe space for clients in both the therapeutic relationship and the environment beyond our office walls.

Glenda Johnson (one of the co-authors of this article) worked as a school counselor and an advocate in a school system in which the majority of students came from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds. Many of the students were on free or reduced lunch plans because their families’ financial resources were severely limited. At the core of Johnson’s work was the intent to ensure that every child’s basic needs were met while they were at school. She emphasized the importance of working collaboratively with other school staff members to build a team and a foundation for connecting these students and their families to resources.

It is also vital to assess an individual’s behaviors, emotions and reactions through a holistic, biopsychosocial approach rather than focusing only on the school context. Learned behavior concerns, inattention, difficulty with emotion regulation (anger), sadness and loss of hope are often the result of a lack of resources. Johnson recalls that if a student acted out, one of her first questions would be, “Did you have breakfast this morning?”

Johnson shares an anecdote that highlights the powerful act of providing a safe, therapeutic space for students to identify and voice their emotions openly with peers. As a school counselor, she infused the identification of various emotions into a game of musical chairs, and what transpired was completely unexpected. A student identified a “sad” emotion and explained that their father recently had lost his job. The student was experiencing fear about not having enough food to eat during this time. Then, other students began to share similar stories without prompting. The game of musical chairs transformed into a collaborative and touching experience as the students identified common ground and connected on deeper levels of understanding and empathy.

When providing services to individuals from a low SES, counselors may find it helpful to use a strengths-based therapeutic approach. The evidence-based practice of solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) zeros in on the therapeutic relationship and the clinician’s way of being. In this relationship, there is an acknowledgment of reality but also an emphasis on solution-focused thought and reframing. Focusing on strengths, the counselor and client work together to identify and move toward making small changes in any area because a small change in one area often leads to change in another area.

SFBT often introduces the “miracle” question: “Suppose that when you go to sleep tonight, a miracle occurs that solves your problem, but because you were sleeping, you did not realize what happened. When you wake up in the morning, how will you realize a miracle happened? What will you notice that you are doing differently?” These questions enhance and expose glimpses of solutions that an individual may struggle to identify in everyday life situations.

Additionally, SFBT places great value on successes. The counselor and client celebrate achievement and may use scaling to note the client’s progress. When working in a school system, the counselor could develop a creative and motivating way for children to rate themselves and their progress toward goals. For example, Johnson created a rating scale, complemented by the colors green, yellow and red, for kindergartners and first-graders. Green identified a completed goal, yellow identified progress toward a goal and red identified room for improvement. Similarly, she used a rating scale of 1-5 for students in second through fourth grades. Under this scenario, a student could check in with a rating, such as, “I am at a 3 and working toward a 5.” The counselor might respond, “What would it take to get to a 3.5?” The scale provided a visual for children to identify, track and celebrate their successes.

In SFBT, the counselor acknowledges client strengths and walks alongside these clients as they create and work toward their goals and future successes. “Flagging the minefield” is another technique counselors can introduce to help clients generalize and apply what they learn in counseling to future situations. Flagging the minefield is a particularly important facet of SFBT because it assists individuals in recognizing potential obstacles or barriers that will appear in their lives. The counselor and client work together to identify tools and resources the client can apply in other settings and relationships.

When working with students living in poverty, counselors should introduce a strengths-based approach and identify and gather resources to assist students and their families in removing barriers and meeting basic needs. Cultivating a safe, therapeutic relationship with students that focuses on solution building can assist them in building a stronger sense of self.

Motivational interviewing, SFBT and rural adolescent substance abusers

Adolescence is a vulnerable time and a critical period for developmental outcomes. During this stage of life, adolescents are exploring and forming their peer relationships and personal identities while beginning to distance themselves from family. Experimentation with substances often begins during this time. In 2012, Tara Carney and Bronwyn Myers found a correlation between the early onset of substance use and an elevated risk for later development of substance use disorders. Additionally, because early substance use may impact the growth of the adolescent brain, it has the potential to heighten one’s risk for delayed social and academic development.

Adolescents living in rural areas are marginalized in multiple ways. Children are an underserved minority population, as are rural populations. Sheryl Kataoka, Lilly Zhang and Kenneth Wells (2002) found that among youth with a recognized mental health need (estimated at 10 million to 15 million people), only 20-30 percent receive specialized mental health care. Rural communities are more likely to have fewer clinicians or require a long drive to see those clinicians, making it more difficult to obtain care. These disadvantages are exacerbated by the tumultuous nature of adolescence.

Motivational interviewing and brief interventions are two evidence-based practices particularly suited to this population because these approaches are generally influential in their therapeutic role while also being cost-effective. Motivational interviewing facilitates behavior change through exploration and resolution of ambivalence, and it focuses on being optimistic, hopeful and strengths-based. It uses principles of empathy, discrepancy, self-efficacy and resistance, and offers specific techniques such as OARS (Open questions, Affirmations, Reflective listening, Summarizing). SFBT emphasizes solutions, changes clients’ perceptions and behaviors, helps clients access their strengths and uses techniques such as exception to the problem, specification of goals and the miracle question.

Individual interventions with the use of the same interventions for multiple sessions are ideal, and research suggests that the earlier the intervention, the better the outcome. Early intervention shows better results than both preventive measures and later interventions because it reduces the need for more specialized interventions and provides applicable and useful tools and tactics for adolescents as they enter into various student, peer, familial and professional roles.

Challenges certainly exist when working with children and adolescents, particularly because many biological, environmental and social shifts occur organically during this time. As children and adolescents rapidly transition on a continuum of development, they become “moving targets.” Interventions that prove effective for those ages 11-12 often cease to be effective by ages 13 or 14. It is vital that counselors remain aware of this across the life span. Although adolescents are beginning to distance themselves from their caregivers, familial relationships and parental involvement remain crucial during this period.

To appropriately and competently involve the families of rural adolescents, some understanding of cultural values is necessary. In 2005, Susan Keefe and Susie Greene identified core Appalachian values, including egalitarianism, personalism, familism, a religious worldview, a strong sense of place and the avoidance of conflict. In the Appalachian region, assuming authority without demonstrating an authoritarian attitude is important. Language tends to be simple, direct, honest and straightforward. Family is extremely important, exemplified by the adage “blood is thicker than water.” Individuals’ relationship to the land is complex, and it can be beneficial to explore how clients view economic deprivation. In 2016, Sue and Sue also pinpointed some tendencies of rural clients, including having a “street-smart” attitude and way of being, depending on systems due to living in poverty and valuing survival at all costs.

As a result, subtle techniques such as stages of change, motivational interviewing and SFBT may be useful for this population. In stages of change, the intervention is matched to the stage of the client’s readiness to change (precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, termination). Motivational interviewing facilitates an invitation to engage, and its strengths-based, hopeful tone can be helpful for clients living in an environment populated by deficits such as poverty and lack of education. The practical nature of brief therapy fits well with the no-nonsense worldview of clients coming from rural backgrounds.

Unfortunately, published rural studies often focus on specific regions or populations. Few interventions have been tested in rural settings, and the evidence from systematic reviews is often too general and not specific to the rural context. Ideally, rural communities could review interventions tested with various target populations in a range of settings. Such information is not usually available, however, and the strength of evidence is unlikely to be the only factor considered in choosing an intervention. The research on rural adolescent populations is limited, and little consistency exists across studies related to measurement tools. Furthermore, disseminating evidence-based practices to schools, families and community settings in rural areas is difficult due to the lack of resources.

However, it is important to note that there have been great improvements in substance abuse treatment and prevention with children and adolescents who live in rural areas. A 2016 Monitoring the Future survey of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found the lowest ever reported rates of use for all illicit drugs, including alcohol, marijuana and nicotine. As further research is conducted, it will be important to delve into this information to identify what is already working with these individuals and what can be improved to better serve them moving forward.

Evidence-based practices with transgender clients

Transgender individuals face discrimination on multiple fronts. Many experience familial rejection, unequal treatment, harassment and physical violence during daily living. The rate of substance abuse within the transgender community is three times higher than that of the general population. There is a profound lack of competent health care for transgender individuals, and the care that is available may be inaccessible to a majority of the transgender population. The rate of unemployment within the transgender community is also three times greater than that of the general population, due in part to factors such as workplace discrimination, poverty and homelessness. Transgender people also face discrimination and mistreatment in shelters.

With high rates of homelessness, substance abuse and mistreatment, transgender people also have frequent interactions with law enforcement, where they can be subject to police brutality and discrimination. Within the criminal justice system, a high rate of physical and sexual assault is perpetrated against transgender individuals, and they are often denied medical treatment while incarcerated or detained.

Poor health outcomes for transgender people correlate with risk factors such as economic and housing instability, lower educational attainment, lack of family support and other intersectional factors such as race, ethnicity, immigration status and ability.

According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 18 percent of transgender people who sought mental health services experienced a mental health professional attempt to stop them from being transgender. This correlated with higher rates of serious psychological distress and suicide attempts and an increased likelihood of running away from home, homelessness and engaging in sex work.

Research conducted in 2015 by Samantha Pflum et al. emphasized the lack of access to transgender-affirming resources and communities for individuals living in rural locations. The history of mistreatment and abuse of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender-nonconforming clients by medical and mental health professionals must be acknowledged. Gender and sexual minority clients still face discrimination within the helping professions, and for individuals holding multiple marginalized identities, these experiences are compounded.

Even well-meaning providers are likely to make mistakes when working with marginalized clients. According to Lauren Mizock and Christine Lundquist, one of these mistakes is education burdening, or relying on the client to educate the provider about transgender culture or the general transgender experience. Resources exist to facilitate competence in these areas, and clinicians have a responsibility to refrain from placing the burden of their education on the client.

Some counselors participate in gender inflation, or focusing on the client’s gender to the exclusion of other important factors. Other counselors engage in gender narrowing, applying restrictive, preconceived ideas about gender to the client, or gender avoidance, which involves ignoring issues of gender altogether. Gender generalizing occurs when a clinician assumes that all transgender clients are similar. Gender repairing operates from a belief that a transgender identity is a problem to be “fixed.” Gender pathologizing involves viewing transgender identity as a mental illness or as the cause of the client’s issues. Finally, gatekeeping occurs when a provider controls client access to gender-affirming resources.

Acceptance of a client’s gender identity is ultimately not enough to provide competent, affirmative services. Understanding the nuances of these common mistakes will help clinicians provide a safe therapeutic environment that is affirming of these clients’ identity and humanity.

The Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues in Counseling (ALGBTIC), a division of the American Counseling Association, has developed competencies for counseling transgender clients (see counseling.org/knowledge-center/competencies) that focus on the following eight domains:

  • Human growth and development
  • Social and cultural foundations
  • Helping relationships
  • Group work
  • Professional orientation
  • Career and lifestyle development competencies
  • Appraisal
  • Research

Counselors can work within this framework to:

  • Promote resilience by using theoretical approaches grounded in resilience and wellness
  • Conceptualize the development of a transgender individual across the life span
  • Understand internal and external factors influencing identity development
  • Consider how identity interacts with systems of power and oppression (especially for minority transgender individuals)
  • Examine counselors’ own internalized beliefs and how those beliefs affect attitudes toward transgender clients
  • Reevaluate approaches to working with transgender clients as new research emerges

One intervention that has been identified for use with this population by Ashley Austin and Shelley Craig is transgender-affirmative cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). Transgender-affirmative CBT modifies CBT interventions to address specific minority stressors, such as victimization, harassment, violence, discrimination and microaggressions, that transgender people commonly face. This approach uses psychoeducation to help clients understand the connections between transphobic experiences and mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, depression, hopelessness and suicidality. Experiences are processed through a minority stress lens to help clients move from a pathologizing-of-self mindset to an affirming view of themselves as people coping with complex circumstances.

Clinicians are advised to affirm the existence of discrimination and to help these clients identify influences on their mental health by using the transgender discrimination inverted pyramid (see below). 

Transgender individuals internalize messages at each level, and it can be beneficial to have a visual for how these messages trickle down and influence mental health. Clinicians can empower transgender clients by assisting them in challenging internal and societal transphobic barriers. A few examples are challenging negative self-beliefs, connecting with a supportive community and advocating for self and community.

Another approach recommended for use with transgender clients by Joseph Avera et al. in 2015 is the Indivisible Self model, an Adlerian wellness model refined by Jane Myers and Thomas Sweeney that emphasizes strengths. There are five wellness factors of self in this model:

  • Creative Self: Cognitions, emotions, humor and work
  • Coping Self: Stress management, self-worth, realistic beliefs and leisure
  • Social Self: Friends, family and love)
  • Essential Self: Spirituality, self-care, gender identity and cultural identity
  • Physical Self: Physical and nutritional wellness

This model easily can be adapted to a transgender-specific lens, especially regarding the Essential Self, by exploring gender and cultural identity and how they influence client experiences and beliefs. Used in conjunction with the ALGBTIC transgender competencies, the Indivisible Self model offers helping professionals both a conceptual and practical framework for working effectively with transgender clients.

For all clients, and transgender clients in particular, intersectional factors magnify the experience of oppression. Sand Chang and Anneliese Singh recommend addressing the intersectionality of race/ethnicity and gender identity for both clients and clinicians. This involves:

  • Challenging assumptions about the experiences of transgender and gender-nonconforming people of color
  • Building rapport and acknowledging differences within the therapeutic dyad
  • Assessing client strengths and resilience in navigating multiple oppressions
  • Providing a variety of resources that are affirming to transgender and gender-nonconforming people of color

In addition, assisting clients in locating social support is advised. Social support increases healthy coping mechanisms and helps with self-acceptance, thereby reducing psychological stress related to discrimination. Social support can also help to normalize and validate emotions related to discrimination.

Conclusion

Evidence-based practices have consistently been shown to be helpful to clients, but counselors must remember that they operate within the context of a relationship. To use evidence-based practices effectively, we must hold on to our humanness. The implementation of a single technique will look very different depending on who is in the room and what they are bringing with them.

Often, the expectations for using evidence-based practices might create pressure for counselors to follow a strict formula for treatment. Process variables such as honoring the personal relationship between the counselor and the client, maintaining a “therapist’s heart” and respecting the unique aspects of the client may seem to be at odds with the procedure for using a specific intervention. A working knowledge of multicultural issues can provide some context for how to shift evidence-based practices to fit the client rather than pressuring the client to conform to a prescribed, generalized format.

Using interventions with a solid evidence base is good practice. Adjusting their implementation on the basis of the unique identity of the person sitting across from us is great practice.

 

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Knowledge Share articles are developed from sessions presented at American Counseling Association conferences.

Geri Miller is a professor in the Department of Human Development and Psychological Counseling (clinical mental health counseling track) at Appalachian State University (ASU) in North Carolina. She is a licensed professional counselor, licensed psychologist, licensed clinical addictions specialist and substance abuse professional practice board certified clinical supervisor. She has been a volunteer counselor at a local health department since the early 1990s. Her clientele has primarily consisted of women with little opportunity for jobs or education and who experience barriers of poverty. Contact her at millerga@appstate.edu.

Glenda S. Johnson is an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Psychological Counseling (school counseling program) at ASU. She is a licensed professional counselor and a licensed school counselor in North Carolina. Her scholarly focus includes school counselors delivering comprehensive school counseling programs, students who are at risk of dropping out of high school and the mentoring of new counseling professionals.

Mx. Tuesday Feral received their master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling and a certificate in systematic multicultural counseling from ASU. They are the support programs director for Tranzmission, a nonprofit organization serving the Western North Carolina nonbinary and transgender community through education, advocacy and support services. Tuesday offers training and workshops in trans cultural competence and cultural humility on local, state and national levels.

William Luckett received his master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from ASU with a certificate in addictions counseling. He has interests in somatic therapy approaches, mindfulness, religious and spiritual topics in counseling, and substance abuse counseling. He currently provides in-home counseling to rural families in Virginia.

Kelsey Fish is a student in ASU’s clinical mental health counseling program and a clinical intern with Daymark Recovery Services in rural Appalachia. Her clinical interests include expressive arts therapy, adolescents, and gender and sexual minority issues.

Madison Ericksen is a graduate of the clinical mental health counseling program at ASU. She has specialized training and interest in trauma-informed practices that use mindfulness, eco-based and expressive art therapies as complementary treatments alongside traditional therapy. She provides strengths-based and resiliency-focused outpatient counseling for children and families.

 

Letters to the editor:  ct@counseling.org

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

 

The social justice of adoption

By Laurel Shaler June 18, 2018

The adoption journey is not an easy one. After three years and nine months of active pursuit, my husband and I finalized our adoption on Nov. 29, 2017. Through this process, I learned a great deal that has helped me grow as a counselor educator and supervisor. For example, I learned the benefits of being a part of a support group after involvement in several different adoption support groups. Although I have always valued such groups, and facilitated many, the personal experience of being a participant deepened my appreciation of their benefits.

I was also greatly reminded of the beauty and benefit of empathy. When those who supported us during our adoption process were able to put themselves in our place to the point of weeping with us (rather than for us), it was deeply meaningful. We talk and teach empathy as counseling professionals, but when we experience the other side of it, it allows us to more richly understand this critical component of counseling.

But what I learned more than anything is the many aspects of social justice involved in adoption. Merriam-Webster defines this term as meaning “a state or doctrine of egalitarianism.” We wouldn’t accept Wikipedia as a scholarly resource on a research paper, but the way the website expands on the definition of social justice resonates with me: “a concept of fair and just relations between the individual and society.”

So, what does social justice have to do with adoption? Let’s take a brief look at the social justice for the birth parent(s), the adoptive parent(s) and the adopted child(ren).

1) Justice for the birth parent(s). There are at least two categories of birth or biological parents in the adoption process — those who choose to place a child for adoption and those who have their children removed from their care. In both instances, these children should be treated fairly.

For those who have children taken from their home, there is due process that government agencies must abide by. These parents have rights that should be respected.

Likewise, those who are choosing to place a child for adoption have rights. They should be fully informed about the adoption process and should be offered counseling to address the possible short- and long-term impacts. As a matter of social justice, they should be treated as equals — they are still parents who made a plan for their children out of love. This is also the motivation for the adoptive parent(s).

2) Justice for the adoptive parent(s). During the adoption process, adoptive parents should be treated with compassion and empathy. After the adoption is finalized, the adoptive parents should be treated like the parents they are. The word “adoptive” can and should be dropped. The adoption was an action that is now completed.

That certainly doesn’t mean that we should hide or be ashamed of the fact that the child was adopted. Rather, it is something to be celebrated. However, those who are raising children they have adopted should be treated as equal to parents who are raising biological children. Remember, social justice has to do with a fair relationship between individuals and society. This should also be explored for the children who have been adopted.

3) Justice for the adopted child(ren). Children who have been adopted are not adopted by their own choice. Rather, they are adopted because of someone else’s choices. Sometimes those decisions are good (such as the birth mother who recognizes that she is not capable of adequately raising a child, even with significant assistance, and makes an adoption plan). Sometimes those decisions are poor (such as the birth parent who abuses or neglects a child and is not able to meet the requirements to improve his or her parenting skills or meet the needs of the child.)

Regardless, the child who is adopted should be treated like every other child — just as precious and just as wanted. These children should also be provided the opportunity to receive as much information about their backgrounds as is age appropriate, depending on their ability to process and cope with the information.

Additionally, they should be offered counseling if the need should arise. We should not talk about children who have been adopted, but rather to them. Their right to privacy should be respected not only by the helping professionals in their lives, but by everyone who knows about their story. This is a fair relationship between these individuals and society.

 

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, approximately 120,000 children are adopted each year in the United States. Therefore, counselors are sure to encounter individuals who have placed their children for adoption, who have been adopted or who have adopted children in the past. It is important for counselors to understand each of these three components — these human beings — as we work with them. We can learn a lot about social justice by looking at their experiences.

 

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A national certified counselor and licensed social worker, Laurel Shaler is an associate professor at Liberty University, where she serves as the director of the Master of Arts in professional counseling program. Additionally, she writes and speaks on the intersection of faith, culture and emotional well-being. She is the author of Reclaiming Sanity: Hope and Healing for Trauma, Stress and Overwhelming Life Events. Her next book, Relational Reset: Breaking the Habits that Hold You Back, will be released in 2019. Contact her at drlaurelshaler.com.

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Self-care for the activist counselor

By Shekila Melchior and Dannette Gomez Beane June 4, 2018

An activist is a person who campaigns and takes action for social change. Counselors are often activists for their clients and for their profession by nature of being in a helping field.

The issue of self-care looms for both counselor practitioners and counselor educators as we face difficult client issues, large caseloads and demanding work environments. The need for self-care only intensifies when societal issues grow more divisive and combative, as we have experienced over the past year or more. Contentious social movements and issues such as #BlackLivesMatter and immigration can have an impact on the climate of care we provide as counselors for our clients and for the communities in which we live.

A tale of two doctoral students

Being a doctoral counseling student is stressful. Being a doctoral counseling student whose research is directly affected by the social movements and climate of the nation is even more stressful.

Shekila’s journey

When I (Shekila Melchior) chose my dissertation topic, “The Social Justice Identity Development of School Counselors Who Advocate for Undocumented Students,” in spring 2016, I had no idea what lay ahead. At the time of my data collection, a heated and divisive presidential election was unfolding in which the issue of undocumented immigration had turned into a political platform. The United States was inundated with xenophobic remarks, anti-immigrant rhetoric and the proposition of erecting physical structures to prevent individuals from entering the country.

On Election Day, concern turned to fear for many people who were confronted with the harsh reality of an unstable future — namely, that their ability to continue residing in the United States was in peril. After the election of President Donald Trump, I questioned whether anyone would participate in my research interviews regarding undocumented students. The climate in our country had changed, but my timeline for defending my research had not.

As an advocate, I was flooded with messages about protest marches and prompting me to write to Congress and participate in meetings to educate others. As a friend, I listened to the concerns of those closest to me who were fearful of deportation and of the possible termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, implemented by the Obama administration to provide temporary protections to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children. As a researcher, I encountered participants who were concerned for their students and eager for their voices — and the voices of their students — to be heard.

Dannette’s journey

When I (Dannette Gomez Beane) chose my dissertation topic, “Virginia Counselors’ Engagement With Social Issues Advocacy for Black/African American Clients/Students” in spring 2017, I never could have predicted what would occur that fall. During the time that I was engaged in my data collection, the white supremacist rallies that ended in violence and death in Charlottesville, Virginia, transpired. The topic of race relations was suddenly on everyone’s mind, but especially mine as my dissertation clock ticked.

I had difficulty telling people about my research. People didn’t understand why we were always talking about race. People found it even more bizarre that, as a Latina, I had chosen a topic that concerned African Americans. My reasons for picking the topic had everything to do with the revolving door of students in my office who could not attend class, turn in assignments or even talk to their friends because they felt so debilitated from what was going on around them. I just kept thinking, “What can I do to help? What are counselors in my state doing to help these students?”

Responses and critical incidents

We (Shekila and Dannette) processed our own personal reactions to these events. The issues that arose during the writing of our dissertations served as motivation to complete our research. Although both of us feared the worst, we hoped for the best as our research progressed. Our fear was that what was occurring nationally and regionally would silence the participation of counselors, causing them to retreat to neutrality out of a concern of responding in a socially undesirable way. Our hope was that counselors would rise to the occasion and speak on behalf of those marginalized populations that needed advocacy. Ultimately, both of us were successful in our data collection, and the respondents to our studies commented with expressions of concern for themselves and their clients/students.

One counselor who responded to Dannette’s study said, “I work in a rural county in the South and have about 20 percent of my population that is African American. I also work in a system very close to Charlottesville. We always have race issues.”

A participant in Shekila’s study shared the frustrations of their students. The participant recalled a time when one of their students wore a T-shirt that said “Relax Trump, I’m Legal.” Another participant who was a DACA recipient was concerned that he might no longer be able to work with his students if DACA were repealed.

The “critical incident” experienced by the advocate begins a process of cognitive dissonance, a “waking up.” According to Leon Festinger’s theory, when individuals experience cognitive dissonance, it changes the core of what they believe, leading them to wrestle with new information in light of things they have previously understood (for more, see Paul C. Gorski’s article “Cognitive dissonance as a strategy in social justice training” in the Fall 2009 issue of Multicultural Education). Thus, advocates begin to recognize the shift within themselves as it relates to a social issue.

Encountering an undocumented student as a high school counselor served as my (Shekila’s) critical incident. In that moment, I felt helpless and uninformed, but through that critical incident, I began my research, which later propelled me to a place of advocacy.

One of my research participants made a statement about how activist counselors develop: “I think that over time, because of my being sensitive to some of their [undocumented students’] struggles and just seeing the human side to their stories … there’s stuff that you don’t learn being in the counseling program. It’s like baptism by fire with that. It’s not something that I can teach. You can’t teach people to be empathetic like that. You can certainly tell them this is how you go about it, but you either have that or you don’t have that. You may be able to awaken something in someone with it, but if it’s not there, it’s not there.”

Dannette’s research is informed by racial identity development theory, with “encounter” being a stage in which a person is faced with the realization that race matters. Counselors who experience these “critical” or “encounter” moments are undeterred from participating with and advocating for others. On the other hand, counselors who have not experienced such a profound incident may not be as moved to engage in social issues advocacy.

As one of Dannette’s study respondents shared, “During an incident that occurred last year at my school when a black/African American student was suspended, I was told by my admin to stay out of it. I felt strongly that the way it was handled was discrimination, and [I] was very disturbed. I was able to discuss the incident with the parent in private and give [her] tools to help advocate for her son. She was also upset because of the way it was managed. I was not able to get into it too deeply with the parent because I felt my job was in jeopardy. However, I was able to encourage her to take it further and add insight into the best way to do so.”

The adversity we face in our work, school and personal lives for participating in social issues advocacy is heightened when incidents occur that feed the political divisiveness. The emotional toil that advocating takes on the activist counselor can be daunting. The work is ever-changing and never-ending. The activist counselor strives to always be informed and to inform others. The greater the degree of political divisiveness, the more strain it can take on the activist counselor. Compassion fatigue can set in, which brings us to self-care.

Avoid, engage, deflect

How can we seek and find comfort, understanding and care when we make our living and have developed our identities as activist counselors? Speaking as the authors of this article, we rely on peer support, faculty advisers, family members, friends and faith communities. At times, however, these normal sources of support and encouragement do not align with the activist mentality; in fact, they sometimes choose to remain neutral or even work against the advocacy. In such cases, activist counselors are left to do one of the following: avoid, engage or deflect.

Note: We (the authors) avoid going to social media for support because we find that causes another layer of stress that will not be addressed in this article.

Avoidance

Our identity as activist counselors is hard to shut off. Some would argue that it never shuts off. Avoiding times when our “buttons are pushed” is a skill that takes practice. The benefit to avoiding adversarial opinions is that of self-preservation. We sometimes “pick our battles” when engaging in dialogue and try to focus on the outcome of peace if avoidance is the best decision. The risk is that we miss a teachable moment or fail to use our place of privilege to educate others.

Engagement

As activist counselors, we are good at compartmentalizing our needs and views for the well-being of others, but when it comes to standing up for what we believe in outside of the therapeutic relationship, we typically take the opportunity to engage.

We often encourage our clients to engage with conflict because it is a practice that almost always results in growth and stretching. Engaging with conflict is natural for counselors who help others to face their fears, practice change and reframe ideologies. The benefit of engaging with adversarial views is that dialogue can emerge, allowing opportunities to increase understanding of and empathy for the other’s view. The risk of this engagement is that the dialogue might turn into an argument, with one-sided views and the shutting down of a topic or, worse, a relationship. As counselors, we are trained to de-escalate these types of heated situations, finding ways to redirect or, in some instances, deflect.

Deflection

Here it comes. You have no time to avoid or engage. A person in your life just dropped a statement that goes against your activist counselor mindset and identity. You know what this sounds like. It is a statement such as “I don’t see _____. All people are the same in my eyes” or “Those people need to ______.” You are left to react without warning.

One approach, especially when caught off guard, is to deflect. The risk in deflecting is that we may seem like we are not paying attention to what the person is saying because we choose to change the topic. This could cause suspicion or hurt if the person is hoping for our engagement in this topic. The benefit is that we do not engage in what could be a relationship-ending conversation depending on the situation.

Recharging the activist self

Avoidance, engagement and deflection are just three examples of ways to approach our daily walk as activist counselors. Counselors regularly encounter situations that must be navigated carefully, and there is no judgment in using any of these three approaches.

As activist counselors, we are hard-wired to serve. But we cannot continue to serve well unless we are diligent in practicing self-care. In this context, self-care does not mean going to the local spa (although we all need that kind of treatment every once in a while). Self-care means filling our cups back up when we are feeling low. Here are some strategies that we have found helpful in recharging our activist selves.

1) Reflect often: We must ask ourselves, why do we do what we do? Reflection is a key component to self-actualization and bringing meaning to our work. Through reflection, we can be in a constant state of improvement. We become more aware, become more open-minded, more readily recognize our own biases and work toward personal growth and change. Reflection enables counselors to grow in both empathy and connection to others.

2) Remain informed: Activist counselors must stay informed of real stories and real facts so they can remain rooted in the truths of people’s experiences rather than getting caught up in the media spin. Counselors must also stay up-to-date with evolving issues as they become more complex. It is imperative for counselors to see events from all angles and to seek out the voices that have been silenced.

3) Give voice to the voiceless: That brings us to using our power for good. As counselors, we hold a position of authority with the clients and students we serve. In addition, our education provides us with privilege that can be used to give voice to those who have been silenced, including individuals who are struggling to enjoy basic freedoms in this country. Our voices are needed. Our voices should be heard.

As counselors, we are always to remember beneficence — to do good and to promote the well-being of others. This is our strength in the counseling relationship. As activist counselors, we must also recognize when rest is needed and when we need to ask for help. Remember that we advocate together to eradicate the systemic oppression that impacts our clients and our students — and even us — every day.

Together, we are change agents. The foundation of what we do and why we do it can be summed up in a quote from Mohandas Gandhi: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

 

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Shekila Melchior is an assistant professor and program coordinator of school counseling at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Contact her at shekila-melchior@utc.edu.

Dannette Gomez Beane is the director of recruitment and operations of undergraduate admissions at Virginia Tech. She adjunct teaches for the counselor education programs at Virginia Tech and Buena Vista University. Contact her at gomezds@vt.edu.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

Counseling Today reviews unsolicited articles written by American Counseling Association members. To access writing guidelines and tips for having an article accepted for publication, go to ct.counseling.org/feedback.

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Applying the MCC in a divisive sociopolitical climate

By Patricia Arredondo and Rebecca L. Toporek May 9, 2018

We are living through a historic era that many people describe as divisive, polarizing and disheartening. The world of social media never sleeps, and we are bombarded with images of pain and strife. The visible presence of neo-Nazi groups marching, the increase in arrests and deportations of immigrants from sanctuary sites, the killing of unarmed Black boys and men, the senseless deaths from domestic terrorism in Las Vegas and Orlando, the increased incidence of school shootings and the devastation of natural disasters in Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico have led many of our students and clients to wonder aloud: What is going on? Will access to guns continue to bring violence into our schools? Will North Korea bomb the United States? Will we have a new civil war in our country? Will our access to health care be compromised because of tax breaks to wealthy corporations? No counselor is immune to this sociopolitical climate of tension and uncertainty.

Though not always verbalized, these questions are on the minds of many individuals, creating both cognitive and emotional dissonance, much as similar events did 25-30 years ago. In 1991, we witnessed the brutal beating of Rodney King, a Black man, by Los Angeles police officers. In 1989, the Berlin Wall was opened and eventually taken down. Also during this time period, following the CIA’s involvement in Central America, refugees who had been forced to flee from El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras were denied asylum in the United States. Today we witness the disruption of families through deportation and the incarceration of children, separated from their parents and often left to languish indefinitely.

Today, three essential living documents continue to call the counseling profession to action. The Multicultural Counseling Competencies (MCC, 1992), the operationalization of those competencies (1996) and the Multicultural and Social Justice Counseling Competencies (MSJCC, 2015) help counselors, educators and supervisors navigate our tumultuous times and provide guidance for ethical and effective practice — clinical, educational and advocacy. These guides prove useful and applicable for contemporary challenges.

The MCC, developed by Derald Wing Sue, Patricia Arredondo (one of the authors of this article) and Roderick J. McDavis, were the impetus for change in the counseling profession and continue to hold relevance in today’s national discourse. Then and now, we see:

a) Increasing racial and ethnic diversification of the country, with the U.S. becoming a majority/ethnic minority country

b) Legislation being promoted to oppress persons of color, people with disabilities, Indigenous peoples, immigrants, LGBTQ individuals and other underrepresented groups

c) The pervasiveness of White supremacy and White privilege

d) Eurocentric models in counselor training that ignore intersecting identities and the sociopolitical context that introduces barriers and oppression

e) Ethical issues resulting from the failure to consider cultural differences and variabilities, particularly in practice and supervision

In this article, our intention is to call attention to stressors in U.S. society and to discuss how the MCC can continue to be catalysts for inclusion and social justice advocacy.

The MCC framework

During the past 25 years, the needle has not moved with respect to the composition of counselors-in-training and counseling faculty. We are still a predominantly White profession, although our clients are increasingly diverse and with intersecting identities.

Now more than ever, the MCC and the Dimensions of Personal Identity (DPI) model provide guidance for understanding ourselves and our clients through an examination of cultural worldviews in a sociopolitical environment. They invite us to examine privileges and unconscious biases that may be detrimental to teaching and counseling. They also point out the harm of neglecting the environmental conditions that benefit or adversely affect individuals.

The DPI model presents an intersectional approach to identity and includes numerous dimensions, such as predetermined characteristics that serve as a profile (e.g., age, ethnicity); our experiences and opportunities (e.g., educational background, income); and a contextual dimension that shapes our experience (e.g., historical and sociopolitical events). This model communicates several premises:

a) We are all multicultural individuals.

b) We all possess a personal, political and historical culture and biases.

c) We are affected by sociocultural, political, environmental and historical events.

d) Multiculturalism also intersects with multiple factors of individual diversity.

The MCC and subsequent MSJCC are about change, requiring counseling professionals and graduate students alike to reflect on their own lenses and those of their clients/students, the role of power and privilege, and how the MCC can support respectful responses and engagement in times of political divisiveness. National incidents during the past few years remind us of the need to know facts, engage in perspective-taking and examine our personal beliefs and feelings to engage in ethical and effective counseling.

Current realities

When former President Barack Obama was elected, many people and organizations stated that we were moving into a post-racial era. However, even following his election, assertions about the president’s birthplace persisted (including allegations perpetuated by our current president, Donald Trump). This action propagated doubts about Obama’s legitimacy and arguably subjected him to more scrutiny than previous presidents faced.

Following Obama’s 2008 election, there was an astounding increase in hate groups in the country, accompanied by a rise in hate crimes. For example, hate crimes against Muslim Americans rose 67 percent in 2015. During the national election campaign season and subsequent election of Donald Trump in 2016, the number of hate crimes increased again dramatically. In October 2017, 25.9 percent more hate crimes were reported than in October 2015. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are now 954 hate groups operating in the United States. In addition, 623 “patriot” organizations were classified as active, extreme anti-government groups in 2016.

The White nationalist march that sparked violent conflict and led to the death of one counterprotester this past August in Charlottesville, Virginia, provides a high-profile example of the increased visibility of hate groups. This event is a vivid reminder that hate thrives in many sectors of our society, including among neighbors, friends and family. Trump’s comment that there was fault on both sides minimized the killing of Heather Heyer, a peaceful demonstrator.

Another example of great divisiveness and misunderstanding from 2016 involved the controversy surrounding athletes “taking a knee” during the playing of the national anthem before NFL games. Colin Kaepernick, then a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, initiated this action to call attention to racial biases among police forces, the killing of young Black men and the subsequent acquittal of White police officers. As the movement grew, so did the hostility verbalized by the current presidential administration and a segment of the public. A failure to dialogue, inflammatory assertions and the blaming of athletes only exacerbated a national divide. We wonder why these peaceful protests could not be tolerated. Framing this as a “patriotism” issue and a Black-White divide rather than a human-rights and freedom-of-speech issue further polarized the public. As counselors, we may see clients with a range of opinions and perspectives on this and other issues, and we too have to examine our beliefs on these divisive issues.

The #MeToo movement cannot be overlooked in this discourse. Thankfully, the voices of privileged women brought this center stage, yet it was Tarana Burke, an African American woman, who coined the term and brought issues of oppression among working-class women in the South to light. Women across the life span, but particularly girls, women of color, older adult women and economically disadvantaged women, continue to be victimized in a heteropatriarchal society. Although the majority of counseling professionals and counselors-in-training are women, we must be intentional about addressing sexism in the classroom, therapy room and institutions in which we work. We are privileged, but many of our students and clients may not know how to negotiate spaces of harassment and sexual assault.

There is no time for complacency if we, as counselors, consider ourselves to be ethical and multicultural and social justice advocates. The impact of a dissonant national climate and visible expressions of hate on clients and communities must inform our work.

Counselors possess critical competencies to facilitate and support clients, peers and family members who require advocacy. To this end, we must use critical thinking, seek accurate information and develop understanding of sociopolitical contexts. Collective responses and calls to action for justice have been framed politically within the context of a racialized history. For example, assertions that the Black Lives Matter movement is parallel to White supremacy groups misconstrue the purpose of the organization. Black Lives Matter is a collective response of peaceful marches that began in response to the killings of Trayvon Martin and other young Black men, whereas, White supremacy is a movement based on the belief that the White “race” is superior. These are very different premises and have very different purposes.

The “March for Our Lives” and “March Across America” were spearheaded by high school students in response to deadly school shootings. These young people raised their voices to challenge legislators and school officials to make schools safe. These marches were visible nationally and brought the issue of gun control to the forefront. School counselors and educators nationally supported the power of these voices. Within the framework of the MCC, we can critically understand the racialized context in which these voices are heard. In the process, many have recognized that youth of color have been raising the issue for some time.

Legislation and policy affecting human rights

There are a number of examples of policy and legislation that endanger human rights and, thus, the well-being of clients and communities.

The website I Am an Immigrant (iamanimmigrant.com) posts empowering messages detailing personal stories of perseverance and success from immigrants from various countries. Contrast this with scenes of individuals being taken from their homes by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — families torn apart, children witnessing their parents being handcuffed, individuals and communities living with new fears and trauma. Hate-based trauma is a critical clinical issue and one that is directly connected to current sociopolitical events and policies.

The MCC guide us to examine our attitudes about immigrants, documented and undocumented alike. If we subscribe to, or neglect to refute, statements that all Latino men are “rapists and drug dealers,” as stated by the president, or that immigrants in low-paying jobs are taking opportunities away from American citizens, then counseling and teaching relationships will be harmed. We must become knowledgeable about the facts concerning immigrants’ historical and current contributions to U.S. society and recognize the shadow of illegitimacy that is cast with harmful rhetoric.

Legislation proposing to ban transgender individuals from the military, limit the access of transgender persons to school bathrooms and remove protections for LGBTQ individuals in the workplace have also reemerged as contentious human-rights issues. These issues should encourage us as counselors to take a moment for self-examination to ensure that we understand our responsibilities. The MCC acknowledge that we all have biases and assumptions based on personal values, but in our professional role, we are expected to uphold the ACA Code of Ethics, including the requirement to pursue nondiscrimination.

With the spate of 2017 hurricanes — including Harvey, Irma and Maria — we witnessed people’s resilience despite the extensive loss of homes, lives and livelihood. What was equally striking was the differential response of federal agencies to the victims of Hurricane Maria on the island of Puerto Rico. The damages were anticipated, but the slow engagement by the U.S. government was inadequate on many accounts. Many months later, a lack of safe drinking water, electricity to fuel hospital generators and internet access to check on loved ones are among the persistent examples of neglect. There were also many blame-the-victim taunts by the U.S. president. These were noted by many Puerto Ricans, human-rights advocates and others as indications of double standards, raising questions about the role of biases in federal response to disasters.

As counselors informed by the MCC, we must ask ourselves about this differential treatment of U.S. citizens and the lack of basic historical knowledge concerning Puerto Ricans as U.S. citizens. This example of marginalization cannot be overlooked.

Awareness and guidance from the MCC, MSJCC

In addition to providing guidance regarding multicultural counseling interactions, the MCC, its operationalizing document and the MSJCC give guidance that is useful in contextualizing and responding to the impact of these traumatic and life-ending events — for clients, for communities and for counselors themselves. We will provide just a few examples but encourage readers to invest in a more thorough examination.

One overarching dimension, implicit in the MCC and explicit in the MSJCC, is that of privilege and marginalization. This dimension calls on counselors to examine their position and power within institutions and society in relation to clients. For example, the current U.S. presidential administration and economic power structures reflect White, Christian, male, heterosexual norms, and numerous legislative and judicial decisions are reinforcing values associated with beliefs about the superiority of those identities. The position of the counselor in relation to those decisions and identities is relevant in terms of beliefs and socialization, as well as what the counselor might represent to the client. Are we seen as trustworthy or “handmaidens of the status quo” (Sue et al, 1992).

In any constellation of the counseling relationship (i.e., whether the counselor is of a similar background to the power brokers and the client is similar to communities being targeted for oppression, whether those roles are switched or whether the counselor and the client are of similar identities), the DPI model highlights the ways in which these identities may be relevant. The dimension of privilege and marginalization should be considered in each of the three arenas of MCC: counselor awareness of own values and biases, client worldview, and culturally appropriate interventions and advocacy.

Counselor awareness of own cultural values and biases: As a critical component of multicultural counseling, current political, social and global events present opportunities for examining counselors’ perspectives and how those perspectives contribute to the counseling environment. These beliefs may support clients experiencing marginalization or they may interfere with best practices and the amelioration of systemic oppression.

Differences based on political or economic views, unexamined racial bias, beliefs about immigration or other stimuli may promote assumptions about clients, their choices and the epistemology of their concerns. Furthermore, divisiveness in communities, the media and families can contribute to conflict that is not easily resolved. There are some who see student advocacy for school safety as opposite to Second Amendment rights. These are intrinsically related issues.

One example of an observable indicator of cultural self-awareness (as quoted from the 1996 MCC operationalization document): “Can identify specific social and cultural factors and events in their history that influence their view and use of social belonging, interpretations of behavior, motivation, problem-solving and decision methods, thoughts and behaviors (including subconscious) in relation to authority and other institutions and can contrast these with the perspectives of others.” In the current political climate, in which legislation limits the rights of entire segments of the population (e.g., members of the LGBTQ community, women, Muslims, immigrants, refugees), this statement suggests the importance of counselors examining their own history in relationship to authority, institutions and beliefs.

Counselor awareness of client worldview: Many current events require us to reflect in terms of the sociopolitical climate and biases. Power differentials between clients and counselors are always present. Differences in the counseling dyad based on a client’s underrepresented identity status require the counselor to attend even more intently.

For example, in counseling, college students who were protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program may now be preoccupied with concerns about remaining in the U.S., the possible deportation of loved ones and harassment by others who consider them to be undocumented immigrants. Trust issues may also inhibit these clients from fully disclosing out of fear that the counselor might break confidentiality because of the student’s status.

Understanding clients’ worldviews includes understanding the sociopolitical reality in which they live, their fears, the reality of the bias they may face and the impact of immigration policies and practices on their families and communities. Regardless of immigration status, or beliefs about immigration, when the current presidential administration makes broad statements disparaging immigrants and connecting that to cultural identity markers such as ethnicity, it affects entire communities. In the example involving DACA, it is important to understand the policies, rights and resources available to students and to understand the climate of their peers and institutions.

Moving beyond DACA, since the 2016 presidential election, expressions of hate against immigrants, Muslims, Black students and others have increased. Multicultural practice requires an understanding of that climate and how it affects clients. As counselor educators, it is our responsibility to check in with our students to support and hear them out. This is a small gesture of advocacy.

Culturally appropriate intervention strategies: Culturally appropriate counseling interventions include work with clients and on behalf of clients. The MCC advise counselors to consider the cultural contexts of clients and counseling approaches that are congruent for clients’ developmental level, familial and cultural beliefs, and acculturation. Understanding the client’s cultural and sociopolitical context should help determine culturally appropriate interventions and support systems. In the MSJCC, the Advocacy Competencies are also integrated as interventions. The ACA Advocacy Competencies provide valuable guidance for advocating with clients and on behalf of clients to address many of the difficult issues affecting their well-being.

In the DACA example, counselors could advocate through individual interventions, organizational interventions and policy or legislative actions. Individually, counselors could provide students with campus resources to assist with documents that need to be submitted and with identifying DACA-informed immigration attorneys.
DACA clients may also be facing hostility either from fellow students or, in some cases, from staff or faculty. Counselors, as charged by the ACA Code of Ethics, are responsible for bringing discrimination to the attention of their employers and for acting in the best interests of clients. This is an example of an intersection between advocacy and ethical imperatives and would represent organization-level advocacy.

 

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Patricia Arredondo is president of the Arredondo Advisory Group and faculty fellow at Fielding Graduate University. She has published extensively on multicultural competencies and guidelines, Latinx mental health and immigrant identity challenges. She is a past president of the American Counseling Association. Contact her at parredondo@arredondoadvisorygroup.com.

Rebecca L. Toporek is a professor in the Department of Counseling at San Francisco State University. She has written extensively on multicultural counseling, social justice, engaged empowerment of communities and advocacy. Her counseling specialties are focused
on career and college counseling.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

Counseling Today reviews unsolicited articles written by American Counseling Association members. To access writing guidelines and tips for having an article accepted for publication, go
to ct.counseling.org/feedback.

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

‘Teach people that they have power’

By Bethany Bray April 27, 2018

Dolores Huerta can be described in many ways: labor organizer, feminist, civil rights pioneer, social justice icon, impassioned speaker and lifelong advocate for the oppressed.

On Friday, Huerta delivered a stirring keynote address to open the ACA 2018 Conference & Expo that proved the 88 year-old has lost none of her spark and drive to make change for the better.

Dolores Huerta delivers the opening keynote at the ACA 2018 Conference & Expo in Atlanta on April 27. (Images by Paul Sakuma Photography)

“Everything that is wrong in the United States of America ends up on your desk,” Huerta said. “Counselors, you need to be multiplied by 1,000 times because you are so needed.”

Helping professionals have a role to play in the work to dismantle oppression and create a fair and just society, Huerta said. “It’s a long road. It’s not a quick fix but if we work together we can make it happen.”

Huerta’s morning keynote kicked off the American Counseling Association’s 66th annual conference in Atlanta. Thousands of professional counselors have gathered for four days of education sessions, trainings, meetings and social events at the Georgia World Congress Center.

Huerta, who originated the “Sí, se puede” (“Yes, we can”) rallying cry,

worked as a schoolteacher in the 1950s but soon felt the pull to organize farm workers — the children of whom she had seen arrive in her classroom hungry. In 1962, Huerta and César Chávez founded a labor union that would become the United Farm Workers’ Union; She served as union vice president until 1999. A native of New Mexico and California, Huerta received the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award in 1998 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

She continues to travel throughout the U.S. for speaking engagements to advocate for social justice as president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, a California-based nonprofit organization focused on advocacy, grassroots organizing and leadership development.

On Friday, Huerta thanked counselors for the important work they do — work that has a part to play in combating discrimination and inequality in the U.S.

There’s a saying in the labor movement: Every minute is an organizing moment, Huerta said. For counselors, “We can also say every moment is a healing moment that you can carry with you.”

She encouraged counselors, and in turn, their clients, to get involved in local civic life. Personal problems can diminish when you focus on the bigger picture and helping others, she noted.

“Looking around and seeing all the power in this room, we know it is enough to make a difference,” Huerta said. “You have worked so hard in our communities and schools. Now we’re asking you to do even more. We’re asking you to help us heal our country.”

If there’s a protest or picket line in your local area, join in, Huerta urged. Advocate for free college tuition, early child healthcare, equality in education, prison reform and other issues. Thinking ahead to the 2018 midterm elections, Huerta called on counselors to help elect representatives to Congress who are “partners in justice” and willing to change policy.

“We’re going to be counting on you to help us with this work, and we have so much work to do. Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, our democracy won’t work unless you get involved,” Huerta said. “[Change] is not going to happen unless we fight for the resources we need.”

She also called for a greater focus on diversity. America is a nation of immigrants, enriched by our differences, Huerta said.

“If you [counselors] are in an agency or school with little diversity, let’s figure out how to make that happen. The more diversity we can fill our lives with, the richer our lives will be,” she said.

This begins with our education system, and changing the content of what we teach to include the contributions of people of color and other repressed groups, Huerta said. Otherwise, “our children of color will never feel respected, and always feel like they never belong.”

There is only one human race: Homo sapiens, which originated in Africa. “It’s important that we always affirm the fact that we are Africans of different shades and colors,” Huerta said with a smile.

Drawing from her experience in labor organizing, Huerta closed with a sentiment that often rings true in professional counseling, as well: The power for change lies within.

“Teach people that they have the power,” Huerta urged. “You already have the power, you have everything you need. We just need to come together and work to make change. If we do not make the change, volunteer and do the work to make change, nothing will happen. We cannot expect that someone will come and do it for us. We have to do the work.”

 

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The ACA 2018 Conference & Expo in Atlanta began with an ACA Governing Council meeting mid-week; festivities stretch through the weekend. Saturday’s keynote will feature anthropologist, educator, author and humanitarian Johnnetta Betsch Cole, director emerita of the Smithsonian Museum of African Art.

Find out more, including information on live streaming select conference sessions and Cole’s keynote, at counseling.org/conference

 

See more photos from conference on the ACA Flickr: bit.ly/1MOAysM

Dolores Huerta shakes the hand of ACA President Gerard Lawson as she takes the stage for the opening keynote at the ACA 2018 Conference & Expo in Atlanta on April 27.

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Find out more about the Dolores Huerta Foundation at doloreshuerta.org

 

Huerta is profiled in the documentary “Dolores,” which aired recently on PBS stations. Find out more at pbs.org/independentlens/films/dolores-huerta/

 

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Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook at facebook.com/CounselingToday.

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.