Advocacy for Counseling Profession and Clients, Essay Example

Discuss the issues of bias and prejudice as they apply to the counseling relationship and acceptance of individual differences. How do you feel this will be an issue for you in your work?

Bias and prejudice are some of the most enormously destructive forces in human history. Whether along ‘racial’/ethnic, religious, sexual orientation, or gender lines, bias and prejudice divide human beings from each other and teach them to hate the ‘other’, however the ‘other’ may be defined (Ponterotto, Utsey, & Pedersen, 2006, pp. 3-7). Unfortunately, these tendencies appear to come naturally to the human mind: human beings are by instinct social, and much of this manifests in terms of in-groups and out-groups. Consequently, everyone is capable of bias and prejudice, views that warp the perception of people from groups other than one’s own (pp. 11-12). Such biased, prejudiced views are negative in that they are based on, and substantiate, harmful and often pejorative views of people from other groups, and tend to be inflexible. They can even be subtle: oftentimes people hold prejudicial views without even realizing it consciously (pp. 12-13).

In the counseling relationship, there are very important reasons to take account of prejudice and bias of all kinds. One reason is multicultural competency: if I as a practitioner am to be truly accepting of individual differences between all of my clients, then I must take account of prejudice and bias—starting with my own (Chung & Bemak, 2012, p. 12). Everyone is capable of bias and prejudice, and given the tremendous harm that these can do, it is incumbent upon me to seek out any inclinations towards bias and prejudice that I might have. I consider this an imperative as a person of conscience in any case, but it becomes the more imperative given my chosen field, since the well-being of my clients will depend on me being able to relate to them in a fashion free of any prejudice or bias (p. 12).

A key part of this, as a counselor, entails awareness of the client’s worldview, in order to tailor approaches to intervention that are appropriate in terms of the client’s culture, gender, sexual orientation, etc. (Chung & Bemak, 2012, p. 12). An important part of this entails an understanding of privilege and oppression, notably along the lines of race, gender, and sexual orientation. As Chung and Bemak explained, part of why this matters is that perceptions of racial discrimination have been strongly linked to mental health disorders (p. 60). And, too, there are the effects of hate crimes to consider: although American society is growing in diversity, racism, xenophobia, religious intolerance, and other forms of prejudice and bias are still fueling plenty of hate crimes (p. 59). A commitment to social justice requires awareness of these important issues, and incorporating them into my practice (p. 34).

The fundamental issue here is that social injustice continues against marginalized groups, along the axes of race/ethnicity/national origin, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. It is of foundational importance for therapists to recognize when they are privileged along any of these axes, especially in relation to particular clients (Roysircar, Hubbell, & Gard, 2003, p. 249). In fact, one study of Euro-American therapists with African-American clients demonstrated that therapists’ own awareness of these issues for their clients was directly related to their competence in helping their clients: “In fact, therapists described their clients’ interpersonal concerns as deeply intertwined with factors such as sexism, homophobia, and poverty” (p. 249). Consequently, as a practitioner I must be prepared to assess not only clients, but also myself, in terms of White oppression/privilege, and the same for male oppression/privilege, straight oppression/privilege, etc. (Jun, 2010, p. 122). Indeed, as with white privilege and racism, so too with homophobia, heteronormativity, and heterosexism: assessing self and others along these axes will enable me to develop a better practice, one that will better serve my clients (p. 153).

Why have counselors and mental health programs placed so much emphasis on advocating for diversity and parity of services? How might you take responsibility for responding to these concerns? 

Fundamentally, diversity and parity of services matter because all people (ought to) matter equally, and people are diverse. Taking account of diversity and advocating for parity of services is a moral imperative if all clients are to be treated equitably and fairly (Ridley, 2005, p. 224). This is also of great importance for dismantling institutional racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ableism, etc. People of marginalized groups must be able to get access to the same kinds of mental health services that are available to their more privileged counterparts; anything less is inequitable, and therefore social injustice (p. 224).

Fundamentally, an insistence on parity is an insistence on seeking to create a better and more equal world, one that will ultimately become free from the many oppressions afflicting society (Chin, 2003, pp. 356-357). The importance of promoting diversity and parity in services is ensuring that no one is denied equal coverage in terms of needed services. This is why counselors and programs have placed so much emphasis on these imperatives: because by so doing, they fulfill the humanitarian calling of their profession, to help all people irrespective of gender, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity/nationality, class, etc. (p. 357).

Such an approach also makes for better communication across cultures, genders, sexual orientations, etc.: emphasizing diversity and seeking parity is the kind of thing that draws the acclaim of those it aims to help (Southern, 2012, p. 248). A commitment to such an ethical standpoint can well be expected to produce better results for clients from diverse backgrounds (p. 248). From this it is clear that practitioners must take account of diversity and pursue parity in the provision of mental health services: to do anything else would be to compromise on the health and well-being of clients from diverse backgrounds other than one’s own; it would, in essence, be enabling inequality and social injustice.

As a helping professional, I believe I can take a great deal of responsibility for responding to these concerns. The first thing that I can do is to practice awareness: I need to be aware of the ways in which oppression/privilege have affected me, along all of the relevant axes identified by scholars of social justice. Only then I will be prepared to help my clients recognize these things in themselves, and how they may intersect with their own personal problems—and crucially, what to do about it. Of course, the most important and most fundamental thing I can do is endeavor always to treat everyone fairly and equally, by recognizing their concerns and their needs and responding to them. By so doing, I can respond to the need for parity and acknowledgement of diversity by exercising and practicing those solutions needful to achieve these ends.

Discuss five ways in which you can effectively expand your world over the next two years to help you understand the perspectives of others who are different than you?

1). Practice awareness: This is the first element of perspective-taking, as I see it. If I am to successfully expand my world, I need to practice awareness of my world and of the worlds of others. I need to understand how their experiences have shaped and molded them, and how mine have done the same for me. Only then can I begin to understand how diversity issues pertaining to oppression/privilege and other differences of experience matter.

Practicing awareness is certainly not simple, but I think a good starting point would be for me to read extensively on these topics, something I plan to do on my own time as well as in course. As I do this, I will take extensive notes, and think about my own experiences of oppression and/or privilege. I will pay better attention to the media, and look at instances of oppression or empowerment in media depictions, especially of marginalized groups, and how these representations either support or suborn dominant narratives and paradigms. I will also compare these representations with those of dominant groups.

2). Listen: Another thing I can do is listen, to everyone in general and to those whose experiences differ from my own in particular. Listening in this context means, fundamentally, a commitment to understanding: a commitment to understanding how the world looks to someone with different experiences from my own. By practicing listening, I will gain that much more insight into the experiences of others, and be better prepared to stand up for social justice in the profession.

3). Be just: Being just entails fairness and equity, informed by the recognition that not everyone has had the same experiences. Some privileged people legitimately do not understand privilege; some oppressed people legitimately do not understand oppression. A commitment to being just is a commitment to not judging someone unfairly. As a helping professional, my job will be to help everyone, irrespective of where they are.

4). Meet people where they are: This is the logical conclusion of the last point. By meeting people where they are, I will commit to understanding them as they are, not necessarily as I, or anyone else, would like them to be. This is vital if I am to help clients: I must know what will work now, and what they will not be ready for yet. Only then can I hope to help them get from where they are to a desired endpoint.  

5). Help *all* clients get to where they want to be: This will entail an understanding of the culture-, gender-, orientation-, etc.-specific approaches needed to help clients meet their goals. By committing to this, I will be able to help clients of diverse backgrounds, by cultivating an understanding of the fact that no two people have quite the same journey in life.

References

Chin, J. L. (2003). Multicultural competencies in managed health care. In D. B. Pope-Davis (Ed.), Handbook of multicultural competencies in counseling and psychology (pp. 347-364). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Chung, R. C.-Y., & Bemak, F. P. (2012). Social justice counseling: The next steps beyond multiculturalism in application, theory, and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Jun, H. (2010). Social justice, multicultural counseling, and practice: Beyond a conventional approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Ponterotto, J. G., Utsey, S. O., & Pedersen, P. B. (2006). Preventing prejudice: A guide for counselors, educators, and parents (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Ridley, C. R. (2005). Overcoming unintentional racism in counseling and therapy: A practitioner’s guide to intentional intervention (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Roysircar, G., Hubbell, R., & Gard, G. (2003). Multicultural research on counselor and client variables: A relational perspective. In D. B. Pope-Davis (Ed.), Handbook of multicultural competencies in counseling and psychology (pp. 247-266). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Southern, S. (2012). Relational ethics: Ethical decision making in couple, marriage, and family counseling and therapy. In J. Gregoire (Ed.), Counseling ethics: Philosophical and professional foundations (pp. 245-262). New York: Springer Publishing Company, LLC.