To mark the publication of Counseling Diversity in Context, author Jason Brown explains the political context within which counselors and psychotherapists work and how his book is intended to provide useful guidelines for those who wish to take a more activist role to promote social justice, equality, and equity.
Counseling and psychotherapy are political activities. I try to convince students of this. It seems strange to many of them that I would even mention politics in a micro-skills counseling practicum course. But really, just as everything a counselor does with a client is (or should be) therapeutic for the client, it is also political, whether this is acknowledged or not. Not only do counselors and psychotherapists practice in professions that are political, each is also a citizen, a status that comes with its own responsibilities.
The point of my new book, Counseling Diversity in Context, is to talk about the contexts within which psychotherapists practice and clients live. It speaks to something that is fundamentally challenging to many of us: despite best efforts to understand, own, and act in ways that are authentically ourselves, the environment has a lot of influence on what we do. This is a great thing when there is reciprocity and the right balance of support and challenge, but that’s not usually the case when we are struggling.
Consider, for example, a young adult on social assistance and looking for work. A dejected woman who has been applying for jobs for weeks, who cannot afford minutes for her cell phone to take and return calls from prospective employers, comes for counseling. While depression may be a “problem,” the “problem” may also be an absence of schools that accommodate parents or a lack of access to affordable child care. While income support is far below many poverty lines, fear of losing it if her partner lived with them (and helped out financially as well as with caregiving) keeps them separated. Counseling could help improve her energy and motivation, and may be supplemented by connecting her with free short-term childcare and providing a card for telephone minutes. However, the “problem” is also poverty, the welfare system, and how these reflect classism, sexism, and racism.
Addressing the full situation may sound idealistic, I know. But in the big picture, each person, group, organization, community, and nation influences others. Therefore, we each participate in the creation and maintenance of our sociopolitical environment. With equality as a goal and equity as a first step, the context in which clients live can no longer be viewed as benign—it must always be seen as part of the problem for which clients seek therapy.
A major barrier to acting on notions of social justice, equality, and equity—even if a majority of stakeholders actually agree that such action needs to be taken—is how to do it. That’s the emphasis of the second half of Counseling Diversity in Context. It takes a look outside of the psychotherapist’s office and into the communities where we practice and live. It offers a way to assess that community and identify potential changes, as well as approaches and tactics to bring that change along.
Counselors and psychotherapists need not be leaders of community change. In this book, a range of possible roles are outlined with pros and cons of each, where the principles apply equally well to institutions, agencies, and programs. In each chapter, case examples illustrate the connections between social issues and personal problems. They also point to ways these can be addressed both within and outside the counseling office, and, importantly, how clients themselves may be best positioned to advocate for, lead, or support community change.
Counseling Diversity in Context is for students in counseling and psychotherapy training in psychology, social work, medicine, and other allied disciplines. It may fit well within courses on diversity and culture, as well as supplement readings in professional and reflective practice or counseling theories and methods.
There are discussion questions for each chapter that can be used to identify different perspectives and positions on issues. Internet links to various social justice organizations and initiatives are included for further reading. There are also several frameworks that students may use to explore personal experiences with oppression and liberation, how these are experienced by their peers and clients, as well as how addressing them may be promoted within professional organizations and communities.
Jason Brown is Professor of Counseling Psychology in the Faculty of Education at Western University.