Social Justice and Counseling
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Social Justice and Counseling

Discourse in Practice

Cristelle Audet, David Paré, Cristelle Audet, David Pare

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eBook - ePub

Social Justice and Counseling

Discourse in Practice

Cristelle Audet, David Paré, Cristelle Audet, David Pare

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About This Book

Social Justice and Counseling represents the intersection between therapy, counseling, and social justice. The international roster of contributing researchers and practitioners demonstrate how social justice unfolds, utterance by utterance, in conversations that attend to social inequities, power imbalances, systemic discrimination, and more. Beginning with a critical interrogation of the concept of social justice itself, subsequent sections cover training and supervising from a social justice perspective, accessing local knowledge to privilege client voices, justice and gender, and anti-pathologizing and the politics of practice. Each chapter concludes with reflection questions for readers to engage experientially in what authors have offered. Students and practitioners alike will benefit from the postmodern, multicultural perspectives that underline each chapter.

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Publisher
Routledge
Year
2017
ISBN
9781317622055
Edition
1
PART V
Anti-Pathologizing: The Politics of Practice
If there is a single thread woven through every chapter in this volume, it may be the critique of the dominant practice of characterizing persons by their deficits, otherwise known as “pathologizing.” The definition of problems in relation to official nosological categories is a mainstay of medicine and is sometimes useful in counseling and psychotherapy—for instance, in matching persons up with medications that may provide some relief from distress. However, although it is informed by one discourse among many for describing people’s experience, this practice exerts a dominant influence in the mental health professions. In many instances, diagnoses are required for accessing services or insurance, for example, whether the person in question prefers to make sense of their concerns in diagnostic terms or not. And the proliferation of mental disorder categories over recent decades is arguably mirrored in the tendency of many people to frame their own experience in terms of deficit in meeting with therapists, offering up identity descriptions that foreground shortcomings and overlook personal achievements in the face of challenges. This is fundamentally a social justice issue because it pertains to which vocabularies for self-description are mandated and which are marginalized. When personal experience is understood in social and contextual terms, it becomes clear that the politics of identity are ubiquitous. And they play out not only in the public arena where particular modes of description are sanctioned and funded, but in the consulting room as well, where identities are co-constructed utterance by utterance in therapeutic conversations. The chapters in this section examine the politics of identity in a variety of ways, offering useful alternatives for speaking to and about people that escape the vocabulary of deficit.
Chapter 14, Social Justice for Young People in the Youth Justice System, outlines the ways that a pervasive individualistic focus lays the blame for criminal activity entirely at the feet of incarcerated youth, overlooking the myriad social injustices contributing to their life situations. Providing a view from inside the youth correctional system, Donald Baker reminds readers that poverty, addictions, learning disabilities, mental health issues, violence, abuse, racial discrimination, and many other challenges provide barriers that deserve acknowledgment in supporting youth to step towards new ways of being outside of the problems that dominate them. The chapter offers a range of ideas for conversations with youth that keep these challenges in full view while exploring constructive possibilities for moving forward.
The section’s next chapter picks up a related thread, arguing that a single-minded reliance on a diagnostic outlook renders invisible the many systemic inequities that are the backdrops of many people’s lives. In Chapter 15, DSM Diagnosis and Social Justice: Inviting Counselor Reflexivity, Joaquín Gaete, Olga Smoliak, Shari Couture, and Tom Strong acknowledge the place for diagnostic inquiry while sounding a cautionary note, reminding readers of the long-term ramifications in the lives of the persons to whom diagnoses are assigned. The authors characterize counseling conversations as sites of identity construction, and demonstrate how this process may unfold in detrimental ways through their discursive analysis of assessment-focused exchanges. Their research outlines four key ways in which a conversation intent on assessment can individualize problems, obscuring contextual concerns and reinforcing a narrative focused on personal deficit. As a counterbalance to this insidious and often inadvertent pathologizing, the authors advocate for a stance of what they call dialogical reflexivity, which involves joining clients to vigilantly monitor what is being constructed or overlooked as the assessment process unfolds.
In Chapter 16, Narrative Practice and the De-Pathologizing of Children’s Lives at a Walk-In Therapy Clinic: An Opportunity for Socially Just Conversations, Karen Young offers hope-inspiring alternatives to the epidemic of pathologizing practices in children’s mental health services. Drawing on stories from Karen’s work, the chapter outlines an approach to walk-in therapy clinics that eschews an assessment of deficit in favor of therapeutic exchanges that foreground the knowledges of children and their families. The conversational practices outlined include: collaborating on the session agenda, getting to know the person “away from” the problem, externalizing, and collaborative documentation. Based on a social and relational view of problems, this approach makes it possible to address labels and diagnoses in ways that are respectful of people’s current understandings and preferences, while providing alternatives to the limiting descriptions of the child that have developed. The chapter includes reflections and feedback from children and their parents about their experiences of these practices in a walk-in therapy clinic.
Chapter 17, Rosie Had Wings They Could Not See: A Consultation with Michael White and a Woman Labeled with a Dual Diagnosis, offers a critique of coercive confinement practices at the core of the custodial model of care while demonstrating the possibilities inherent in competence-focused conversations with persons too often subjected to institutional control and containment. The chapter reviews a session by the late Michael White, an originator of narrative therapy, to show how social justice can play out utterance by utterance in the conversations therapists have with those consulting them. Authors Jim Duvall and Caroline Tremblay analyze a transcribed therapeutic conversation in which Michael White provides a platform for a woman with an intellectual disability to articulate her experience of confinement. His abiding faith in her ability to articulate her experience reaps a rich account of her continued resistance to indignities visited upon her. The exchange proves eye-opening for the mental health workers accompanying Rosie, who share their insights into the real effects of deficit-focused assumptions about people and change.
The book’s final section rounds out with a look at response-based approaches to violence against women in Canada’s North. Chapter 18, Creating Safety and Social Justice for Women in the Yukon, is authored by four Indigenous scholars, activists, and community workers deeply familiar with the challenges faced by women in Yukon, the smallest of Canada’s territories and one where consequences of a colonizing and patriarchal pioneer history persist. Catherine Richardson/Kinewesquao, Ann Maje Raider, Barbara McInerney, and Renée-Claude Carrier observe that the safety and rights of Indigenous women are compromised by a culture of impunity where male perpetrators are often not held responsible for their crimes due to unhelpful state responses, and where women’s responses to violence are often judged and pathologized. The authors document a response-based approach to practice that empowers women by construing their responses as resistance in the face of historical misogyny and oppression. After situating violence and the evolution of response-based practice, a powerful vignette demonstrates social justice-focused responses to victims of male violence. The chapter concludes with accounts of the authors’ advocacy efforts in contesting victim-blaming and developing safer and respectful communities for women across Yukon.
CHAPTER 14
Social Justice for Young People in the Youth Justice System
Donald Baker
When we move away from an individualistic view of clients, and understand personal experience as always strongly influenced by cultural context, we bump into the relationship between mental health and social justice.
(Paré, 2013, p. 19)
Young people involved in Canada’s Youth Justice System often receive services that individualize their responsibility for the crimes they have committed. Many of the clients I come into contact with have already been assigned a diagnosis that has been given to them by a professional. Similarly, they will have reports from the education and justice systems outlining learning disabilities and behavioral problems that have hindered their progress. If the clients don’t have this information in their file, people like myself and other professionals seek to get assessments completed to assist in helping clients move forward in a positive fashion. While these glimpses into a client’s life can be helpful, I feel they are limited due to their narrow focus. They are founded on the notion that responsibility and change is an individual endeavor, with very little focus placed on the contexts these young people have inhabited, are currently living in, and will be moving back to when released.
Multiple forces have impacted these youth while growing up. Systems, institutions, and cultural practices that, for the most part, are outside their control have had powerful influence over what is available to them (Dunbar, 2013). Poverty, addictions, learning disabilities, mental health issues, violence, abuse, racial discrimination, and many other factors need to be uncovered and contextualized if youth are to have a chance at stepping towards new ways of being outside of the problems that dominate them. All these social forces, along with life circumstances, play a huge role in giving people ideas about what they can be. I believe that taking all of these factors into consideration, making them more transparent for clients, is the socially just way to be of assistance.
There are other facets to the work I am undertaking with these youth that are vital to making sure the practice is carried out in a socially just fashion. For instance, attending to clients’ basic needs is critically important to giving these individuals a chance at getting some semblance of equal footing with peers who have enjoyed more privilege in life. Szalavitz and Perry (2010) note “high inequality is correlated with high crime rates” (p. 281). In the same manner, Dunbar (2013) cites studies from the US, UK, and Canada that characterize “systemic inequalities, ineffective support systems, experiences of victimization and feelings of hopelessness to make money, gain status, obtain protection and acquire a sense of belonging” (p. 1) as prime factors contributing to youth deciding to be involved with crime. Socially just interventions with clients need to take these factors into account when providing assistance. If housing, finances, job preparation, education, and life skills are not attended to, the impact of counseling interventions will likely be reduced. Working collaboratively with other service providers who have the mandate to be of assistance in helping youth is an important consideration for counselors. Helping them acquire more equal footing with others who have enjoyed privilege growing up starts to address social injustices that have often hindered their ability to succeed in life.
In this chapter, I will outline aspects of the work I do with young offenders residing in young offender facilities and within community settings in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. This work is a collaborative, client-centered approach that seeks to uncover people’s strengths, skills, and abilities. I will talk about some aspects of the counseling work that I feel highlight a socially just way to help people. Many aspects of this counseling work are based in narrative therapy (White & Epston, 1990). I come to this work having grown up in a working-class family of nine in small town Ontario. Both of my parents were immigrants who managed to live through World War II. We were a blended family. I currently live in a family of four and would consider us to be middle class. My ideals tend to gravitate to the left of the political spectrum. I also associate with many activist ideals without necessarily classifying myself as an activist.
I will use examples to bring this work to life and demonstrate how addressing people’s social context is the socially just way to provide assistance to young offenders. This approach moves away from individualizing problems and places them in the environments that clients live in.
Counseling, Power, and Social Justice
[A]‌cknowledge that people are more than the worst thing they ...

Table of contents