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Advocacy And Social Justice In Counseling


Advocacy And Social Justice In Counseling

Advocacy And Social Justice In Counseling


  • Address what advocacy and social justice mean to you as a professional counselor. Advocacy And Social Justice In Counseling
  • Examine how advocacy and social justice relate to multicultural competency in mental health counseling practice. Advocacy And Social Justice In Counseling
  • Identify and discuss an area of needed advocacy for people with serious mental illness. Advocacy And Social Justice In Counseling
  • Provide an example of how you have or could advocate or work for social justice in this area. How does your own awareness of your cultural and ethnic heritage influence your work in advocacy for your clients?


Domestic violence behind closed doors video- https://fod-infobase-com.library.capella.edu/p_ViewVideo.aspx?xtid=4654

  • attachmentInfusingCulturalCompetenceandAdvocacyIntoStrength-BasedCounseling.pdf
  • attachmentHumanismFeminismandMulticulturalism-EssentialElementsofSocialJusticeinCounselingEducationandAdvocacy..pdf
  • attachmentPoliticalIdeologyandPerceptionsofSocialJusticeAdvocacyAmongMembersoftheAmericanCounselingAssociation.pdf

Received 09/11/08 Revised 06/21/09

Accepted 03/21/11


Infusing Cultural Competence and Advocacy Into Strength-Based




strength-based counseling represents a welcome shift from prevailing deficit perspectives.

However, the literature often treats enhancing strengths as an acultural concept, minimiz-

ing or ignoring the essential role of culture informing and defining strengths. Integrating

cultural competence and advocacy into strength-based practice is examined as an antidote

to ethnocentric practice.

Strength-based counseling perspectives are attracting increasing notice in the professional literature, representing a paradigm shift from the deficit or medi- cal model prevalent in many settings today (Galassi & Akos, 2004; Harley, 2009; Peterson, 2006). This seemingly nascent movement appears to have the earmarks associated with new models of research and practice (e.g., lack of a coherent theoretical framework, the recent emergence of useful models, and a relative scarcity of empirical outcome research; Harris, Thoreson, & Lopez, 2007; E. J. Smith, 2006). While the advent of sti:ength-based counseling in its current form was relatively recent, it has deep and varied historical roots in both coimseling and coimseHng psychology, particularly through the prevention, resuience, humanistic, career development, positive psychology, educational, and social work perspectives (Albee, 1984; Galassi & Akos, 2007; Peterson, 2006; SeUgman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). In fact, the initial impulse behind counseling work—the vocational guidance movement—expressed the core strength-based notion that individuals grow from building on their assets. In addition, an emerging body of research appears to indicate that the “best predictors of children’s functional outcome into adulthood lay not in the relief of their symptoms but rather in an understanding, appreciation, and nurtur-

Tim Grothaus, Garrett McAuliffe, and Laurie Craigen, Counseling and Human Services, Old Do- minion University. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Tim Grothaus, Counseling and Human Services, Old Dominion University, 110 Education Building, Norfolk, VA 23529 (e-mail: tgrothau@odu.edu).

© 20Ï2 by the American Counseling Association. Atl rights reserved.

Journal of HUMANISTIC COUNSELING • April 2012 • Volume 51 5 1

anee of their strengths and assets” (Goldstein & Brooks, 2006, p. xüi). The time appears ripe to reclaim the counseling field’s roots in strengtb-based practice (McAuliffe & Erikson, 1999).


Culture, regarded as encompassing a constellation of factors (e.g., gender, ability status, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, spirituality), is an essential factor in forming behaviors, attitudes, strengths, beliefs, and values (Delpit, 1995; Harris, Thoreson, & Lopez, 2007; Lindsey, Roberts, & Campbelljones, 2005). Despite the pervasive influence of culture, it is not uncommon for the strength-based counseling literature to either treat strength as if it were an acultural concept or consider the topic solely from the perspective of the dominant culture (Leong & Paul, 2003; Ungar, 2005).The shortsightedness of this approach is evident when one considers that characteristics seen as strengths in one culture may be experienced as deficits in another culture or situation (E. J. Smith, 2006). For instance, main- stream culture may emphasize individualism, materialism, and competition as strengths, yet those in collectivistic cultures may view these “assets” as sources of problems (Harley, 2009; Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). One important aspect of culture—race or ethnicity—can illustrate additional reasons for concern. The vast majority (approximately 87%) of counselors in the United States represent the dominant European American culture (Bemak, 2005). In addition, graduate counseling preparation programs are regarded as inadequate in their infusion of multicultural competence training in both course content and field experiences (Sue & Sue, 2003). To add to the concern, research findings suggest that European Americans are both less knowledgeable about multicultural issues and less multiculturally aware than persons of color (Yeh & Aurora, 2003).

As counselors work to promote human growth, they must recognize that such development is “inextricably embedded in family, neighbor- hood, school, community, society, and culture and cannot be considered in isolation from these contexts” (Walsh, Galassi, Murphy, & Park-Taylor, 2002, p. 686). With the paucity of literature addressing strengths and optimal functioning in diverse, nondominant cultures (Sue & Constan- tine, 2003), practitioners and researchers need to be careful to avoid the trap of ethnocentric monoculturalism that has thus far influenced our standards and conceptualizations of strengths (Whalen et al., 2004). Culturally sensitive strength-based counseling can help empower cli- ents from diverse groups to overcome the dominant culture’s negative views of their cultural characteristics and instead to embrace and em- ploy these cultural attributes (Harley, 2009). The purpose of this article is to explore the infusion of cultural competence and advocacy into strength-based practice as a means of enhancing efficacy and ethical practice in counseling.

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Mulficultural covmseHng competence has been defined as “the extent to which counselors possess appropriate levels of self-awareness, knowledge, and skiUs in working with individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds” (Constanfine, Hage, Kindaichi, & Bryant, 2007, p. 24; see also Sue, Arredondo, & McDavis, 1992). Each of these three competency domains wiU be briefly addressed.


As Ponterotto, Utsey, and Pedersen (2006) note, “The first step for counselors… is to work through their own ethnocentrism” (p. 151). Couriselors are challenged to know their own cultures, acknowledge their unearned privilege statuses, and examine the biases present in their worldview and in the discourse of their counseling theories. Western counseling theories and approaches such as strength-based coimseüng may prove useful, but coimselors need to recognize that the theories, the coimselors who utilize them, and their clients are always “in culture” (McAuliffe, Grothaus, Pare, & Wininger, 2008). Through mulficul- tural self-awareness, counselors can discover their own guiding religious and/ or spiritual, ethnic, social class, gender, ability, and sexual orientafion perspec- fives, to name some examples, so that they do not impose them on clients. Such cultural self-awareness can also introduce counselors to the strengths of their own cultures, which can then be a model for their work with clients. Counselors also need to assess their preferred communicafion styles for the effects they have on clients (T. B. Smith, Richards, Granley, & Obiakor, 2004). For enhancement of counselors’ cultural self awareness, it appears that the most effecfive awareness- buüding acfivifies involve experienüal leaining, including immersion experiences within the community and acfive engagement with culturally diverse people (Endicott, Bock, & Narvaez, 2003; Ponterotto et al., 2006). Advocacy And Social Justice In Counseling


Enhancing mulficultural knowledge requires acfive leaming about diverse worldviews (Ponterotto et al., 2006). To educate themselves, in addifion to personal engagement with diverse peoples and communifies, counselors can parficipate in cultural events, read widely, view diverse Internet and media presentafions, and consult with cultural informants, that is, “people who provide insight about an indigenous group . . . usually, cultural informants are bi-cultural, meaning they can maneuver fluently both in mainstream American culture and in their own indigenous culture” (Day-Vines, Patton, & Bay tops, 2003, p. 49). Counselors’ cultural knowledge needs to include an understanding of the strengths that clients derive from their various cultural group memberships, as well as considerafion of the clients’ sociopolifical history and context, including their personal experiences of discrimination. Advocacy And Social Justice In Counseling

Journal of HUMANISTIC COUNSELING • April 2012 • Volume 51 5 3

and oppression. CUents may have developed some of their strengths through the process of deaUng with the adversifies inherent in occupying nondomi- nant status in mainstream U.S. culture. In addition, counselors should know about the potenfial posifive dimensions of cUents’ cultural groups, such as extended kinship networks, famUial piety, being bUingual, flexible gender roles, spiritual strengths, storytelling, conceptualizafion of time and con- nectedness, resiUence, and indigenous heaUng pracfices (BumhiU, Park, & Yeh, 2009; Harley, 2009; Sue & Constanfine, 2003; Vülalba, 2007). Coimselors can use culturally oriented quesfioning (McAuUffe, Grothaus, et al., 2008) with cUents to evoke those strengths or suggest these strengths to cUents.

Skills and Counseling Approaches

Effecfive use of culturally alert skills in strength-based counseling builds on this foundation of counselor cultural self-awareness and knowledge of the client’s worldview (Hunt, Matthews, Milsom, & Lammel, 2006; Sciarra, Chang, McLean, & Wong, 2005). While the skuls domain of multicultural competency is still relatively new and evolving, there have been some promising research results (McAuUffe, Grothaus, et al., 2008). As Ancis (2004c) notes, “several studies suggest that culturaUy sensifive intervenfions may increase service utilization, length of treatment, client satisfaction, and therapy outcomes . . . (yet) examination of the applicability of specific treatment procedures to culturally diverse populations has received lim- ited attention” (p. ix). Studies have also linked culturally alert counseling practices with stronger therapeutic alliances and enhanced perception of the counselor’s credibility, trustworthiness, and effectiveness (Ancis, 2004b; Zang & Dixon, 2001). Research also suggests that it is beneficial for the counselor to initiate discussion with the client(s) about culture and cultural strengths (Day-Vines et al., 2007; Harley, 2009).

Two approaches to culturally alert strength-based counseling might be discerned. One is to apply a particular cultural strength-oriented approach with certain cUents, as the following three examples illustrate. NTU psycho- therapy is a strength-based treatment model that accentuates the importance of culture and is steeped in African philosophy and spirituality. “The word ‘NTU’ (pronounced in-to) . . . [is] the cosmic, universal force from which all of life emanates . . . an aw^areness, and support and reinforcement of strength, competence, capacity, and resiUence as opposed to pathology” (Jackson, Gregory, & Davis, 2004, pp. 50-52). The authors elaborate on the six characteristics of this model: (a) spirituality; (b) focus on family, including both biological and psychological members; (c) appreciation of cultural characteristics; (d) emphasis on strengths; (e) embracing a holistic and systemic perspective and commitment to values; and (f) the four cen- tral principles of harmony, balance, authenticity, and interconnectedness. Similarly, gay-affirmative counseling (Davies & Neal, 1996) emphasizes the positive dimensions of being gay while acknowledging social prejudice.

54 Journal of HUMANISTIC COUNSELING • April 2012 • Volume 51

Davies and Neal suggest actively supporting gay chents’ appreciation of “the body self” and of body impulses, both areas that gay persons who are in early identity stages might have negative feelings about. The au- thors also promote helping gay clients establish gay support systems, as affirming “chosen families.” Davies and Neal also suggest encouraging clients to cormect with gay-oriented culture, including music, reading, and community events. Finally, noting the need for relevant models of therapy for working with American Indians, Robbins and Harrist (2004) contend that “the use of many conventional therapeutic approaches with American Indians may reenact colonization” (p. 23). They describe the use of American Indian constructionalist family therapy, which acknowledges social oppression but emphasizes strengths and possibilities and operates in a “radically collaborative” (p. 29) fashion.

As an alternafive or complement to the models aimed at specific cultural groups, other approaches to irifusing cultural strengths in counseling tend to be more universal. They involve strategically integrating cultural strengths into the counseling sessions. Psychotherapy as Liberafion (PL; Ivey, 1995) is one model for such work. In the PL approach, the counselor first assesses the client’s cultural idenfity phase, then chooses intervenfions that are regarded as effecfive and congruent for clients in that phase. For example, in the first cultural identity phase, naive/acceptant, a client might unquesfioningly ac- cept a subordinate role in the mainstream culture as a consequence of being a member of her or his nondominant culture(s). In this phase, the counselor can assist the client in arficulating the story of discriminafion and/or op- pression in concrete terms with reference to the cultural dimensions of the situafion(s). The use of strength-based counseling is especially vital in the next client phase—naming and resistance. In this phase, the client is begin- ning to be aware of the enculturafion that has led to internalized oppression. The counselor encourages and assists in finding resources that can help the client quesfion the assumpfions of his or her naive/acceptant stance. For example, an African American client who feels isolated and intimidated in her workplace by the White male environment might be helped to name the contradicfions she is experiencing and then challenge them as unhelpful social construcfions. The counselor can then help her generate the strengths inher- ent in being an African American woman by having her meet other, similar accomplished women and noting their common characterisfics and stories. Similarly, in the next phase, redefinifion and refiection, during which clients are rethinking the oppressive roles to which they have been subjected, the counselor can affirm client growth and use of strengths by reflecting client progress in empowering herself or himself. Such might be the case with a woman who has experienced domesfic violence. In this case, the counselor can help the client continue to redefine herself and her concepfion of gender roles by taking acfions such as parficipating in a support group. There, she rrüght see her agency in taking control of her life as a woman, as well as her solidarity with other women.

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Additional examples of counseling approaches that evoke cultural strengths include guided imagery with positive cultural symbols (Ivey, D’Andrea, Ivey, & Simek-Morgan, 2002), in which a client visualizes positive images of her or his culture and applies those positive images in moments of self- doubt and oppression. Another is the application of the solution-focused counseling method of finding positive exceptions to negative cultural ste- reotypes and using those exceptions to build a desired state of feeling or agency. Use of the narrative therapy (NT) notion of “unhelpful” stories that a client may have constructed about her or his culture can enable a client to deconstruct such stories by identifying the negative story in the cultural narrative that she or he observed. By contrast, in NT, the client creates a positive, strength-based, and more helpful cultural narrative, such as “My working-class people are hard-working and relational” versus “They are dull and unambitious.” The client then seeks evidence for the more helpful story through intentional conversations, observations, and reading.

In the following section, we present a hypothetical vignette and some suggested culturally alert strength-based counseling interventions.

Case Vignette

Keith is an 11-year-old African American boy raised by his grandpar- ents. Rose and James. Both Rose and James are retired; Rose was a nurse and James was an accountant. Rose and James live in a predominantly White middle-class neighborhood. The school that Keith attends is also predominantly White. Rose called the New Visions Counseling Center because Keith, who has typically been an “easy and pleasant” child, is acting out at school and at home. He is displaying what his grandparents consider disrespectful behaviors at home, and his grades are dropping significantly.

When Keith enters the counseling center, his head is down and he is visibly upset about coming to counseling. When asked, “What brings you here?” he replies, “I don’t know and I don’t care!” Over the next few sessions, Keith slowly begins to warm up to the idea of counseling. He and his counselor begin to develop a playful and honest relationship. In Session 4, Keith ad- mits that he has been angry lately. He shares, “I wish I had normal parents Uke the rest of my friends. My grandparents can’t do very much with me because they are so old. I wish they were cool Uke my friends’ parents. My real mom is so uncool that she couldn’t even take care of me and I have never even met my Dad!”


Counselors demonstrating a strength-based counseling approach could in- tervene in a number of different ways with Keith. Most of all, the counselor

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should pay particular attention to the positive elements of his situation, without trying to talk him out of his negative feelings. For example, the coimselor might ask, “What unique experiences have you had living with your grandparents that many of your friends might not have had?” Some possible elements that could be cued are some freedoms they allow him, their good cooking, the movies they watch together, the church and youth group they attend together, the fact that they are home with him when other parents are out working, the nice house they live in, and the things they have because they have more money in their older age than young parents. Or the counselor can ask, “What can you do with grandparents that would be harder to learn from parents?” or “What are some positive lessons that your grandparents have taught you in Hfe?” These questions would encourage Keith to examine some of the assets of living with his grandparents that he may have ignored before.

In addition to the aforementioned approaches, a culturafly competent counselor would also assess and work with Keith’s phase of cultural identity. Keith’s negative affect at home and his disclosure about his grandparents and mom being “uncool” may indicate that he is functioning at the first cultural identity phase, naive/acceptant. If this is the case, the counselor could begin to assist Keith in examining the various cultural dimensions of his current living situation: “Tell me what it is like being a young Black male in your neighborhood (or school)?”

If Keitia has negative feelings about being Black, or just being different, he can be helped to discover the strengths of his ethnicity. For example, the counselor may ask, “Who are your heroes?” (with suggestions about African American role models from the media, history, or literature). Or “Tell me about your church or place of worship. What are the kids like?” Bibliotherapy or video tiierapy might be in order also, with suggested readings and videos on African American themes being suggested to his teachers and grandparents. In that vein, the counselor can consult with Keith’s teachers so that they encourage peer interactions and introduce discussions of the many diversi- ties and commonalities in the class (ethnicity, gender, abilities, religion, etc.).

These examples highlight ways that counselors can actively work against prejudice and oppression by helping clients to find their cultural strengths (Ancis, 2004a; Constantine, 2006; Miville & Ferguson, 2006), and, if clients desire, by assisting them as they learn the “codes needed to participate fully in the mainstream of American life . . . while learning the culture of power, they must also be helped to learn about the arbitrariness of these codes” (Delpit, 1995, p. 45). Such an approach can be used with working- class clients, women, gay persons, chents with disabüities, older clients, and clients from nondominant ethnic groups, or any clients who may have learned to value the dominant narrative over their own culture’s narrative. As Galassi and Akos (2004) point out, “counselors are both direct service providers and advocates for the qualities and contexts that research has shown facilitate achievement and positive . . . development” (p. 153).

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Advocacy is increasingly touted as a complementary and necessary set of skills and actions for professional counselors (Lewis, Arnold, House, & Toporek, 2002). It is also a means of increasing clients’ strengths. For pur- poses of this discussion, advocacy will be defined as “the act of empowering individuals or groups through actions that increase self-efficacy, remove barriers to needed services, and promote systemic change” (McAuliffe, Grothaus, et al., 2008, p. 613). Advocacy is woven into the fundamental fabric of our profession. One of the pioneers of our profession, Frank Parsons, embraced the role of counselor as social activist throughout his career (e.g., fighting the dehumanizing elements of large corporations and advocating for women’s suffrage). For Parsons, counseling and activism for social justice were inextricably intertwined.

Contemporary voices echo this passion for justice and equity, declaring that a preeminent role of a strength-based counselor is to advocate for em- powerment and healthy development, as it is contextually and culturally defined, for all people. This entails work in session with clients and “out” with the institutions, environments, and policies that affect clients’ lives (Galassi & Akos, 2007). This call is consistent with a strength-based model of counseling. As Whalen et al. (2004) observe, “ultimately, counselors must consider the question of whether or how individuals can develop optimally in an oppressive culture. . . . Counseling must help foster an active com- mitment to actively challenge injustice” (p. 382).

In order to challenge a status quo that maintains inequities, advocacy must be part of strength-based counseling. Clients’ struggles and issues are not solely intrapsychic concerns. Counselors need to acknowledge and validate the experience of racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, and other forms of oppression that clients experience (Ancis, 2004a; Constanfine, 2006; Liu, Hernandez, Mahmood, & Stinson, 2006). In addition, cfient empow- erment and acfions for justice need to follow (Ancis, 2004b; Constantine, 2006; Day-Vines et al., 2003; Kim, 2005; Roysircar, 2006; Simcox, Nuijens, & Lee, 2006; T. B. Smith et al., 2004; Vera, Buhin, & Shin, 2006). Counseling that disregards sociopolitical and economic factors may not be effective or ethical. As Herlihy and Watson (2003) point out.

The traditional one-on-one, in-the-office approach may have limited value with cli- ents whose problems originate in social discrimination and oppression. Counselors operating as advocates, social change agents, and consultants can help minority clients leam skills they can use to interact successfully with various forces within their commurüty. The client and counselor, working together coUegially, can address urüiealthy forces within the system and design prevention programs to reduce the negative impact of discrimination and oppression, (p. 368)

Advocacy is an attitude as well as actions with and on behalf of clients (Kaffenberger, Davis, Gilchrist-Banks, & Grothaus, 2008). Acts of advocacy

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can range from simple interventions, such as negotiating for appropriate services for cUents, to more complex and challenging undertakings, involv- ing the following: empowerment, collaboration, development of critical consciousness, persistence, leadership, systems analysis, use of data, and promotion of social change within institutions and communities (Constan- tine et al, 2007; Lewis et al., 2002; Ratts, DeKruyf, & Chen-Hayes, 2007). No system is completely equitable; no community satisfactorily serves all of its stakeholders. One could surmise that when counselors are not engaging in advocacy, they are a part of the problem.

Empowerment, a core principle of strength-based work, is viewed as a culturally influenced process (Savage, Harley, & Nowak, 2005). It can be encouraged through engaging in a respectful, collaborative partnership with one’s cUent(s) in which client strengths are recognized and vaUdated (HipoUto-Delgado & Lee, 2007). The goals of empowerment include three elements: “fostering critical consciousness, fadUtating the development of positive identity, and encouraging social action” (Sciarra & Whitson, 2007, p. 336).

Promoting Critical Consciousness

Critical consciousness involves recognizing the effects of social structures on people and acting against the oppressive elements of society. Counselors can help cUents to become crificaUy conscious by pointing out discrepancies between their experiences and society’s biases and by informing them of social arrangements that are harmful to nondominant groups. It should be noted that becoming crificaUy conscious is not always a pleasant or easy perspective to embrace. CUents might resist such a change in perspecfive, from tinthinking acceptance of social stratificafion to a restless questioning of the status quo (McAuUffe, Darmer, Grothaus, & Doyle, 2008).

Encouraging Cultural Identity Development

Counselor facilitation of positive identity for clients and the empowerment it may bring can be guided by the relevant cultural idenfity development models (e.g., see Ponterotto et al., 2006). Those include gay identity models (e.g., Szymanski, 2008), ethnic idenfity models (e.g.. Harper & McFadden, 2003), and racial idenfity models (e.g., HeUns, 1990; McAuUffe, Gomez, & Grothaus, 2008). Counselors can guide clients through phases of cultural identity, from self-disparagement and inferiority through discovery of discriminatory social arrangements to pride and perhaps to multicultural identities. At certain stages, strengths are central to identity development. For example, a cUent in the immersion stage can be helped to discover role models, contributions of her or his culture, and the strengths that that cul- ture brings to her or his life. In that way, she or he might move to a more reflective perspective on culture, incorporating pride with it.

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Participating in Social Action

Counselors are in ideal positions to attend to both individual acts of discrimination and the stresses that accompany being a member of a nondominant group by building upon an individual’s strengths and be- ing alert to and acting on instances of institutionalized oppression. An apt analogy might be that of a driver who replenishes her or his vehicle’s fuel but disregards the hole in the tank. In similar fashion, without a commitment to advocacy, a counselor is quite possibly an unwitting accomplice to the maintenance of an oppressive societal status quo. As noted by Bienvenu and Ramsey (2006), “counselors must be advocates . . . as advocates, counselors are systemic change agents, working to affect social systems in ways that will ultimately benefit the . . . clients with whom they work” (p. 348).

Unfortunately, there are abundant issues to address, on both a lo- cal and a global level. For example, research indicates that as early as first grade, girls and boys of diverse cultural background and lower socioeconomic strata begin to restrict their occupational aspirations (Jackson & Grant, 2004). In addition, students in more affluent schools are more likely to be enrolled in a rigorous curriculum, matriculate in schools that have adequate educational resources, and be taught by a highly qualified teacher (Bailey, Getch, & Chen-Hayes, 2007; Gordon, 2006). Yet, students from families with fewer economic resources are not sentenced to second-class outcomes. In a number of school districts all across the United States, the infusion of proven strength-based meth- ods into the curriculum and operating procedures have been a catalyst for significant gains in benchmark indicators (Sciarra, 2001). In mental health counseling, counselors can be complicit in the culture-biased diagnoses. For example, diagnosis of schizophrenia for African Ameri- cans is approximately double and for Latinos/Latinas is 50% greater proportionally than for non-Latino/Latina White Americans. When key factors are controlled (e.g., income, education level), the difference between the cultural groups is not significant (Paniagua, 2005).

To illustrate advocacy as a vital aspect of culturally responsive strength- based counseling, we present a hypothetical vignette of Marlene, followed by suggesfions of strength-oriented advocacy/empowerment intervenfions that her counselor could consider.

Case Vignette

Marlene is a 42-year-old Latina woman living in a working-class urban community. She is raising three young boys, ages 8, 10, and 13. In her own neighborhood, she has seen the negative impact of gang activity. She is fearful that her sons will be lured into this lifestyle. She feels that she is helpless. She wonders if there is any way out for her sons. At

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the present time, her sons are succeeding in school. However, the local school system does not offer any extracurricular activities after school hours. She believes that the lack of resources sets her sons, and others, up for failure. During sessions with Marlene, her counselor notices that she appears visibly anxious.

Given the concepts of strength-based counseling and advocacy, Mar- lene’s counselor could help identify or acknowledge and then validate Marlene’s fear, anxiety, and possible anger with the lack of resources available for her sons and other external barriers or factors that affect their lives in a negative fashion. Additionally, the counselor and client would identify the family and cultural strengths that can serve as resources while working together to come up with a concrete plan for addressing these inequities during sessions. The strength-oriented counselor would serve as a guide, monitoring, empowering, and encouraging Marlene in her attempts to advocate for her sons. For example, using concepts from the previous discussion, the counselor might help Marlene develop criti- cal consciousness about the services that are available in middle-class neighborhoods, but not in hers, such as recreation centers, libraries, well-equipped schools, and parks. The counselor might discuss the work of community organizers in her area, opening the door for Marlene to get involved in political actions. That step might increase her sense of solidarity with like-minded persons and her feelings of support through having allies. Further, the counselor might link Marlene with adults in the community who might serve as mentors for her children. Such men- tors might include sports coaches and religious education leaders. In that way, the counselor would help Marlene feel empowered to make some changes in her children’s situations, and the children could be engaged in positive activities. Further, the counselor might ally with the local uni- versity to locate funding for after-school enrichment programs, in which parenting and self-advocacy skills are taught by graduate students and undergraduates conduct tutoring, mentoring, career and college explora- tion, and cultural activities with children.


It is essential to effective and ethical practice that counselors infuse culture, including advocacy and empowerment, into any strength-based efforts. Whether engaging in practice or research, integrating culture and the active practice of advocacy is critical. As a key catalyst to successful infu- sion of these vital elements, the personal commitment of the counselor is paramount. As T. B. Smith et al. (2004) asserted, “practicing multicultural- ism means internalizing the principles of multicultural competency and acting accordingly. . . . A book or class carmot provide for multicultural competence because multiculturalism is not just a set of facts, guidelines, or principles. It is a way of life” (p. 15).

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