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Christine Forte Jun 16, 2020

Calling Out Injustice: The Counselor as Advocate

For the last three months, I have been writing a blog for the ACA about considerations for counselors during the outbreak of COVID-19. Last week I was planning to address continued considerations as many places begin to re-open. However, in of recent events with police brutality and protests in many of our nation’s cities, I did not want to draw attention away from the important conversations that are happening and action towards change, so I took a week to pause and give attention to those voices who needed it.

To be very open, I also hesitated to write a piece about racial inequality: I felt unprepared to do so. I am not by any means an expert in social justice, and as a white woman I didn’t want to talk over anyone’s voice who has suffered directly from racism and injustice. In short, I didn’t think that this was my story to tell or that I was in any way prepared to help anyone else in the action to take in moving forward.

However as many have said during this time: if we are not part of the solution, then we are part of the problem. It is imperative to stand up together. I am reminded of the words of the philosopher, John Stuart Mill, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” There have been too many times in human history that good men did nothing, or didn’t do enough, resulting in harm continuing against their fellow humans.

Furthermore, as counselors we are often confronted with painful issues that are not our own personal experience. I am reminded of section A.7.a of the ACA Code of Ethics which calls us to “advocate at individual, group, institutional, and societal levels to address potential barriers and obstacles that inhibit access and/or the growth and development of clients.” As a counselor who has worked with clients of all races, it is then part of my ethical code to advocate against barriers to their growth and development. I would certainly say that this includes advocating for equality.

So while I am no expert on how change needs to happen or what comes next, I do know that what has been happening in our country in the way that members of minorities have been discriminated against and abused needs to stop. I might not be equipped to be a leader of this cause—most of us as counselors likely don’t feel that we are—but I am prepared to listen, and to follow in seeking right actions, to support giving a voice to someone who has been silent.

Of course we have all studied multicultural issues in counseling when we were in graduate school, and as members of our profession I hope that we have not stopped there but have continued to examine ourselves and how we practice when it comes to cultural competence. However, current events certainly highlight the need to continue to re-examine—to bring greater awareness—to see if we really are doing better. As a therapist who has specialized in treating trauma, I also thought an important part of this was to better inform myself about treating the intergenerational and systemic trauma that the African-American community has experienced.

Through a podcast that I listen to regularly, I found my way to My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menake, a trauma specialist. This workbook is essential for anyone looking to expand their ability to work with trauma. Part of what I appreciated so much about Mr. Menake’s work is that it is not a purely theoretical text, but rather it requires us to confront our own discomforts, biases, and contributions to current problems. It can also help us expand our ability to empathize by working through our own intergenerational traumas. In order to be helpful to our clients who have been marginalized and discriminated against we have to be prepared to be vulnerable enough to face this pain. This is not an easy path to open up to, and certainly one that I don’t have all the answers for how to go about; but for those of us who have benefited from white privilege, we start in a place of beginner’s mind and are willing to listen, willing to learn whatever we can.

I know that expanding my knowledge as a therapist and examining my own biases is one more step along a journey of which there will be many more. I am grateful to Mr. Menake for being willing to share so much of his personal journey as well as all of the research he has done in writing this therapeutic guide. I am honored to have found him as a teacher.

But I have a lot more to learn, and so I am interested to know what the rest of you are reading right now, or how you are working to mobilize as counselors in advocating for your clients and communities. Please do share in the comments section, so that we may more strongly stand and grow together.
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Christine Forte is a counselor working in private practice online with the globally mobile community. She has recently repatriated to the US with her family after ten years of living and working in Shanghai, China. You can contact her at Christine(at)forteklotz.com or read more about her practice at www.forteklotz.com

 

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