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Social Justice Competent Counselor

According to Vera and Speight (2003), multicultural competence is limiting if it is not combined with a commitment to social justice and advocacy. Lewis and Arnold (1998) added that counselors who develop a sense of multicultural competence often find that client problems are rooted in larger social, political, and economic conditions. However, they are ill equipped to help clients who present issues that are systemically based. The inability to address systemic issues may stem from the lack of social justice training efforts in counselor education programs (L. A. Goodman et al., 2004).

In their critical analysis of the social justice counseling movement, S. D. Smith, Reynolds, and Rovnak (2009) suggested that it is important to articulate a set of social justice awareness, knowledge, and skills. We attempt to articulate the awareness, knowledge, and skills in the following sections.

Gaining Self-Awareness

Being a social justice change agent requires that counselors develop an awareness of themselves as change agents and advocates. More specifically, counselors with a commitment to social justice need to understand their strengths and challenges to being an advocate for their clients. This can be accomplished through professional development opportunities and through the use of assessment instruments. For example, Chen-Hayes (2001) developed the Social Justice Advocacy Questionnaire, a 188-item instrument that measures respondents' awareness, knowledge, and skills around diversity and social justice issues. Hays, Chang, and Decker (2007) developed the Privilege and Oppression Inventory, an 82- item instrument that assesses counselors' awareness of privilege and oppression along the dimensions of race, sexual orientation, religion, and gender. Similarly, Rubin and Peplau (1975) developed the 20-item Belief in a Just World Scale, which measures an individual's attitudes and beliefs toward acceptance of a just world. The Social Justice Advocacy Scale was also created to measure respondent's advocacy behaviors on behalf of individuals from oppressed populations (van Soest, 1996). Ratts and Ford (2010) developed the Advocacy Competencies Self-Assessment (ACSA) Survey®. The ACSA Survey® provides counselors a means to determine their level of competence around the three levels and six domains of the Advocacy Competencies. Collectively, these instruments serve as a tool for the helping professional who seeks to gain awareness on what it means to be a change agent and advocate for social justice.

Gaining Additional Knowledge and Skills

Sue and Sue (2008) noted that counselors are often hesitant to implement social justice advocacy strategies. Much of this may be due to a lack of knowledge and skills around social justice. Helping professionals can gain more knowledge of social justice by familiarizing themselves with community action theories and concepts, such as Moyer, McAllister, Finley, and Soifer's (2001) movement action plan framework for organizing social movements. Rogers's (2003) theory of diffusion of innovation can also be useful when considering how to diffuse anxieties and fears that come with introducing new social justice ideas into an organization.

 
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