Advocacy and Social Justice in Counseling

Advocacy and Social Justice in Counseling

Advocacy and Social Justice in Counseling

Humanism, Feminism, and Multiculturalism: Essential Elements

of Social Justice in Counseling, Education, and Advocacy


This article explores the association between and among humanism, feminism, multicultural-

ism, and social justice in counseling, education, and advocacy. In so doing, it shows how these

theoretical forces, individually and collectively, are essential to professional counseling, client

welfare, education, and the promotion of social justice. The author also outlines suggestions

for future integrative work in these areas.

It is imporfant to consider the commonalities among theoretical perspectives in counseling, education, and advocacy that emphasize Wellness, shared understanding, and human development from a contextual perspective. Humanism, feminism, multiculturalism, and social justice counseling and advocacy are four such approaches that are increasingly being used in the mental health professions to promote client welfare, student development, and a healthier society. The following sections of this article briefly describe these theoretical forces and their relevance for new directions in counsel- ing, education, and advocacy.


Humanism is at the foundational core of counseling and counseling psy- chology (Harma & Bemak, 1997). Historically considered the third force in the counseling profession (Ivey, D’Andrea, & Ivey, 2011), early humanists like Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow rejected the prevailing medical model and its biological determinism as it existed during their times. Today, many humanistic-oriented counselors and educators continue the humanistic tradition, emphasizing principles and practices that focus on healthy human development, human strengths, and an understanding of people in their environmental contexts (Lundin, 1996).

Peggy Brady-Amoon, Department of Professional Psychology and Family Therapy, Seton Hall University. Portions of this article were presented at the New Jersey Counseling Association Annual Conference, April 2010. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Peggy Brady-Amoon, De- partment of Professional Psychology and Family Therapy, Seton Hall University, 400 South Orange Avenue, South Orange, N] 07079 (e-mail:

© 2011 by the American Counseling Association. All rights reserved.

Journal of HUMANISTIC COUNSELING • Fall 2011 • Volume 50 135



Humanisfic counselors and educafors use a holisfic approach fhaf re- specfs people’s inherenf dignify, creafivify, and abilify fo reach fheir own definition of self-actualizafion (Hansen, 2006; Scholl, 2006). Guided by such humanistic principles, fhese pracfifioners sfrive fo understand each individual’s unique experience. This includes working fo understand how clients make meaning of their life experiences and perceptions of gender, race, ethnicity, and other aspects of their personal identity (Kirschenbaum, 2007; Rogers, 1977,1980).

Operating from such principles, humanistic counselors endeavor to foster optimal and healthy human development when working with clients whose well-being is often impaired hy Stressors they encounter in their life. Human- istic counselors recognize that the Stressors that undermine clients’ health and well-being frequently arise from incompatible interactions between the environmental conditions and reactions that the client encounters in life and his or her sense of self (Raskin & Rogers, 1995). More specifically, Carl Rog- ers’s person-centered theory (Raskin & Rogers, 1995; Rogers, 1980) posits that anxiety and other manifestations of distress arise when people experience environmental conditions that result in feelings of personal marginalization and devaluation that are inconsistent with their own sense of themselves.

Abraham Maslow’s humanistic theory includes another perspective relevant for the present discussion.

Although Maslow was one of the first to study optimal human behavior, he is best known for his hierarchy of needs theory (Maslow, 1943,1954,1968). This theory suggests that people experience stress, which may be manifested as psychological disorders, when they are unable to satisfy progressively more complex human needs. These needs range from basic physiological survival needs to safety, love and belonging, esteem needs, and finally to the need for self-actualization. Frequently, factors that block people’s ability to satisfy these human needs are environmentally based (Lundin, 1996). These environmentally based barriers to healthy human development are often more pronounced among people who routinely face marginalization and other forms of injustice.

In their work with clients, humanistic counselors create a therapeutic environment that is characterized by the cotmselor’s genuineness, empathie understanding, and “unconditional positive regard” (Rogers, 1957, p. 96). Together, these three conditions coalesce to provide “the necessary and sufficient conditions” (1957, p. 96) that Rogers hypothesized as key factors in fostering clients’ healthy development and healing.

In addition to being used in individual and group counseling settings, humanistic principles have also been applied in educational settings as well as in organizational consultation (Hoffman, 1988) and social justice and peace initiatives. Regarding the latter point, Kirschenbaum (2007) de- scribed how Carl Rogers used humanistic principles and practices when working to promote peace in nations stricken hy violence. Rogers’s work in this area resulted in his nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 (Kirschenbaum, 2007).

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The impact of the humanistic movement in general and Rogers’s contribu- tions in addressing peace and social justice issues in particular have been complemented and extended by advances within the h u m a n i s t i c – existential paradigm as well as other newly developing forces in the mental health professions. Among these complementary forces was the emergence of feminist counseling and therapy models during the 1960s and 1970s.


Feminist counseling and therapy is grounded in an understanding that people develop within a sociopolitical context that privileges men at the expense of women’s and men’s psychological, social, economic, and po- litical development. In addition, recognizing that the personal is political, a key construct in feminism and feminist counseling, feminist counseling and therapy recognizes that individual and social change are mutually interdependent (Evans, Kincade, Marbley, & Seem, 2005).

Early feminists participated in peer-led consciousness-raising groups to increase their awareness and knowledge of the contextual factors that contribute to women’s oppression and to support each other’s development and liberation, often through assertiveness and advocacy. In concert with efforts to promote women’s political and economic equality, early second- stage feminists advocated for and attained some degree of systemwide change, particularly awareness of and support for survivors of rape and other sexual assaults and for women who sought to leave abusive relation- ships, often taking their children with them (Evans et al., 2005).

The feminist movement has operated on principles that are compatible with the tradition of humanism, but the movement’s origins occurred outside of the academy (Reynolds & Constantine, 2004).

Knowing the importance of translating the ideas that characterized the rapidly growing feminist movement in the 1960s and 1970s, many early feminist counselors adopted and augmented humanistic approaches to cotinseling, particularly Rogers’s person-centered approach, to help stimulate women’s mental health, sense of well-being, and personal-political empowerment through new forms of counseling practices (Vasquez, 2003).

Although feminist counselors currently draw from a variety of theoretical orientations when working with clients, these practitioners increasingly recognize the need to attend to cultural and other forms of human diversity in the helping process. In so doing, they continue to direct particular atten- tion to the impact of power in general, power imbalances in relationships in particular, and the effect that larger cultural contexts have on people’s development (Comstock et a l , 2008; Evans et a l , 2005).

One of the power imbalances that feminist counselors are able to address within the counseling context is the power differential that results from com- mon client perceptions that the counselor has more expertise—on the client’s life and life circumstances—than the client has. When this perceived power