PhD Model Answer: Social Advocacy in Counseling

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[. . .] " Indeed many of the tenets and precepts of current social justice advocates are aligned with the postmodernist philosophy, which has been associated with Marxist principles by many scholars (e.g., see Johnson, 2009; Nicholson & Seidman, 1995). This is not to suggest that social advocacy is a "communist plot" but instead is an attempt to understand how social justice advocates may instead attempt to promote certain political agendas in the name of science. There is no denying that upbringing, environment, and experience shape who we are (this has always been the fundamental psychological principle of human behavior), but social advocates may attempt to exploit this principle in terms of certain agendas. The issues of social change are tackled by political scientists, social researchers, and sociologists as opposed to counselors or counselor educators

Secondly, Smith et al. (2009) point out the social advocacy as a paradigm makes certain bold claims, such as being effective clinically, when there is little or no empirical evidence for these claims. The research for the effectiveness of social advocacy as a counseling paradigm that can add to positive treatment outcomes suffers from poorly designed studies with small effects. The notion that societal illness leads to mental illness places the counselor in a role of an agent of social change as opposed to treating clients or families with personal issues. Social advocacy theory and practice are expressed in professions such as political science, social work, and sociology. How would or why would a counselor add to these professions and still keep their separate identity? There has been a shift in some areas of counseling skill; however, these new competencies might present with good face validity, there is little empirical support with regards to their efficacy in counseling. This is a key issue.

Let us relook at some of the research cited previously. Dohrenwend (2000) notes the association with oppression, stress, and poor health both physical and mental health. There are so many issues with Dohrenwend's conclusions it is almost tragic that a peer-reviewed journal would print them. First, it is STRESS and not oppression that is related to issues with health. This literature is vast and is not new by any means (e.g., see Carlson, 2011). Stress is the culprit in this paradigm. Now, if only oppression caused stress or if only stress lead to mental health issues then one could argue Dohrenwend's conclusions have some basis and are sound. But in fact stress has many causes that include things like being oppressed by society, a harsh or ill spouse, a job, getting divorced or married, etc. Prolonged stress is associated with the increased risk of having poor health (Carslon, 2011), but stress is not causal as not everyone who experiences the same stressors develops health issues. Moreover, not everyone who belongs to a disenfranchised group of some type develops mental health problems either. These notions of cause and effect, association, and the definition of a risk factor are so elementary that a first-year undergraduate statistics student should know them, but apparently some researchers are not aware of "correlation does not imply causation" (as we should have all heard many times). A risk factor is some condition, practice, or entity that increases the probability of developing an illness or disorder, but it is not causal (Redelmeier, Koehler, Liberman, & Tversky, 1995). As it turns out, most of the research cited by Ratts and others that attempts to present societal oppression as a direct cause of mental illness is flawed in a like manner. If these theorists wish to define stress, and not social oppression as a culprit and make the study of stress-related illness a new paradigm they are a bit late, as that paradigm already exists and is called health psychology (Marks, Murray, Evans, & Estacio, 2011).

Third, Smith et al. (2009) make a good case that when one investigates the history of paradigms in psychology and counseling there is little support for the assertion that social advocacy is the "fifth force" in psychological thought. Instead these authors view this movement as a recurring wave on the social sciences and in counseling. They note that there have been several past instances (e.g., Dworkin & Dworkin, 1971; Goldman, 1971) where advocacy was encouraged as a response to social trends of those times. Social advocacy is a historical label for the birth of the counseling profession. Ratts (2009) states that the paradigm is not rediscovered but instead redefined as Kuhn (1970) outlined.

Other issues that Smith et al. (2009) discuss include the notion of disenfranchisement of those counselors who are not identified as part of the social advocacy movement. One can actually see hints of this in Ratts (2009) and in others discussion such as Greenleaf and Williams, (2009). Moreover, Ratts' (2009) assertion that the DSM-IV-TR diagnostic scheme is created to foster social oppression has no basis in fact. The fact that there are both over-diagnoses and under-diagnoses of disorders in disenfranchised groups relates to inherent issues in the diagnostic classification system and those making the diagnosis and not an overarching plan by some ethnic group to exploit others. This assertion is so ridiculous it undermines what true social advocacy should encompass. In addition Ratts' (2009) and others (e.g., Greenleaf & Williams, 2009) assertion that the counseling field and the ACA should give credence to social justice and social advocacy counseling theories over other long established paradigms is elitist and itself discriminatory. There is no evidence that social advocacy/justice counseling theory is the only legitimate explanation of psychological distress (in fact there is little evidence that it is a legitimate explanation). The ACA or any theorist do not have the right to dictate what paradigm a counselor will follow when treating a client, except perhaps in cases where a paradigm has been empirically demonstrated to be ineffective or harmful to the client.

Moreover, what forms of advocacy are to be mandated by the ACA? Are all forms of advocacy appropriate for every counseling professional or group? Smith et al. (2009) reports that certain counselors have reported a lack of ability to advocate in certain ways or situations due to their own cultural backgrounds. Should not these individuals have the right to abstain from advocating in ways that conflict with their values and beliefs? One example here might be the gay marriage issue or an issue with abortion. Possibly the worst form of disenfranchisement is an attack on the personal or professional character of someone. Interestingly, the drive to be tolerant of others and to be culturally competent often turns into intolerance for opposing views as can be seen publically recently with the issues involving the views of the upper management of the Chick-Fil -- A Corporation. As Smith et al. (2009) state:

Rigid criticism of dogma creates the potential for the oppressed to become the oppressor, wherein the oppressed use the strategies of the oppressor, such as labeling, personalization, isolation, and rigid adherence to one particular stance against another, rather than engage in thoughtful counter dialogue. (p. 491).

A Paradigm?

Theories are comprised of a series of logical propositions presented systematically which describe and explain some aspect of the world or universe (e.g., behavior), whereas paradigms are broad theoretical formulations (Godfrey-Smith, 2003). Theories and paradigms are pretty much the same concept except that paradigms are often used to designate theoretical formulations that describe a philosophy of some action or practice. The terms "theory" and "hypothesis" are often used interchangeably (which is incorrect) and often in a lay sense are used to mean "an explanation" of some type. However, the notion of what constitutes a scientific theory has become a more complex issue.

What Constitutes a Theory or Paradigm?

Kuhn (1970) reports that in the twentieth century three influential views of what makes up theories were: (1) a theory is reducible to observables, (2) theories are used a tools or guides to do something, and (3) theories are statements about existing things (past, present, or future). However, a theory may not deal directly with observables. In any theory of intelligence the construct of "intelligence" is never directly observable and only the variables in the hypotheses been tested that are operationalized to represent intelligence are observable (e.g., IQ test results). The view of observables confuses a hypothesis with a theory. They are not the same. Theories are not reducible to direct observations, hypotheses are. The other two views that Kuhn discuses relevant, but do not distinguish a scientific theory from a lay theory or any other statement. Likewise oppression can only exist as an operationalized variable; we cannot look at oppression unless we define it in some specific context.

There has also been a prevailing notion made by many philosophers of science that almost any theory can be maintained in the face of almost any evidence if adjustments are made elsewhere in the theory (Godfrey-Smith, 2003). Thus, theories can perpetuate themselves indefinitely. This is simply not true. For instance the flat earth theory, the theory of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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