Navigating My Professional Identity as a Social Justice-Oriented Counsellor: “The Professional is Political”
By Walaa Taha
“Education is our passport to the future” – Malcom X
As the daughter of immigrant parents, the arduous struggles my parents endured to provide me with a “better passport to the future” is what underlies my dedication to pursue counselling and support others in their educational and career journeys. However, what if one does not have the tools to develop their career due to factors beyond their control? How then does our role as professionals fit in with empowering others to succeed in their careers regardless of their challenges?
In reflecting upon this, a powerful “aha moment” was learning the Hays “ADDRESSING” model (2008) . This model posits that an individual’s identity is a multidimensional combination of Age, Developmental and acquired Disabilities, Religion, Ethnicity, Socioeconomic status, Sexual orientation, Indigenous heritage, National origin and Gender (Hays, 2008). These various aspects of identity may reflect privileges or oppression that either facilitate or hinder individuals in reaching their career goals. As a female, a visible member of a cultural and religious minority, and the first person in my family to pursue graduate studies, I have constantly faced challenges while treading a path that is filled with doubt and discomfort. However, I recognize the privilege that accompanies the opportunities I possess and the strengths I have in my identity, which allow me to embrace the challenges I face with gratitude and hope. As a counsellor, I want to support others to use their strengths to reach their career goals as well, while recognizing and better understanding the role cultural influences play in this process.
Further, as a graduate student in a program committed to social justice, I am constantly assessing my positionality and hence, my responsibility of challenging and dismantling the social inequities that exist within our society. Implementing a social justice framework requires counsellors to address issues of inequity, power and oppression, with the aim of challenging unjust policies and systems (Stewart, 2014), as various research studies have shown the negative impacts of societal oppression on health outcomes in individuals (Nadal et al., 2014; Ratts et al., 2016). To alleviate social oppression, we must utilize our professional roles and take a stance on societal injustices. It is not enough to be aware of the inequities in our society, but rather, it is critical that we take a stance of action because “doing nothing to address social injustices is both a choice and form of action – one that directly or indirectly supports injustices” (Arthur & Collins, 2014). Therefore, “the professional is political”; as a professional, it is critical to take stances on social issues to ensure we are not perpetuating the injustices we aim to eliminate (Arthur & Collins, 2014). This involves challenging dominant discourses that are prescriptive rather than responsive and accepting, and allowing space for alternative ways of knowing and being (McNamee, 2015). This includes being curious about differences, being open to new understandings and moving away from having to reach one ultimate “truth.” This includes questioning the ways in which aspects of our profession can further marginalize individuals if we do not implement cultural and social considerations. Further, engaging in active stances on social issues will help us, as counsellors and educators, in supporting others in realizing and reaching their potential by challenging the systemic barriers they face when pursuing their educational and career goals.
Walaa Taha is currently a graduate student at the University of Calgary, pursuing a MSc in Counselling Psychology. Her interests include counsellor education and training, with a focus on multicultural counselling competencies and how this pertains to supporting clients in fulfilling their educational and career goals.
Arthur, N., & Collins, S. (2014). Counsellors, counselling, and social justice: The professional is political. Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy, 48(3).
BlackPast, B. (2007) (1964) Malcolm X’s Speech at the Founding Rally of the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Retrieved from https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/1964-malcolm-x-s-speech-founding-rally-organization-afro-american-unity/
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