Self-Advocacy in the Real World

self-advocacy in the real world

“At the heart of all that civilization has meant and developed is ‘community’ – the mutually cooperative and voluntary venture of man to assume a semblance of responsibility for his brother.”
–Martin Luther King

Johnny has been battling depression for the last few months and his concerned mother has brought him to my private practice for an assessment and consultation. After the initial session, it comes to light that Johnny has had difficulty handling the adjustment to a new school brought on by the fact that he and his mother had to move after the loss of his father, who was killed in the Iraq war.

Johnny is a 17-year-old who displays his African-American heritage (father’s side) and his mother is white. Johnny and his mother had to move in with her parents for economic reasons and the community they moved into is made up of mostly white Anglo-Saxon constituents.

After months of working with Johnny through consultation and therapy sessions, he has shown immense improvement and we concluded that unless Johnny and his mother feel it is warranted, our sessions will end.

Have I done enough to help Johnny? Have I, as a community counselor, given Johnny enough tools to combat the environment from which he lives within every day?

Social advocacy theorists would say no.

Courtland Lee from “Social Justice: A Moral Imperative for Counselors” states:

“In addition to working at the interpersonal level with clients or students, a counselor must also be able to accurately perceive environmental influences on human development and possess kills to intervene at a system-wide level to challenge environmental barriers that stifle potential and block opportunities.” (Lee, 2007, p- 1)


Many in the field of counseling would say that it is imperative that counselors fully prescribe to the ideal of not only treating the individual but also “to foster sociopolitical changes that reflect greater responsiveness to the client’s needs” (Kiselica, 2001, p- 387).

Others would counter and state that:

  • The duty and focus of a counselor is the internal needs of the client; leave the environmental adjustments to others in specialized fields such as social work.
  • Counselors should follow the wellness model and stay within the parameters they were trained.
    Some would question the value and worth of the effects of social advocacy. “There is often a high price to pay for being an activist including feeling emotionally drained, being viewed as a troublemaker, placing your job in jeopardy and becoming the target of backlash from colleagues at work or of harassment from intolerant individuals” (Kiselica, p- 393).
  • Still others would argue that that the complexity of an issue such as abortion cannot be stripped down to simple answers and divided camps would be created in the counseling field.

“Prejudice may develop towards professionals who do not self-identify as an advocate nor do they advocate for every single issue and topic in the advocacy literature. We believe that counseling professionals should be given the freedom to choose areas of social advocacy in a manner that is congruent with their culture and developmental level.”
(Smith, 2009 p- 488).

So let’s look at:

  •  Historical highlights of the counseling profession as it relates to advocacy.
  •  The ACA position on social advocacy mainly from the findings of the 2002 the American   Counseling Association (ACA) Task Force on Advocacy Competencies.
  • The pros and cons on the issue of social advocacy.


Self-Advocacy in the Real World

Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC

Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC is a licensed professional counselor (LPC) in northern Michigan who has a passion for reading, writing, music and helping others. He specializes in counseling complex family situations, substance abuse, and parenting. Steve’s counseling philosophy is holistic, approaching each issue on its own merit and evaluating influences to help overcome life’s dilemmas.


APA Reference
Greenman, S. (2016). Self-Advocacy in the Real World. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 19 Feb 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 19 Feb 2016
Published on All rights reserved.