Sunday, April 8, 2012


As mental health counselors we support change toward higher quality of life. To that end, we must also advocate for increasing the quality of life for humankind in various areas of need. Advocacy is an opportunity to support change in life quality to individuals or groups of individuals in need of such change. Any minority, whether one individual or a thousand can have needs, specific to their population whose success may depend on the training and knowledge of an advocate. Empowering the group or individual with knowledge and the ability to promote necessary change is the power of advocacy. Creating public awareness is one of its products, and a necessary beginning for change (Milsom, 2010).

My personal passion in advocacy is for the new generation of cancer patients. This is a group who has a new perspective toward their treatment, an awareness of choices, general understanding of their disease (assisted by the internet,) and a desire to maintain control in within the constraints of their illness. Over the last few decades there has been limited research on these new attitudes, and many patients from this group are left with doctors who have a difficult time understanding their need for independence and autonomy. Additionally, many professionals providing psychological services are not familiar with resources specific to their situation. Many counselors and other mental health professionals are unsure of how to provide advocacy to help get clients the resources they want (Gibson, 2010).

Whether focusing on one client or creating resources for the group of patients in this situation, it is important to place the power to change in the individual or individual's hands, rather than forcing change as an advocate (Toparek, Lewis, & Crethar, 2009). These same authors found an empowering process for providing guidance and support. Using a process similar to the one used by Toparek, Lewis, and Crethar (2009), I would first work toward increasing awareness of the dynamics of the situation. In my example of advocacy for cancer patients, perhaps understanding and redefining the typical and traditional roles of the patient and doctor would be beneficial. Doctors and other health care professionals can represent an institutional barrier for patients wishing to develop their own treatment goals, and maintain control over their future. For these individuals it will be important to teach them skills to gain some amount of control over the things they can, in fact, control, and perhaps coping skills for the aspects of their illness they cannot control (Toparek, Lewis, & Crethar, 2009).

Further empowering is helping individuals identify areas where they can begin to exert control as well as learn how to collaborate with doctors, health professionals, and other allies, to create a vision for best outcomes (Gibson, 2010). Helping these patients create realistic and beneficial goals without antagonizing the typical medical protocol structure is beneficial to the patients as well as the medical professionals. Toparek, Lewis, and Crethar (2009) also mention the importance of re-educating the community toward supporting the individuals, in this case, cancer patients who don't see themselves in the same role as traditionally perceived. Creating community awareness is supportive for the individuals for whom we advocate as well as to transform the community to an ally, rather than functioning as an institutional barrier.

"As noted throughout, counselors are in a key position to act as advocates, and, without advocacy, counseling may not yield fruitful results" (Toparek, Lewis, & Crethar, 2009, p. 266). Advocacy is a powerful tool for anyone in a helping services profession. Using intelligence and training, and understanding the strengths and constraints of the situation and the individual, advocacy can effectively promote social change (Smith, Reynolds, & Rovnak, 2009).

It seems essential for counselors to understand the foundational models of advocacy. As proponents of social change, we also have the capacity to create such change for oppressed and minority populations as well as the more massive needs of the general public (Toparek, 2006).

Gibson, D. (2010). Chapter fourteen: Advocacy Counseling: Being an Effective Agent of Change for Clients. In Erford, B. (Ed.) Orientation to the Counseling Profession: Advocacy, Ethics, and Essential Professional Foundations (p. 340-358). Upper Saddle River, NJ. Pearson Education, Inc.

Milsom, A. (2010). Chapter thirteen: Advocating for the Counseling Profession. In Erford, B. (Ed.) Orientation to the Counseling Profession: Advocacy, Ethics, and Essential Professional Foundations (p. 321-339). Upper Saddle River, NJ. Pearson Education, Inc.

Smith, S.D., Reynolds, C.A., & Rovnak, A. (2009). A critical analysis of the social advocacy movement in counseling. Journal of Counseling and Development: JDC, 87(4), 483–491.

Toporek, R.L. (2006). Progress toward creating a common language and framework for understanding advocacy in counseling. Counseling and Human Development, 38(9), 1–6.

Toporek, R.L., Lewis, J.A., & Crethar, H.C. (2009). Promoting systemic change through the ACA advocacy competencies. Journal of Counseling and Development: JDC, 87(3), 260–268.

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