Advocacy and counseling go hand in hand
By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
Given the events of the past few months, many people need an advocate in their corner.
To Ron Friesen, that is a counselor. He said that advocacy and social justice are such key parts of the profession that the American Counseling Association recently re-formulated its guide to their application.
“In today’s climate of racial tensions, it is important for professionals such as teachers, nurses, counselors and social workers to know how to positively and constructively advocate for and with their clientele who may be experiencing discrimination, oppression and racial injustice,” said Friesen, an adjunct instructor in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Grand Canyon University.
Friesen gave an example Friday during his Zoom workshop, “The Role of the Counselor in Advocacy and Social Justice.”
School counselors had learned that underage students were buying alcohol at drive-up liquor outlets nearby. Counselors identified the issue and decided it went beyond individual advocacy to a deeper problem in low-income neighborhoods, where more of those outlets were located than in wealthier areas.
For counselors, advocating involved conducting further research on the problem, contacting police and holding community forums.
“What are the social, political, economic and cultural issues affecting your client?” he asked the group of local mental health professionals and educators who participated in the workshop. “Of course, we know the George Floyd episode has certainly raised all these issues. That is an area where we need to have the big picture.”
A counselor should recognize their own background in relation to the client and their community and ask important questions.
“I’m a white male. To what extent am I aware of my privilege and to what extent am I aware of how the rest of the community might look upon my friends or my group?” he asked. “To what extent can our own understanding of power and privilege create a blind spot in view of our client in helping them? This is so critical.”
An example, from his 22 years working as a licensed professional counselor in mental health centers, prisons and nonprofits: An African-American client was polite and compliant during sessions yet had not made progress toward solving his issues. Then Friesen asked him to come up with his own goals – to act as his own advocate. He opened up and improved.
“He clearly had been expressing internalized oppression — how he experienced white men like me. And that silence was actually a sign of that internalized oppression,” he said. “So think about that when you and I work with our clients.”
Other times, a counselor can assist the wider community, such as helping the elderly get the city to extend their bus lines or to attain minority representation on a school board, two issues he also advocated for in Phoenix.
The free workshop was part of GCU’s efforts to support professionals in the community with development opportunities and earn Continuing Educational Units, said Dr. Noé Vargas, Assistant Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS).
“I appreciate all of the guest speakers who partner with us and volunteer their knowledge and time to make this happen,” he said. “CHSS clinical programs are invested in our communities, and this is just another example of that commitment.”
Advocacy can be as basic as “not remaining silent when someone speaks negatively of other people,” Friesen said, adding that it’s important to remember that means advocating for everyone.
“That view is important to a Christian view of social justice,” he said. “We are advocating for each other and seeking social justice for each other because we see each other made in the image of God.
“We are to be advocates for everyone. There is no division between Jew and Gentile, between Christian or non-Christian.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.
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