I stumbled upon a gem of a counseling program at George Mason University. To be quite honest, I decided to apply there at first because 1.) We weren’t going to pick up and move for me to go to grad school, so it was a relatively convenient geographical option, and 2.) It’s a more reasonably priced school. As I researched, however, I was drawn in by more than these outward facts. George Mason’s counseling program provides a truly unique focus on social justice. While most counseling programs include one class on multicultural counseling, George Mason emphasizes a multicultural perspective and social justice in every single course.
I quickly realized in my first few classes that I have lived quite a privileged life. It’s not that I had never thought of this in the past, but the depth of this realization has hit me in a very new way. Life has come easier for me than others born into different situations. Not only this, but there are hard things going on all over the world that I regularly brush aside because I am not affected personally.
What is social justice, anyway? Social justice is concerned primarily with equity issues and basic human rights (Alexander Street Press, 2012). Constantine, Hage, Kindaichi, and Bryant (2006) define the term as “a fundamental valuing of fairness and equity in resources, rights, and treatment for marginalized individuals and groups of people who do not share equal power in society.” It makes sense that counselors would be concerned with social issues as they seek to find a holistic approach to enhancing the life experiences of their clients, looking beyond simply the counselor-client relationship to truly make a difference in the individual and in society.
The counseling profession actually has its historical roots in social justice, emerging during a time of chaos and bewilderment following the Industrial Revolution. Counseling was “one of the many humanitarian movements that sought to help people overcome the pain and confusion wrought by the unwelcome changes accompanying this juggernaut” (Aubrey, 1983). As such, social justice has shaped the counseling field from its birth.
If the goal of the counseling profession is to improve development and well-being, then discrimination will hinder achieving this purpose. Helping someone simply adapt to a prejudice is not really solving the problem at hand (Alexander Street Press, 2012). Constantine et al. (2006) suggested that counselors are incorporating social justice into their profession “when they communicate or interface with structures, organizations, or institutions that marginalized or disenfranchised individuals or groups of people perceive as inherently oppressive to their well-being.” An example of this would be surfacing a larger issue in a counseling session with a student, then acting on that issue by advocating for change in the larger school system.
Beyond counselors taking direct action themselves, another part of social justice counseling is “authentic empowerment,” encouraging clients that they can also take action and create change (Alexander Street Press, 2012). There is much to be done in a world still fraught with social inequality, but counseling with a foundation in social justice utilizes a broad spectrum of tools to achieve deep and lasting change.
I could go into more detail about the specifics of my convictions, but the point is, my perspective on the world and those around me is being broadened. I believe all this is in line with my spiritual beliefs too. I am passionate about the Bible’s call to justice, because the Lord has rescued me from the slavery of my sin. It is clear in Scripture that God has a special place in his heart for the oppressed and overlooked (Isaiah 1:17; Micah 6:8; Zechariah 7:10; Matthew 23:23). Working to save others from injustice is directly in line with the mission of his heart.