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Counsellors' experience of the ethical dimensions of social justice advocacy Johnson, Katherine

Abstract

In recent years, there has been a call within the counselling profession to expand our roles to include social justice advocacy work. This call seems to be based in ethical considerations regarding how to best to do good for, and not harm, our clients; however there has been no research regarding the ethical issues that may arise from such a role. In this study, I explored the following question: How do community counsellors experience the ethical issues surrounding their practice of social justice advocacy? Data were gathered through individual interviews using the interpretive description methodology. Data from 10 participants (5 men and 5 women) were analyzed using elements of analytic frameworks proposed by Miles and Huberman (1994) and Knafl and Webster (1988). A set of "social justice values" which included solidarity, equality, justice, taking action for change, non-neutrality, and questioning the status quo emerged, which impacted the ethical decision making of participants, who viewed their social justice orientation as part of ensuring beneficence. Ethical issues were often the motivation for, rather than the result of social justice advocacy. Participants struggled with barriers to ethical practice within their professional discourse and places of employment that made them feel "part of the system" of oppression. Participants identified several ethical dimensions of social justice advocacy work which included ensuring client autonomy and fully informed consent in advocacy decisions, equalizing power in client-counsellor relationships, and identification with clients' feelings of marginalization, which could contribute to burnout. Many concerns were raised regarding areas of counsellor training, practice and regulation which may contribute to injustice and unethical practice, and these counsellors endeavored to develop a practice and lifestyle that was congruent with their social justice values.

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