As counselors, we have an ethical commitment to engage in a multicultural approach and social justice practices. The American Counseling Association Code of Ethics (2013) states that the following are core professional values of the counseling profession:
- enhancing human development throughout the life span;
- honoring diversity and embracing a multicultural approach in support of the worth, dignity, potential, and uniqueness of people within their social and cultural contexts;
- promoting social justice;
- safeguarding the integrity of the counselor–client relationship; and
- practicing in a competent and ethical manner.
Beyond the ACA Code of Ethics, we should organically want to strive towards making all of our clients feel not just tolerated, but accepted.
How can you show acceptance for each of your clients whilst going about your everyday life as a counselor? Don’t fret; I have three simple ways to incorporate social justice into your daily practice.
1. Never make assumptions about your clients.
This means not assuming their racial/ethnic background, their gender, their sexual orientation or attraction to others, whether or not they have social supports, their ability/disability status, and the list goes on. Assume nothing.
Imagine a female/woman client coming to you for the first time to talk about coming out (regarding sexual orientation) to their family, but you assume they’re heterosexual by making a comment about their “husband” or “boyfriend”. With this seemingly innocent assumption, you’ve managed to communicate to the client that:
- You project heterosexuality as the “norm” onto all of your clients.
- You might not be used to having clients who don’t identify with heterosexuality.
- You might not be a good fit for them, clinically.
Instead, try to refrain from making these small assumptions about your clients so that whichever identities they walk through your door with, they feel are welcomed and accepted, rather than taboo.
2. Utilize inclusive intake forms and paperwork.
Ways to ensure your intake forms are inclusive include:
- A transgender option, with both female-to-male and male-to-female options.
- Genderfluid and gender non-conforming options.
- A “domestic partnership” option for relationship status in addition to the traditional “single” and “married”.
- Always having an “other” option for clients with unique identities. Forcing them to select an answer that doesn’t quite accurately capture their situation can be an isolating and rejecting experience for them.
Concerned about picky insurance companies? A statement like this one at the top of your intake forms could do some justice:
“While this clinic recognizes a number of sexes/genders, many insurance companies and legal entities do not. Please understand that the legal name and sex listed on your insurance must be used on documents pertaining to insurance and billing. If your preferred name and pronouns are different from these, please let us know so that we can use your preferred name and pronouns for all exchanges beyond insurance and billing.”
Not in a position to change the intake forms at your practice? Speak to someone who is, and advocate for the acknowledgment and acceptance of all clients in your practice.
3. Engage in small teaching moments when opportunities arise.
A client may get to the gender section of the intake paperwork and appear startled at all the array of answer choices. Or, the client may mumble to themselves, “I don’t know when all these genders started popping up. Back in my day, we had just two — male and female.”
I suggest taking the time to gently explain to them a newer understanding of the experience of gender as we know it. An excellent tool to use is the GenderBread Person.
This visual chart describes gender identity vs. gender expression vs. biological sex vs. sexual and romantic attraction, coupled with a gingerbread person to help show how each of those identities may manifest in the person.
A gesture such as this one may seem small to that client, but to the community at large, you are spreading awareness of others’ existence and promoting acceptance of them as well.
What other ways do you incorporate social justice into your everyday practice? I’d love to hear from you!