ACA Advocacy Competencies: A Social Justice Framework for Counselors

Book Review by Marilyn Maze

ACA Advocacy Competencies: A Social Justice Framework for Counselors

Edited by Manivong Ratts, Rebecca Toporek, and Judith Lewis

In response to the growing recognition of the importance of advocacy in counseling, the American Counseling Association released an updated version of its book on advocacy competencies in January, 2010.  NCDA members will recognize several of the authors in this collection, including former NCDA President Jane Goodman who contributed a chapter on advocacy for older clients and Robert Chope, author of Dancing Naked, who contributed a chapter on advocacy in employment counseling.  The authors of the new chapter on advocacy competencies for career counselors, former NCDA President Mark Pope and doctoral student Joseph Pangelinan are also familiar to NCDA members.

The authors of this book encourage the use of a 6-part model:























The first column in this model focuses on assisting the client, first by assisting the client to becoming empowered, then by advocacy to remove barriers faced by our clients and students.  The second column focuses on the community, first by alerting community organizations to the needs of its vulnerable members, then by identifying systemic factors that affect the vulnerable members of the community and advocating for changes to those factors.  The third column focuses on the public, first by alerting the public to the needs of vulnerable members of society, then by identifying public policies changes needed to remove barriers for vulnerable members of society.

Mark Pope and Joseph Pangelinan have applied this 6-part model to career counseling.  They point out that career counselors have always worked to empower clients through teaching them self-awareness, job seeking, and networking skills.  Career counseling was born in a time of societal upheaval, when the industrial revolution was changing the nature of work and two world wars were driving many major life transitions.  While the word "advocacy" began to be used by career counselors only a couple of decades ago, it has always been part of the work we do.  Recent recognition of the importance of diversity issues and cultural differences in career decision-making has further increased career counselors' awareness of the need for advocacy.

Career counselors encourage client empowerment by assisting clients to recognize and deal positively with the many factors that impact their career decisions, such as family needs, cultural influences, prejudice and internalized stereotypes, and individual differences which may not be welcomed in a work environment. 

As a career counselor becomes aware of the external factors that act as barriers to an individual's development, the counselor learns to advocate for vulnerable clients.  Career counselors not only teach clients to overcome barriers and but also speak out against systemic barriers, such as discrimination in hiring, sexual harassment and marginalization in the workplace.  Career counselors can discuss forms of discrimination, such as racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, and ageism, with clients, and assist clients to become more assertive in dealing with these issues.

Career counselors are active in identifying workplace factors that impact clients, especially the most vulnerable.  As career counselors identify and eloquently give voice to these issues, others begin to take note of them.  Speaking out about these issues helps to sensitize the community.  As people learn that they are not alone with their concerns, they are able to cope with these issues more effectively and join together to press for improvements.

Systemic changes advocated by career counselors include workplace mentoring, sensitivity awareness programs, workplace support systems, among others.

Career counselors have and continue to reach beyond their own communities to bring these issues to the attention of the general public.  As career counselors identify barriers on a public scale, they can be effective in social and/or political advocacy.  Continued involvement in the political arena is important for career counselors.  Past efforts have made a difference and many issues remain on which career counselors need to actively advocate for changes in public policy.

This fresh look at the role of advocacy in career counseling will inspire and guide career counselors.  In addition, the many other topics addressed in this book make it a valuable tool for career counselors.  Visit the American Counseling Association website to purchase your copy of ACA Advocacy Competencies: A Social Justice Framework for Counselors.


Marilyn Maze, Ph.D, is a Principal Research Associate for ACT, Inc. and one of the developers of DISCOVER, a computerized career guidance program that includes extensive information about occupations, majors, schools, and other aspects of career planning.  She also conducts research using ACT's extensive data related to career choices of youth and adults.  Contact:  410-584-8000 or maze@act.org.

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