Social Justice Approach to Group Counseling

As a microcosm of society, groups provide a context for addressing issues of power, privilege, discrimination, and oppression.

The concept of  social justice  “is based on the idea that society gives individuals and groups fair treatment and an equal share of benefits, resources, and opportunities” (Chung & Bemak, 2012, p. 26). As a microcosm of society, groups provide a context for addressing issues of power, privilege, discrimination, and oppression. The Ethical Standards for School Counselors (ASCA, 2010) offers the following guideline regarding the social justice mandate: “Professional school counselors monitor and expand personal multicultural and social justice advocacy awareness, knowledge and skills. School counselors strive for exemplary cultural competence by ensuring personal beliefs or values are not imposed on students or other stakeholders” (E.2.a).

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Group work often provides the potential to further a social justice agenda. MacNair-Semands (2007) claims that group workers need to search for innovative ways of expanding their competence in addressing social justice issues—such as unfair treatment or inequities that result from racism, sexism, socioeconomics, sexual orientation, ableism, and other forms of “isms” that affect the quality of life—because they emerge regularly in groups. These social inequalities often arise from an intolerance for differences that result in discrimination, oppression, prejudice, and, at times, interpersonal violence. Group leaders have an opportunity to transform the group experience and work toward healing rather than perpetuating these harmful interactions. Leaders can assist group members in expanding their perspectives to understand nuances in the interactions of culturally diverse members.

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