Plans for Liberation: A Path Forward in the SCP Strategic Plan

Anneliese Singh, our SCP president, is working with counseling psychologists around the globe to infuse counseling psychology with a spirit of liberation. This work is directly applicable to the strategic plan that was recently released by the executive board. New visual diagrams of the plan are available here.

One of the best things about taking stock and planning for the future is how energizing the practice can be. Of course, change can be challenging, but setting new strategies provides an opportunity for renewal and for the generation of new ideas. The trick is to maintain the inspiration’s momentum so that real change occurs. As action is a central component of liberation psychology, I invite counseling psychologists to prepare for upcoming dialogue about the plan by making our own individual plans of action for change in our local communities and work spaces.

What is Liberation Psychology?

Dr. Singh’s presidential initiative on liberation psychology includes four webinars; a special task force on liberation psychology hosted the first, which defines and discusses liberation psychology. Psychologist and Jesuit priest Ignacio Martín-Baró coined the term, which refers to joining oppressed and marginalized persons to work toward social justice. Martín-Baró argued that we often fail to recognize the oppressive nature of many historical narratives (e.g., colonization) and mistakenly focus on change at the individual, rather than community, level. This is a big problem because too much focus on individual-level change and not enough focus on community-level change will maintain the individual’s struggle. This dynamic informs the core principles in liberation theology:

  • Concientización. Critical consciousness, or a process of discovery of the truth. This includes being critical of historical narratives and current explanations for the struggles of marginalized and oppressed persons.
  • Transformation of the Social Scientist. Turning our focus toward communities through actions that promote ways and means for community members to change their own communities. From research and activist perspectives, this might look like adopting a community participatory
  • Turning theory into action. It’s easy to become an armchair advocate: one who engages in critical thought about systems and narratives but does not act to change either.

Approaching the Strategic Plan with a Liberation Mindset

  • Think ahead. Read over the plan and be mindful of the questions that come to mind! Shared dialogue and questioning creates a space for critical consciousness.
  • Make a plan with a few colleagues to hold each other accountable for the next year.
  • Identify an issue or issues around which you want to practice liberation and ask others to build a community around this commitment to keep you moving forward.
  • Create community. Ask your colleagues how you can help them in their quest for liberation and then empower them to hold themselves accountable.

Modeling Bravery in Times of Change

  • Critically evaluate how we are approaching counseling psychology, and encourage others to critically challenge current historical narratives around psychology and social sciences.
  • Model comfort with dialectics. In SCP’s first webinar on Liberation Psychology, the group repeatedly brings up the tension of what it is to be a psychologist: to strive to work with oppressed groups and yet expected to devote resources to credentials and academic requirements that enforce oppressive systems, being part of a group that entitles educational capital and privilege and being encouraged to dismantle barriers to these resources. It is ok to love a profession and be critical of it. We can model sitting with these tensions, and acting on them, to our clients, students, trainees, and colleagues, and communities.
  • Commit to action. In putting thought and values to work, it may be helpful to identify 1-2 strategic issues on which to focus as a community and in our own lives. Just like committing to going to the gym each new year, making the first goal concrete and achievable sets us up for success. As recommended above, commit to action with colleagues who can hold you accountable and vice versa.

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Stephanie Winkeljohn Black (she/her/hers) is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Penn State Harrisburg and a Counseling Psychologist. Her research interests include training and supervision on cultural humility and responsiveness toward religious, spiritual, and secular identities. She also investigates diverse college student populations with regard to mental well being and coping strategies.

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