What really matters is school counselor empowerment: a response to Hipolito-Delgado and Lee.
I commend authors Hipolito-Delgado and Lee for their attempt at using empowerment theory as a springboard to determining "what really matters" in professional school counseling. As with any groundbreaking idea, their article may be fairly viewed as an initial step for examining empowerment theory as a basis for encouraging a significant role change for school counselors. The article has the potential to stimulate discussion among practicing counselors, counselor educators, and students in school counseling preparation programs. After reading their "manifesto," however, I am left with more questions than answers in order to respond cogently and appropriately.
First, I was struck by the dissonance between the content of the opening paragraphs and the title the authors chose. It appears that the notion of empowerment is secondary to a counselor's understanding of oppression and marginalization, and I am not sure that is what the authors intended. Much of the information they provide addresses the nature of oppression and perpetuation of oppression in schools. Although this information may be useful in making the case for using empowerment theory, it also may detract from a broader objective that everyone might benefit from the use of a theory or model of practice that encourages students to self-reflect, increase their awareness of development, fight social injustice, reach out to others in caring ways, and practice other attributes we could assign to personal empowerment. If empowerment theory is a viable vehicle for professional counselors to adopt in serving school populations, then it must be worth using for all school populations, not only members who have a history of oppression. By applying the theory more broadly, school counselors might help members of dominant cultures be freed from illusions of superiority and unearned privilege, and if so, the entire community benefits.
Another issue about Hipolito-Delgado and Lee's presentation of oppression and marginalization is their apparent grouping of many people who have had oppressive life experiences and assigning causal relationships to a lack of school or life success. For example, the statement that "many of the mental ailments that communities of color face are a direct result of living through oppression" oversimplifies the human experience and, more importantly, negates the power of the human spirit to overcome against all odds. The authors end their article with a similar claim by stating that oppression "causes negative psychological and sociopolitical effects [that] permeate the school system and serve as barriers to the advancement of marginalized communities." This statement is bothersome because it diminishes human potential by placing extraordinary value on external events and discounts the limitless number of oppressed people who have elevated themselves through empowerment processes. I understand the magnitude that oppressive events have on people's lives, but I am concerned that assigning too much causal weight diminishes the likelihood of anyone becoming empowered through counseling relationships, encouraging activities, or other educational endeavors.
Related to this notion of causal factors is my confusion about the authors' language in describing empowerment theory and empowered people. Because I agree with their intent, I wonder if my dissension is with their choice of terminology or simply a difference with semantics. For example, when writing about personal empowerment, the authors state that "the individual is empowered in order to be most effective in his or her community action; a disempowered person may not fully understand...." My understanding of this statement infers that the authors believe empowerment is a "doing to" process as opposed to a "doing with" process (Purkey & Schmidt, 1996; Schmidt, 2002). If my inference is accurate, this stance seems incongruent with the needs and desires of oppressed and marginalized people who have been "done to" all their lives! Furthermore, it is contrary to positions taken by earlier proponents of empowerment theory such as Jane Addams who, according to Gutierrez (2001), cautioned, "May I warn you against doing good to people, and trying to make others good by law? One does good, if at all, with people, not to people."
I also wonder if the article might have been more successful in conveying the use of empowerment theory by focusing on practicing school counselors. My experience of more than 35 years in the school counseling profession has led to the conclusion that successful counselors model all the attributes they wish student clients to attain. These include acquiring the desire and becoming empowered to make significant changes in school and community programs, policies, and procedures that inhibit development or threaten equitable treatment of students (Purkey & Schmidt, 1996; Schmidt, 2002). Perhaps in future writing, Hipolito-Delgado and Lee might consider as a preliminary step how school counselors could use empowerment theory for themselves in becoming more proactive helpers. It is difficult to comprehend how a "disempowered" counselor could be much assistance to an individual or group of students wishing to become empowered. In sum, "what really matters" is the empowerment of school counselors to be successful in helping others become what they want to be in life.
In addition to the reactions mentioned above, I encourage the authors and other practitioners to consider what research agenda might be useful in discovering the efficacy of empowerment theory as a structure for school counseling programs and services. In that vein, I offer the following ideas and suggestions:
* Differences may exist between individual empowerment and empowerment for social change. Future research and position papers might explore these differences and their meaning for professional counselors who practice in school settings.
* A balance of services in comprehensive school counseling programs is important (Schmidt, 2003). So, in advocating for students' empowerment, what comes first? What programs and services should receive emphasis and a corresponding allotment of time from counselors?
* What do we want students to become empowered to do? This may be a rhetorical question because the answer seems self-evident, but empowerment has many facets and directions, so serious contemplation could appropriately guide program development and service delivery.
* How will advancing technology influence the use of empowerment theory as a structure for school counseling programs? Ever-expanding information on the Internet and access by students may have implications for counselors in their effort to help students become empowered for individual development as well as social change.
* Structures mentioned by the authors as ways "to redefine the current paradigm of school counseling," such as the proposals coming out of the Education Trust (2003) and the ASCA National Model[R] (American School Counselor Association, 2005), need much more attention by researchers before we can promote them as viable models for school counseling practice.
The preceding questions and concerns do not detract from my admiration of the authors' attempt at promoting a theoretical structure by which school counselors could alter programs of services and become more socially proactive for all students. This belief has support from other counseling theories and models of practice that may complement empowerment theory. Included are the individual psychology of Alfred Adler and its emphasis on developing social interest (Sweeney, 1998); Allen Ivey's developmental counseling theory and his work on intentionality (Ivey, 1994; Schmidt, 2002); Bandura's (1997) self-efficacy theory, and invitational counseling (Purkey & Schmidt, 1996; Schmidt), which is founded on self-concept theory and perceptual psychology, two fields that facilitate understanding of clients from diverse cultures, particularly from oppressed and marginalized communities.
American School Counselor Association. (2005).ASCA national model. Retrieved February 3, 2006, from http://www. schoolcounselor.org/content.asp?pl=325&sl=134& contentid=134
Baker, S. B., & Gerler, E. R. (2004). School counseling for the twenty-first century (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, N J: Merrill/Prentice-Hall.
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W. H. Freeman.
Education Trust. (2003). Transforming school counseling. Retrieved February 3, 2006, from http://www2.edtrust. org/edtrust/Transforming+School+Counseling/ counseling+background
Ivey, A (1994). Intentional interviewing and counseling (3rd ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Gutierrez, L. M. (2001). Empowerment theory and practice. Retrieved February 3, 2006, from http://www.radpsynet. org/teaching/gutierrez.html
Purkey, W. W., & Novak, J. (1996). Inviting school success (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Purkey, W. W., & Schmidt, J. J. (1996). Invitational counseling. A self-concept approach to professional helping. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Schmidt, J. J. (2002). Intentional helping: A philosophy for proficient caring relationships. Columbus, OH: Merrill/Prentice-Hall.
Schmidt, J. J. (2003). Counseling in schools: Essential services and comprehensive programs (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Sweeney, T. (1998). Adlerian counseling: A practitioner's approach (4th ed.). Philadelphia: Accelerated Development.
John J. Schmidt, Ed.D., is professor emeritus at East Carolina University, Greenville, NC, and author of several texts in counseling including Counseling in Schools: Essential Services and Comprehensive Programs and A Survival Guide for the Elementary and Middle School Counselor. E-mail: email@example.com
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|Title Annotation:||EXTENDED DISCUSSION|
|Author:||Schmidt, John J.|
|Publication:||Professional School Counseling|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2007|
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