Social Justice Advocacy

Ethos of Social Justice Advocacy by Barbara Lipinski, PhD, JD

Ethos is from the Greek ethos, i.e., custom, and it refers to the characteristic attitudes and values of a specific people, culture or movement. I’d like to take a few moments to acknowledge the cultural movement, or ethos of social justice advocacy within our chosen field of psychology.

In an article on preparing social justice advocates through the supervisory process, Glosoff and Durham (2010) discussed the “ethical imperative” (p.2) of faculty and supervisors related to social justice advocacy supervision. This is quite familiar to adherents of APA’s Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (2002) and for those who have read Falender and Shafranske’s text on Clinical supervision: A competency based approach (2004). In our discipline of psychology, social justice advocacy may be integrated throughout our work, including direct service to clients, teaching, supervision, writing, organizational consultation, and public policy work.

One simple yet profoundly meaningful way to create a space for conversations that move toward social change is through dialogue. The term dialogue comes from the Greek roots dia and logos which suggest a process that evolves through meaning or through word. Dialogue process grew from Bohm’s (1985) early work in quantum phenomena as he searched for ways to effect cultural transformation. Engaging in dialogue leads to the development of a culture of inclusion and collaboration, rather than competition, and can effect social change in a respectful manner. Dialogue often leads to the development of streams of meaning that together are much deeper than discussion.

Creating safe environments on campus and in the classroom where we hold open dialogues on our personal experiences with power, privilege, microaggressions, oppression, and marginalization, can lead to critically examining our worldview as we suspend judgment and openly invite our colleagues’ experiences into the discussion. We ultimately “think together” as we embrace different points of view.

Situating oneself in a group of people committed to dialogue is a suitable frame for building community and collective meanings. This can ultimately serve as an  “unlearning” process,  in the beginning developmental stages of competence to practice as psychotherapists.

Paulo Freire (1989) wrote of a way through oppression toward liberation, as a mutual process that we engage in through action, reflection, and dialogical communication. Martin-Baro (1994), a psychologist and revolutionary intellectual, gave his life in the service of advancing dialogue through his work with liberation psychology. His strong beliefs in personal, community, and cultural transformation through the process of dialogue led to his assassination along with seven others by Salvadoran security forces in 1989. His evolved vision of psychology was rooted in the core process of this practice, or praxis, where we become known through our relations with others.

From my experience, engaging in dialogue also functions as a praxis for learning to bear suffering: our own as well as the suffering of others. This is akin to Frankl’s (1984) writings on locating meaning through or within the experience of suffering and Jung’s (1954) premise that our work as therapists is to assist others to bear authentic suffering. Situating oneself in dialogue, listening deeply, and being open to witness the suffering of others through their words, can transform each person’s capacity to bear this suffering.

My hope is that we practice our ethical imperative on a regular basis so that we model social responsibility and invite others into our academic communities, where we host dialogues and take this journey together with a clear commitment toward social justice in our world. A saying from the oral traditions of the Talmud exquisitely highlights our responsibilities as compassionate professionals: “It is not our responsibility to finish the work but we are not free to walk away from it.”

American Psychological Association. (2002). “Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct,” American Psychologist, 57, 1060-1073. Retrieved from
Bohm, D. (1985). Unfolding meaning: A weekend with David Bohm. London: Ark Paperbacks.
Falender. C.A., & Shafranske, E.P. (2004). Clinical supervision: A competency based approach. Washington, DC: APA.
Frankl, V. (1984). Man’s search for meaning: An introduction to logotherapy. NY: Simon & Schuster.
Freire, P. (1989). Pedagogy of the oppressed. NY: Continuum.
Glosoff, H.L., & Durham, J.C. (2010). “Using supervision to prepare social justice counseling advocates.” Counselor Education and Supervision, 50(2), 116-129.
Jung, C.G. (1954). The practice of psychotherapy. In H. Read, M. Fordham, & G. Adler (Eds.), The collected works (R.F.C. Hull, Trans.) (Vol. 16). New York: Bollingen.
Martin-Baro, I. (1994). Writings for a liberation psychology. Cambridge: Harvard University.