Counselor or Social Justice Advocate? Why not both?

I am in training to become a licensed counselor. In a recent journal for training I wrote about how I need to check my arrogance and defensiveness so that I am sure to be open to learn. I know that I am open to learning. In fact, I have been craving it more and more these days. But it would seem that my lessons are not coming in ways in which are typical or how I expected them to. I expected to be trained on how to conduct a therapy session. I want to learn therapeutic techniques and gain knowledge and instruction on best practices. I want to dissect what’s good about my approaches and what doesn’t work—what’s not useful. I am open to the criticism and I want to learn. But all I have been getting are lessons on how to speak up for others, stand up for what I know is right and enter into the counseling field for all reasons relating to social justice. It was not my plan.

Besides the need for black therapist (we make up only 4% in the field), I decided to become a counselor because I believe in it. I have witnessed and experienced its effectiveness firsthand. After decades of learning and using its impact and life changing wonders, I simply wanted to pay it forward and use all I have learned to help others experience the same thing and receive the same kind of help. I knew I could be an asset and my small offering to humanity was to be one of counseling’s vessels. However, I also believed that the very reasons I needed counseling was the reason I should enter the counseling world with the mindset of peace, offering and gentleness. I never panned to advocate and work so hard in a fight for social justice but rather, I thought I was setting myself up for the quiet life as a counselor. I am currently processing the possibility that perhaps the passive, quiet, gentle, comforting counselor is not my position in the mental health field. And perhaps even, I am coping with that.

I've been checking in with myself to evaluate if arrogance and defensiveness is possibly a factor in my current conflict with leadership in my training, and in so many past instances that look a lot like my current situation. After all, when we see patterns we have to ask what the common factor is. I would have to suggest however, that the common factor is not necessarily my arrogance or defensiveness but rather my need to defend and speak up due to societal norms that create racial bias, aggression, harmful power dynamics and thus, conflict with authority/leadership. As a social justice advocate and firm believer of professionalism with the objective of productivity, I find myself in these situations because I am a natural leader who is unable to quietly allow powers to take advantage of their privileged and power when it harms others when they do not have access to personal power. As much as I want to avoid conflict and am exhausted from the constant fight, I will continue to bring to attention harmful practices that arise from unhealthy power dynamics. In setting where I am suppose to learn, like in university and internship, I am consistently asked to teach others about microaggressions, multiculturalism, implicit/explicit bias and racism all together— and I have done it. You see, with all my knowledge and experience, I always listen to leadership and I follow instructions. I am never disrespectful and I understand power dynamics well enough to play along. I don’t want to put my future in jeopardy and I don’t unless it’s something that challenges my integrity. I only speak up when it’s the right thing to do. For these reasons I know I am not arrogant or defensive but rather passionate about social justice and am consistently renewing my commitment to always do the right thing. I don’t seek out making good trouble, but it’s always the right time to do what’s right.

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