Radicalizing Advocacy in Service Settings: Using Structural Competency to Address Tensions Between Social Action and Psychological Practice

Alisha Ali, Corianna E. Sichel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Although recent years have seen an increase in attention paid to social justice concerns by psychologists, challenges remain in fulfilling the promise of psychology as a discipline that can meaningfully undertake social action. These challenges arise largely due to some persistent contradictions between the typical goals of psychological practice and the tenets of social change. These contradictions include (a) the emphasis of psychological practice on individual and small group change versus the need for social justice endeavors to tackle widespread inequality and oppression; (b) the greater likelihood of psychologists to advocate for clients by helping them to navigate existing systems versus advocating by challenging and dismantling these systems; and (c) aligning ourselves as practitioners, educators, and scientists within oppressive structures versus acknowledging the ways that we uphold, perpetuate, and benefit from such structures. In this article, we argue that the structural competency paradigm can provide a guiding framework for training and practice in psychology that aims to reconcile these tensions. We use the illustrative case of a low-income, minority client struggling with mental health problems, disabilities, and housing instability to demonstrate the complexities of the challenges confronting social justice±minded practitioners and to explore how a structurally competent stance can inform efforts to achieve social change while retaining psychology's investment in positive person-level transformation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPsychological Services
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2019

Keywords

  • Advocacy
  • Oppression
  • Structural competency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Applied Psychology

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