Psychotherapy Bulletin

Psychotherapy Bulletin

Clinical Impact Statement: This article discusses the challenges that clinicians-in-training face in the development of their professional identities as advocates. Current graduate students outline their approach to advocacy and their plan for facilitating this process for their current peers and future colleagues.

Advocacy and clinical psychology are inseparable. All good psychologists advocate for their clients’ overall well-being, effective treatment, and access to needed resources. Given that larger societal issues impact the mental health of the individual, it is important that this advocacy role generalizes beyond our therapy offices. Clients enter therapy shouldering an enormous load of struggles related to systemic issues. Many therapists consider “unpacking” these experiences to be reparative for our clients. Why isolate our ability to help lighten these loads to the confines of the therapy room? It is our opinion that we fail to address the systems of oppression that our clients face across all of their identities by exclusively interacting with them directly. This is a disservice to our clients and our professional community. As students at the University of Denver’s (DU) Graduate School of Professional Psychology (GSPP), we are also well aware of the barriers that students face when trying to connect with those who are involved in social justice and advocacy work around our campus and the greater community. We humbly aim to challenge some of these barriers.

Step 1: Recognizing the Barriers

Clinical psychology graduate students at DU are disconnected from the campus-at-large. If you were to select a student walking around the campus at random and ask, “Where is the Graduate School of Professional Psychology?,” you might meet a confused expression. In the unlikely event that you were directed to the correct building, you would encounter a street brimming with cars parked bumper-to-bumper. A flustered-looking trainee may rush into the double doors after illegally parking in a neighboring apartment parking lot, and crossing their fingers. Similarly, if you were to ask any of the graduate students milling around GSPP about how to navigate the remainder of the DU campus, you would find they rarely consider that other buildings exist beyond their four walls.

As students, our weeks tend to be consumed by driving to and from the same three places: home, school, and practicum. The way we remain connected to extracurricular advocacy work is through sporadic emails. We spend the first few weeks of our graduate program reading every email we receive, attentively. Quickly, we learn to decipher which sender’s emails are urgent and whose require a quick “mark-as-read” in order to make room for more. It can be difficult to take our advocacy work beyond the realms of individual treatment and into the world at large when those opportunities are collecting dust at the bottom of our inboxes. We seem to regard advocacy in the same way that many voters treat political issues. We are aware that we should be more informed and involved, but we are busy, and doing so feels daunting and tedious.

Step 2: Bridging the Gap

We recognized that motivating busy students to participate in events of which they are unaware, on a campus in which they feel geographically isolated, was going to be a significant challenge. Thus, we appealed to the Dean and Directors of our program to support our creation of a concise and easily accessible platform to share resources and opportunities for community engagement. Our first approach was to streamline the information channels by creating a single platform with a selection of events happening on campus and in the community. We named this platform The Advocate. Our mission was to promote collaborative engagement in the community through activism, advocacy, and volunteer work. We have distributed an issue on the first of each month, to ensure that distribution was predictable but not excessively frequent. A monthly “Advocate Award” was included in order to celebrate students who moved social justice to the top of their to-do lists. This peer nomination process recognizes students for their work in the community and highlights that being a student advocate is both possible and worth applauding. Because delving into advocacy can be a scary leap for a student, we wanted to take some of the guesswork and anxious hesitation out of the equation. Students may wonder where to start and who will be joining. In addition to the monthly email distribution, our aim is to facilitate other student connections through social media. By creating groups for students, mentors, and faculty to mark their plans to attend certain events, we hope to help to answer the where and who for students.

Step 3: Maintenance and Growth

Advocacy is an ongoing process that evolves along with the evolution of our roles in the field of psychology. As the four of us inch closer to graduation, our sincerest wish is that this platform and the momentum it has created live on after us. We are all passionate about issues of multiculturalism and marginalization based on the various identities we and our loved ones carry. We each grew tired of sitting in class lamenting the terrible realities that our clients face in the world and feeling that our hands were tied. This project was born out of a desire to channel that frustration and hopelessness into positive action. In this vein, we consider addressing social injustices to be good self-care. The support of our professors and program made The Advocate a reality. However, the four of us do not consider ourselves particularly special. Any like-minded graduate students can mirror what we built at The Advocate, and we hope they do.

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Cite This Article

Oduleye, N., Knauf, C., McGregor, S., & Slay, B. (2019). The advocate: Building a bridge between self-care and advocacy. Psychotherapy Bulletin, 54(1), 15-16.

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