Domain III: Embrace Cultural Responsivity and Social Justice as a Foundation for Professional Identity

CC8 Cultural Responsivity and Social Change

Embrace cultural responsivity and assume an anti-oppressive stance that fosters social change

Sandra Collins

The eighth competency in the CRSJ counselling model (Collins, 2018), shifts the focus away from examining the cultural identities and social locations of counsellor and client to the nature of the professions of counselling and psychology. The activities in the guide to this point have engaged you in a process of consciousness raising about culture and social justice. Through the competencies in this domain, I invite you to consider how this awareness translates into action. First, I position cultural humility as an essential foundation for cultural competency. Cultural humility requires students, counsellors, instructors, and supervisors to position themselves as learners and to assume an other-orientated relational stance (First Nations Health Authority, n.d., Definitions, para. 2; Hook et al., 2013). This positioning is supported through three essential skills: reflective practice, critical thinking, and cognitive complexity. Learners are encouraged to apply these skills to deconstruct dominant discourses within the profession and to actively position themselves relative to the call for social justice. I argue that, in a world in which basic human rights regularly come under fire, figuratively and literally, to assume anything other than active anti-oppressive and justice-doing stance supports the status quo (Collins & Arthur, 2018). Raising questions about professional identity, at the individual and collective levels, often begins with the ethical guidelines for the professions. Professional codes of ethics most often reflect core values grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Gauthier & Pettifor, 2012); however, this social justice agenda is only rarely articulated explicitly in these codes (Audet, 2016; Counselors for Social Justice, 2011).


CRSJ Counselling Key Concepts
  • Ethical decision-making
  • Ethical practice
  • Human rights
  • Inclusivity/diversity
  • Justice-doing
  • Reflective practice
  • Social change
  • Social justice
  • Unintentional oppression

Anti-Oppressive Stance

Adopting an anti-oppressive stance (Self-study)

Lightly review (e.g., skim to get a sense of the contents) the following guidelines for affirmative therapy with gender nonconforming or sexual minorities, attending only to the overview of each guideline, not the detailed explanations.

The guidelines published by professional organizations like the APA and ACA are well grounded in the scientific and professional literature and continue to evolve over time. They are an excellent source of current information. As professional counsellors, we are responsible to these bodies of professional knowledge. Select two of the principles (from any of these documents) that you think might be the most challenging for you to implement in your work with LGBTTQI clients. Read the more detailed explanation of those principles and do a bit more research on them, drawing on the resources below:

What do you learn from your research that either increases or decreases your personal comfort with adopting the LGBTTQI affirmative stance of the professions of counselling and psychology? How will you address any lingering personal cultural biases that are a barrier to affirmative practice?

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Codes, Principles, Standards, and Guidelines


Cognitive Complexity

Cognitive complexity versus cognitive rigidity (Self-study)

Think about your thinking by comparing and contrasting the characteristics of cognitive complexity versus cognitive rigidity below. Honestly appraise your own cognitive tendencies, and consider how these might be assets or barriers to your implementation of CRSJ counselling competencies. It is very important to not fall into either/or thinking; this applies in your thinking about thinking as well, because you will likely recognize both thinking patterns in yourself. Identify the contexts, relationships, issues, or other variables that might incline you towards one or the other. What meaning do you make of these observations? What implications for culturally responsive and socially just counselling practice might there be of the cognitive style towards which you incline?

Cognitive Complexity Cognitive Rigidity
  • Able to navigate ambiguity, paradox, and cognitive dissonance.
  • Sees shades of grey and uses both/and thinking.
  • Integrates multiple and broad frames of reference.
  • Acknowledges that some questions can’t be answered.
  • Draws on multiple, interrelated concepts or constructs.
  • Recognizes and values multiple realities.
  • Sees multiple points of entry into, and solutions for, a problem.
  • Discounts conflicting or incongruent information.
  • Operates with either/or thinking.
  • Relies on a singular and narrow frame of reference.
  • Filters out information that challenges existing beliefs.
  • Believes firmly that all questions are answerable.
  • Relies overly on only a few concepts or constructs that have simple relationships.
  • Holds rigidly to truth claims.
  • Thinks in a linear, causal way.

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Critical Thinking

Thinking about your thinking (Class discussion)

First, search the Internet to create your own definition of critical thinking. Be sure to apply a critical lens to the sources you use to develop your understanding of this important concept.

Second, choose a nondominant population or a social justice issue about which (a) you personally hold or have held preconceptions that might not stand up to the test of critical thinking or (b) you have encountered assumptions or biases in your personal interactions with others or through media sources. Articulate in 1–2 sentences the cultural preconception, assumption, or bias. Try to word your statement so that it does not immediately invite rejection, aiming for a more subtle, arguable position. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Increasing the number of refugees admitted to our country reduces the available employment opportunities for citizens.
  • Affirmative action hiring leads to preferential selection procedures that favour unqualified over qualified candidates, and therefore, disadvantage members of dominant populations.

Be brave and put forth an argument with which you are struggling. If you have trouble coming up with an example, apply one or more of the principles of cognitive rigidity from the Cognitive complexity versus cognitive rigidity learning activity.

Third, share your argument (i.e., cultural preconception, assumption, or bias) with the class as follows:

  • In an online environment, your instructor will set up a questionnaire, wiki, or another interactive tool into which you can enter your cultural preconception, assumption, or bias. It is best if each person makes a contribution before viewing those of others.
  • In a face-to-face environment, your instructor will collect your contribution and collate all responses to make them available to the whole group.

Fourth, engage in a group discussion of each of the arguments (i.e., cultural preconceptions, assumptions, or biases). Please choose one of the critical thinking practices below to apply to one of the arguments posted by your peers. Remember, the purpose of critical thinking is not to be judgemental, rather it is to look at an idea from multiple angles to assess its validity.

Critical thinking practices:

  • Take up an unfamiliar or uncomfortable point of view to apply to the argument.
  • Examine what information has been left out or misrepresented.
  • Analyze the argument for signs of cognitive rigidity (e.g., overgeneralization, either/or thinking, linear causality).
  • Identify and critique the underlying assumptions, and position these within broader ways of knowing or worldviews.
  • Examine the evidence by researching and applying facts, observations, and counter-arguments.
  • Research the common source(s) of the argument and analyze related agendas or motivations (i.e., why are people putting forth this argument?).
  • Position the argument within different contexts or lenses (e.g., social, economic, political, moral, ethical, professional).
  • Create a real life scenario in which to analyze the argument, moving from the abstract and decontextualized to the specific and contextualized.
  • Imagine a context in which you might take up this argument, and critically analyze the factors that could contribute to its appeal.
  • Break the argument down into the connections between ideas (i.e., if . . . then . . .) to challenge assumptions of linear causality.
  • Engage in a cost-benefit analysis of the argument, attending to its impact on various persons or peoples.
  • Look for signs of emotional reasoning. It is important to attend to other ways of knowing; however, it can also be valuable to examine critically our gut reactions.

Repeat this process with two additional practices and two other arguments to support an in-depth analysis of each peer’s contribution. Please choose arguments that have not yet been addressed so that each participant receives feedback on their argument.

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Cultural Competency


Cultural Humility


Cultural Responsivity


Cultural Safety


Equity Versus Equality

Shifting from equality to equity (Partner activity)

Consider the following image designed to differentiate between the concepts of equity and equality.


No copyright – public domain image

Pair up with a colleague or peer to discuss your interpretations of the image and the meaning it has in terms of fostering social justice in society. Then, create a client scenario that would demonstrate a shift from equality to equity. Consider both how that person might be treated within the counselling context and how you, as a counsellor, might help facilitate change in the direction of greater equity in the broader contexts of that client’s lived experiences. Check out your scenario with your colleague or peer to see how well the scenario illustrates these principles.

Now consider the image below that extends these concepts further. What are the implications of liberation for culturally responsivity and social justice in counselling practice? Extend your scenario above to include this lens.


No copyright – public domain image

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Ethical Decision-Making


Ethical Practice


Human Rights

Applying principles of critical thinking (Class discussion)

A basic premise of the CRSJ counselling model is that counsellors, psychologists, and other helping professionals have an ethical and professional responsibility to take an active stance in advancing equity, social justice, and human rights within the professions as well as society as whole. However, it is important that we do not simply take up terms like social justice and human rights without being able to articulate clear and sound arguments for their integration into codes of ethics, counsellor education, and professional practice. We must also be prepared to respond in a reasoned way to the counter-arguments that are increasingly emergent nationally and internationally.

For this class discussion, please choose one of the following conversational roles to ensuring that the metacognitive skills of critical thinking, cognitive complexity, and reflective practice are actively employed in the dialogue.

Conversational Roles
The Critical Thinker: Your task is to encourage deeper thought, to point out gaps in the evolving argument (not in individual student posts), and to draw attention to diverse perspectives.
The Cognitive Complexifyer: Your task is to encourage both/and thinking, to bring in different lenses or frames of reference, and to point out paradoxes or tensions that are not easily resolved.
The Cognitive Complexifyer: Your task is to encourage both/and thinking, to bring in different lenses or frames of reference, and to point out paradoxes or tensions that are not easily resolved.

Your instructor may also choose to set this discussion up as a debate, assignment half of the group to argue for, and half to argue against, the position below.

Next, consider carefully the argument below drawn from Salzman (2019), who takes the position that social justice stands in opposition to free speech. Engage in a dialogue with your peers to critically analyze this position, carefully considering both arguments and counter-arguments.

Most professors and students in the social sciences, humanities, education, social work, and law, and most university officials at Canadian and American universities today have adopted a political ideology labelled “social justice,” which requires redress for categories of people deemed “oppressed” for reasons of race, gender, sexual preference, ethnicity, and/or religion. . . . “Social justice” ideology is upheld in a variety of ways detrimental to free speech and open discussion. . . . This enforced monopoly of ideas goes counter to the traditional view of universities as a “marketplace of ideas” where students had the opportunity to open their minds to a wide range of ideas, and different theories and arguments were tested against one another. . . . The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms itself has a “social justice” provision that waives the rights of the majority in favor of disadvantaged minorities. While provision 15-1 states that “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability,” provision 15-2 states that 15-1 does not preclude laws or activities for the “amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups … because of race, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.” This 15-2 provision, like every “social justice” measure, ignores the fact that giving special benefits to one category of people inevitably blocks others from those benefits, and thus undermines treating individuals fairly and justly according to their individual human rights and their merits. (para. 1, 3, 4, 23, 24)

Drawing on what you learn from this conversation, reflect on how you might best articulate your own positioning on human rights and social justice in a way that is professional, ethical, and supportable.

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Let’s celebrate diversity (Self-study)

One of the risks that counsellors face when their primary exposure to diverse cultural experiences is through their clients (or that counselling students might encounter when they immerse themselves in the reality of social injustices and inequalities) is assuming a problem-focused perspective on persons or peoples from nondominant populations! This is another form of othering.

Listen to some of the stories below of resilience, strength, creativity, courage, and cultural celebration. Remind yourself that culture and diversity are not the problem. The problem is in the stratification of society and the dominant discourses of marginalization and exclusivity. It is important to challenge continually the ways in which we construct meaning around difference, which in some cases, leads those who are members of dominant society, including healthcare practitioners, still to forefront difference even in their attempts at inclusivity and social justice. What if it is actually difference, rather than sameness, that defines what is normal, healthy, or simply human. Some of these videos are a bit longer (15-20 minutes), so watch only what you have time for, but choose at least one to encourage you to celebrate diversity!


© TEDxSydney (2014, April)


© TEDWomen (2016, October)


© TEDWomen (2015, May)


© TEDx (2014, July 16)

One of the greatest strengths of Canada, and many other nations, is its cultural diversity. Let’s remind ourselves that we are exploring these challenging issues, within our society and within ourselves, to increase our commitment to the values of inclusivity and diversity.

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Reflective Practice


Social Change


Social Justice


Unintentional Oppression



Audet, C. (2016). Social justice and advocacy in a Canadian context. In N. Gazzola, M. Buchanan, O. Sutherland, & S. Nuttgens (Eds.), Handbook of counselling and psychotherapy in Canada (pp. 95-122). Ottawa, ON: Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.

Collins, S. (2018). Embracing cultural responsivity and social justice: Re-shaping professional identity in counselling psychology [Epub version]. Victoria, BC: Counselling Concepts. Retrieved from

Collins, S., & Arthur, N. (2018). Challenging conversations: Deepening personal and professional commitment to culture-infused and socially just counselling processes. In D. Paré & C. Audet (Eds.), Social justice and counseling (pp. 29-41). New York, NY: Routledge.

Counselors for Social Justice. (2011). The Counselors for Social Justice code of ethics. Journal for Social Action in Counseling and Psychology, 3(2), 1-21. Retrieved from

First Nations Health Authority. (n.d.). Definitions. Retrieved from

Gauthier, J., & Pettifor, J. L. (2012). The tale of two universal declarations: Ethics and human rights. In A. Ferrero, Y. Korkut, M. M. Leach, G. Lindsay, & M. J. Stevens (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of international psychological ethics.

Hook, J. N., Davis, D. E., Owen, J., Worthington, E. J., & Utsey, S. O. (2013). Cultural humility: Measuring openness to culturally diverse clients. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 60, 353-376.

Salzman, P. C. (2019, March 23). The growing threat of repressive social justice. Retrieved from the Frontier Centre for Public Policy website:



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