Domain II: Challenge Social Injustices, and Critique Their Impact on Client–Counsellor Social Locations

CC4 Social Injustice

Attend actively to social determinants of health, and evaluate the impact of social injustices on client health and well-being

Sandra Collins

The fourth core competency in the CRSJ counselling model (Collins, 2018) places culture and cultural identities of both counsellor and client within the context of their lives, paying particular attention to the ways in which each individual in the counsellor–client relationship may be negatively impacted by various forms of cultural oppression. Systemic injustices and inequities, often conceptualized in terms of social determinants of health (Commission on Social Determinants of Health, 2008; McNair, 2017), are foundational to understanding client presenting concerns (Arthur & Collins, 2016; Fellner, John, & Cottell, 2016). This shift away from an individualistic to a systemic lens is evident in feminist, narrative, multicultural, and social justice approaches to counselling (Brown, 2010; Jean Baker Miller Training Institute, 2017; Sterling, Gartner, Woodford, & Fisher, 2017). It is critical for learners to recognize the impact of various *isms on client health and well-being and to assess actively experiences of cultural, institutional, and systemic oppression. In colonial nations, many people still struggle to embrace the truth of ongoing processes of colonization and the intergenerational effects of colonial violence (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015). I recognize the importance, from my own personal and professional experience, for learners to actively wrestle with their positioning within the colonial relationship (Collins & Arthur, 2018; Fellner et al., 2016).


CRSJ Counselling Key Concepts

Social Injustice/Inequity


Social Determinants of Health

A global approach to health equity (Self-study)

The Commission on Social Determinants of Health, World Health Organization (2008) identified a number of key social determinants of health that impact the health and well-being of individuals, communities, and entire populations across the world. Complete the Barriers and goals for health equity table to apply these key factors to a nondominant population of your choice. Identify one professional competency that you need to enhance in order to address the change goals you highlighted, and list two things you will do this week to begin to build this competency.

[Permanent link:]


Perfect just the way they are (Self-study)

Becoming a parent is one of the most significant events in some people’s lives. Watch the UN Free & Equal short video on Intersex Awareness. Place yourself in this moment and reflect on how you might react to the news of a healthy, normal, intersex baby.


To further capture a glimpse of the experience of intersex children and adults explore the website of Mx. Anunnaki Ray, an intersex activist, and/or the information and, in particular, the Intersex Voices section of the UN Free & Equal Intersex Awareness page.

Write a short letter to your newborn intersex baby about what your hopes and  dreams for them are.

[Permanent link:]


Legalized discrimination (Class discussion)

Go to the Human Rights in Canada: A Historical Perspective portal, created by the Human Rights Commission of Canada. Take yourself back in time by selecting a period in Canadian history on the portal or browse by subject to see the evolution of human rights over time. Choose one of the examples of legalized discrimination based on cultural identity provided, and place yourself in that person or peoples’ shoes to imagine what it would have been like to be denied these basic human rights.

Do you think legalized discrimination still exists in Canada? Try to come up with some examples. What is our responsibility as individual counsellors, and as a profession, to advocate or otherwise engage in systems changes to shape Canadian law in ways that foster social justice?

[Permanent link:]


The spinning of *isms (Self-study)

Smith, Constantine, Graham, and Dize (2008) explored a number of forms of racism (some subtle, others less subtle) to deconstruct and analyze the stories that we tell ourselves as a means of explaining away attitudes and beliefs that are fundamentally racist. The authors of this article focused on the implications of these ways of spinning racism in our work with clients from nondominant ethnic groups; however, these same processes of distorting perceptions and experience can lead to unintentional oppression with clients from other nondominant populations, because they emerge from unexamined personal biases or assumptions. By trivializing biases or convincing ourselves that they don’t exist, we blind ourselves to their significant sociocultural, economic, and political influence. This has the effect of marginalizing the lived experiences of individuals and groups who are targeted, directly and indirectly, by prejudice and discrimination. Complete the Spinning of *isms template to examine the ways in which you may unintentionally fall prey to some of these conceptual traps.

Consider a time when you heard a voice in your own head that made an unfair judgment of another person based on visible or invisible markers of difference. Be honest with yourself, because none of us are completely free of these *isms. Perhaps it was an assumption that a colleague would be healthier if she lost weight. Or maybe it is a belief that being gay is a lifestyle choice. Or what if refugees are really taking jobs away from real Canadians? Return again to the ways in which you might be most inclined to spin your thinking when this occurs.

  • What steps might you take to bring those assumptions or biases into the open?
  • How might holding them limit your ability to engage in culturally responsive and socially just practice?
  • What are risks or losses involved in letting them go?

[Permanent link:]


Impact of homophobia on client–counsellor interactions (Partner activity)

This learning activity is intended to identify the potential impacts of both covert and overt homophobia on the client–counsellor relationship and the counselling process. None of us are free of homophobic beliefs and reactions because our assumptions, values, and beliefs are impacted by the heterosexual norms in society. Even individuals who are out as lesbians, for example, still experience moments when their sense of difference influences the ways in which they view themselves, interact with others, or react to the world around them.

Homophobia may be experienced and expressed in both overt, deliberate ways and in subtle, unconscious, or covert ways. The counselling relationship and the process of counselling are impacted by the degree of homophobia experienced by the counsellor and the degree of internalized homophobia experienced by the client. Counselling interactions may be classified on the following grid.




The positioning of both counsellor and client on this grid will influence the entire counselling process, including

  • the quality of the interaction between counsellor and client,
  • the assumptions made about human nature,
  • the way in which the problem is defined,
  • the nature of the goals established,
  • the types of intervention strategies selected, and
  • the client outcomes.

Choose a partner and select at least two different combinations from the Low-high homophobia grid. Then select one of the roles described for the counsellor and one of the roles described for the client from within each cell. The presenting concerns have deliberately been left to your imagination, so be creative with where you go with each scenario. Remember that even the individuals described in the vignettes provided under the low homophobia row are unlikely to be completely nonhomophobic. Set a time to meet with your partner to role-play a potential interaction between counsellor and client for the first combination of vignettes. Switch roles and repeat the exercise for the second combination. Try to immerse yourself in the possible thoughts, feelings, and behaviours associated with your character. Be sure to attend to both your affective reaction to the interaction and your cognitive learning. Debrief your dialogue with your partner, attending to the following questions:

  1. What were your affective and cognitive reactions to playing the role of counsellor or client in each case?
  2. In what ways did the assumption of heteronormativity operate for both the counsellor and the client?
  3. What are the implications of this exercise for minimizing the impact of homophobia in counselling members of sexual minorities?

[Permanent link:]

Sexism/Gender Inequity

Myths and facts about women (Self-study)

Complete the self-study quiz, Myths and Facts About Women. You will receive immediate feedback about your responses. As you reflect on your score on the quiz, attend to the following questions:

  • Which answers were most surprising for you?
  • Why were these answers unexpected?
  • What feelings are you experiencing as you reflect on this information?
  • Has misinformation about women ever influenced your behaviour in the past? How might increasing your knowledge influence your future actions?
  • What does this information tell us about male privilege in our society?
  • How might the responses differ if the data focused only on women of colour, Muslim women, women with disabilities, or transgender women?

[Permanent link:]

Status of women (Self-study)

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Digital Archives are a great resource for historical news content related to Rights and Freedoms in Canada. Check out the section entitled Equality First: The Royal Commission on the Status of Women. Choose several of the news clips to review. Listen carefully to the voices of women at different periods of time—to their struggles, their perspectives, and their victories. Now, imagine that you are approached by a colleague who states that she is facing persistent sexism in another department of your organization, and respond to the following:

  • What lessons might you pull forward from these historical narratives on gender rights to inform your response to your colleague?
  • Identify and critically analyze 2‒3 options for how you might work with your colleague to advance gender rights in your organization.

[Permanent link:]

Cultural/Systemic Oppression

Acts of commission and omission (Small group activity)

Watch the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (2016) video Being Black in Canada and consider the following questions for reflection.

  • What do you know about the history of Black peoples in Canada? What meaning do you make of your cultural awareness or lack of awareness?
  • Analyze critically the ways in which both acts of commission (racism and discrimination) and acts of omission (lack of recognition of achievements and contributions), both historical and current, shape our views of others and their views of themselves.
  • Brainstorm in a small group of peers or colleagues how this historical legacy of cultural oppression may continue to be carried forward into counselling theory and practice? Pay particular attention to acts of omission, identifying as many as you can.

[Permanent link:]


Which Canada?

Watch this Ted Talk by the Hon. Ahmed Hussen who entered Canada a child refugee and later became the Minister of Immigration and Refugees.



Take a moment to put yourself in his shoes and reflect on the questions he poses related to systemic cultural oppression:

  • Imagine walking on the street and having a parent pulling their child closer, because you are walking by.
  • Imagine being followed in a grocery store, because of the colour of your skin.
  • Imagine being pulled over by police constantly, because of the colour of your skin.

Consider your own privilege or marginalization based on ethnicity. How do you reconcile both Canadas described in this video? What is your personal and professional responsibility to address cultural or systemic oppression? Hon. Ahmed Hussen argues that having uncomfortable conversations about race and privilege is essential for the growth of Canada as a whole. What is the role of these difficult conversations in the advancement of the professions of counselling and psychology?

[Permanent link:]

Institutional/Organizational Oppression

Enacting human rights in organizational contexts (Self-study)

As counsellors and psychologists, we are responsible for our own beliefs, values, ways of being, and counselling practices; however, we are embedded within schools, agencies, organizations, governments, and other environments in which individuals may not have been exposed to the same level of consciousness raising related to culture and social justice. Reflect on the organizations to which you belong for school, work, family, and leisure activities. Attend to the perhaps overt, but more likely subtle, ways in which particular persons or peoples are marginalized or oppressed within these institutions, attending to acts of both commission and omission.

Given the 2014 change in human rights legislation in Canada to protect gender identity and gender expression, organizations are attempting to figure out how to enact policies and practices that are in keeping with the spirit, as well as the letter, of the law. Review the brochure on Gender identity and gender expression from the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

  • What do you see as your responsibility, personally and professionally, to not only uphold, but also promote, basic human rights?
  • Are you welcoming of the change in legislation in Canada, or does this challenge your personal beliefs, values, and worldview?
  • What meaning do you make of your emotional and cognitive reaction to the idea that you are expected, as a Canadian citizen and as a member of the counselling or psychology professions, to take an anti-discriminatory stance towards gender identity and all forms of gender expression?
  • If you are a gender-nonconforming person, reflect on how the recent change in legislation has affected you in terms of your sense of self and your relationship to the dominant culture. What do you hope for in terms of change in your personal and professional world?

[Permanent link:]

Systemic/Structural Barriers

State-sponsored homophobia (Self-study)

Consider the map of Sexual Orientation Laws in World created by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. Choose two of the countries in shades of red on the map from different continents and then look up the specific laws in the Caroll and Mendos (2017) report on State-Sponsored Homophobia. The world has become a smaller place in the last century with the advent of world travel, the internet, and other aspects of modern life that connect us to other places and peoples.

One of the foundation principles of systems theory is that we are all interconnected, so that a change in one part of the system has a ripple effect in other areas. What are the implications for counselling practice in Canada of these world-wide examples of continued cultural oppression of LGBTTQI persons? Conversely, what impact might the profession of counselling in Canada have on the lived experiences of others around the world? Reflect on the challenges of working with an immigrant or refugee from one of these countries, who identifies as a sexual minority.

[Permanent link:]

Colonial Worldview


Colonialism/Colonization & Colonial Violence/Oppression

Grappling with the truth of colonization (Self-study)

One of the most profound examples of othering and cultural oppression occurred through the process of colonization, whereby colonial/settler populations took by force the lands of Indigenous peoples throughout the world and began a process of cultural genocide and forced assimilation that continues to have dramatic effects on the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples to this day. Canadians are currently being invited into a process of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples that begins by acknowledging the truth of their lived experiences as individuals and peoples.

Watch one or two of the following short documentaries to get a sense of the residential school system, which was a colonialist tool for forced eradication of language, culture, and spirituality, as well as the 60s scoop, in which Indigenous children were apprehended and placed in non-Indigenous foster homes.






Reflect on your own understanding of the short and long-term effects of colonialism. Consider the immense challenge of surviving colonization and colonial violence/oppression for individuals and communities who suffered this experience. Connect these experiences with hypothetical presenting concerns of Indigenous clients, and consider the implications for conceptualization current problems and envisioning change.

[Permanent link:]

Colonial Relationship

Loss of land, loss of culture (Self-study)

Every individual living within traditional territories of Indigenous peoples in Canada and in other colonized nations is, by default, part of a colonial relationship. It is important for counsellors to grapple with the historical and current implications of their positioning within this relationship.

  • To begin this process, use the First Nation Profiles Interactive Map or the Inuit Community Profiles Interactive Map to investigate on whose traditional lands you live and work. Zoom in; use the “i” on either map to access specific information; then access the Community Website links for First Nations or Inuit community sites.
  • Use the information you find as a starting place to search for more details about local treaties, forced migration to reserve lands, and current land disputes. In my own search, I came across this cartoon from the Victoria Daily Times paper, which depicts the colonialist successful efforts to displace the Songhees nation from the reserve lands on the Victoria harbour.
Copyright 1910 by the Victoria Daily Times.

In what ways have you benefited from the legacy of colonization and colonial violence? Consider the implications of your discovers for your colonial relationship with Indigenous peoples locally and within your country as a whole.

[Permanent link:]


Envisioning reconciliation (Class discussion)

Search for the term reconciliation in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015) Summary Report. Write a 2‒3 paragraph critical reflection on what reconciliation for the professions of counselling and psychology might look like. Be sure to reflect critically on the dominant discourses that have, and continue to, contribute to psycholonization (those processes of colonization that are enacted, often unknowingly and unintentionally, through counselling and psychology theory and practice). 

Next, view the short video What is Reconciliation? provided by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. 



Engage in a dialogue about what reconciliation might look like for the theory and practice of counselling. Be as specific as possible, and consider the microlevel (individual practitioner), mesolevel (counselling organizations) and macrolevel (professions of counselling and psychology). How might the principle of reconciliation be applied to counselling psychology to move the profession beyond its own legacy of culturally oppressive worldviews and practices? Work together to build a picture of the future profession that is both realistic and optimistic. Take into account the ways in which colonization has played out within the professions, the colonial relationship in which both Indigenous and non-Indigenous practitioners are embedded, and the specific Calls to Action of the TRCC (see the Health section on  p. 2).

[Permanent link:]


Recognizing and challenging processes of psycholonization

Consider the following assertion:

The process of colonization was designed to eradicate Indigenous peoples not only through overt genocide and destruction of culture, land, language, spirituality, and relationship to family and community, but also through the more covert ideological positioning of Indigenous persons and peoples as dysfunctional and disordered. It is this forced internalization of the deficit model of colonization, an act of cultural violence against mind and spirit, in which healthcare systems are specifically implicated. At the crux of this process of psycholonization is the ongoing assumption that client symptoms are a manifestation of individual or interpersonal pathology rather than systemic cultural oppression.

Then respond critically and reflectively to these questions posed by Reynolds and Hammound-Beckett (2018, p. 7).

  • How are we (as practitioners, organizations, and professions) participating, overtly, covertly, unintentionally, or with ethical blindness, in the psycholonization of Indigenous people?
  • How might we be doing this in ways that perpetuate colonialism and oppression and construct Indigenous people, families, and communities as unwell, broken, and incapable?

[Permanent link:]


Psycholonization through reparative (conversion) therapy (Class discussion)

Consider either of the following examples through the lens of psycholonization. The intent is not to appropriate or minimize the experiences of our Indigenous peoples, but rather to point out that psychology and pseudopsychology are also used in the overt and covert cultural oppression of other persons and peoples.

  • A client comes to see you after participating in a reparative (conversion) therapy process. She is distressed and full of self-blame and shame, because she perceives herself to have failed in the eyes of God. She still has feelings towards women even after all her attempts to find a cure.
  • A colleague is engaged in a form of reparative (conversion) therapy and brings some of the challenges from his practice to a peer consultation and supervision meeting. Others in the group seem uncomfortable with the topic, but simply try to change the subject and avoid expressing potentially conflictual perspectives.

Critically reflect on how your own dominant or nondominant cultural identity development may influence your perspectives, and integrate your understanding of nondiscriminatory and affirmative practice principles. You may also want to consider the Spiritual Competencies of the Association for Spiritual, Ethical, and Religious Values in Counselling in your critical dialogue.

[Permanent link:]


Arthur, N., & Collins, S., (2016). Multicultural counselling in the Canadian context. In N. Gazzola, M. Buchanan, O. Sutherland, & S. Nuttgens (Eds.), Handbook of Counselling and Psychotherapy in Canada (pp. 73-93). Ottawa, ON: Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.

Brown, L. S. (2010). Feminist therapy. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Carroll, A., & Mendos, L. R. (2017, May). State-sponsored homophobia: A world survey of sexual orientation laws: Criminalization, protection and recognition. from

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.

Commission on Social Determinants of Health, World Health Organization. (2008). Closing the gap in a generation: health equity through action on the social determinants of health. Final report of the Commission on Social Determinants of Health. Retrieved from

Fellner, K., John, R., & Cottell, S. (2016). Counselling Indigenous peoples in a Canadian context. In N. Gazzola, M. Buchanan, O. Sutherland, & S. Nuttgens (Eds.), Handbook of counselling and psychotherapy in Canada (pp. 123-147). Ottawa, ON: Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.

Jean Baker Miller Training Institute. (2017). The development of relational-cultural theory. Retrieved from

McNair, R. P. (2017). Multiple identities and their intersections with queer health and wellbeing. Journal of Intercultural Studies, 38, 443-452.

Reynolds, V., & Hammoud-Beckett, S. (2018). Social justice activism and therapy: Tensions, points of connection, and hopeful scepticism. In C. Audet and D. Paré (Eds.), Social justice and counseling: Discourses in practice (pp. 3-15). New York, NY: Routledge.

Smith, L., Constantine, M. G., Graham, S. V., & Dize, C. B. (2008). The territory ahead for multicultural competence: The ‘spinning’ of racism. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 39, 337-345.

Sterling, P. R., Gartner, R. E., Woodford, M. R., & Fisher, C. M. (2017). Sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity microaggressions: Toward an intersectional framework for social work research. Journal of Ethnic & Cultural Diversity in Social Work, 26, 81-94.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Honouring the truth, reconciling for the future: Summary report of the truth and reconciliation commission of Canada. Retrieved from

1LGBTTQI = lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit, queer, intersex


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

CC4 Social Injustice Copyright © 2018 by Sandra Collins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book