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 eight 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


Cultural Competency


Cultural Humility


Cultural Safety


Cultural Responsivity


Reflective Practice


Critical Thinking


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 falling into either/or thinking; this applies here 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, inter-related 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 narrow, singular frame of reference.
  • 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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Social Justice

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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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!






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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Unintentional Oppression


Basic Human Rights


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 members of 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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Social Change


Ethical Practice


Ethical Decision-Making


Codes, Principles, Standards, and Guidelines



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.

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