I became an active community advocate by accident in 1996. I was out of work and I needed to find a new job before my unemployment benefits ran out. Fortunately, I found a job as an independent living specialist for a local independent living center (for persons with disabilities) in my area. Though the position did not require a masters’ degree and clinical experience, I was able to use my basic skills of listening and providing empathy and reflections for my clients.
Over time in this position, I learned that persons with disabilities were not receiving the same equal rights as their able-bodied counterparts. I did not learn the skills of individual and community advocacy in my counseling training in graduate school. All I remember learning was to tell the client to learn how to live with the injustice and to seek an attorney for advice.
In Spring 2000, I was promoted to advocacy coordinator in this agency. The director felt that my ability to speak up and to educate others was important in organizing persons with disabilities. Honestly, I learned hands on by talking to other advocates and attending community meetings. By the Summer 2000, I was able to use my hands on training to organize a coalition of advocates; community agencies; and grassroots organization for common causes.
Over time, I learned about people’s strong emotional ties for advocating for a particular issue and their individual agendas. I was blessed to use my counseling skills of actively listening and empathizing with them so we can come to a consensus on how to move forward. When I left in August 2002, I was told by advocates with disabilities that I was successful in dealing with sensitive situations and issues that was not done before me.
How does this topic apply to fellow counselors?
In today’s world, advocacy for our clients may be needed not only on an individual basis but also for community causes. Many of our clients are facing many issues due to the current economic and social climates. While you can encourage your client to join a community committee for a particular issue, you as counselors can also get involved to serve your community and to learn more about promoting social justice.
As a footnote, I served as a volunteer chair for a local grassroots group of disability advocates from 2004-2006. Besides working three part-time jobs, I was successful in organizing a coalition to get accessible taxicab services in December 2005.
Robbin Miller is a counselor who specializes in mindfulness meditation; spiritual counseling; Positive Psychology; and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies; and is also a volunteer cable access producer and co-host of her show, “Miller Chat” in Massachusetts.