Psychology and Social Justice – Really?!

We were surprised when telling people we were starting a psychology and social justice podcast met with negative reactions such as ‘Really? Those two just don’t go together’. It didn’t take long before we understood that the health and medical professions, including psychology, have negative reputations in marginalized communities. In one of our early interviews Cheryll Rothery, PsyD, ABPP, referred to this as ‘a healthy mistrust of the profession’, and with increased understanding we quickly came to agree (http://shrinksonthird.com/a-healthy-mistrust-of-the-profession).

It seems self-evident that all members of society should have equal rights including equal access to opportunities so they can exercise them. But, we mental health professionals have not done a good job advocating for the people we profess to serve. Sure, there have always been activist mental health workers, even psychoanalysts had their activists among them. But no, we cannot say ‘not all psychologists’.  True advocacy really never became the norm; even activist clinicians and researchers have mischaracterized and/or left women and minorities out of research and practice. And what have we all done to change that?

Of course, once you begin to see the deep systemic nature of oppressions everywhere such as racism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, and ableism, you can also begin to change your role in it at every opportunity. As the Shrinks on Third, as psychologists, as women and privileged white people, we pledge to do better. Psychologists have been taught to remain value-free and non-judgmental. If advocating for human rights and social justice goes against that norm (and we know some colleagues would say it does) we must still take that step and we vow to do so. The patriarchy’s creed of systemic injustice must be dismantled to end all violations of human rights including mental health access and discriminatory practices of all kinds. This is the place where psychology and social justice meet. 

Double Meaning

For many of the people we interview, the good works they do are meaningful in two ways. They get to help other people and often see the positive outcomes of their efforts. This alone is extremely rewarding. In addition, we’ve noticed that many people end up doing the important, transformational work that they do because they have been through a difficult, possibly even traumatic experience themselves. It makes sense that they’d want to help others who have had similar experiences. One of the best ways to move past trauma is to become active, to use it (the understanding of the situation, the learning that occurred, the experience of recovery, etc. ) to do good. It’s easy to get stuck as the passive recipient of a negative experience. For those who can turn their own struggle into a way to help others, it can be extremely meaningful and rewarding.

Our Pledge Against Injustice (steps we need to take)

Specifically, we pledge to:

Actively work to oppose racism and unjust practices,  Look for applications of psychological knowledge to create change,  Consider important intersections of race, class, gender, ability, and sexual orientation when looking at any psychological or mental health problem,  Promote empathy and understanding for marginalized groups, Question the status quo,  Examine our own biases and attitudes to increase our own awareness and that of others,  Address and challenge all oppressions,  Encourage respectful dialog,  Find ways to take action, such as doing the research to learn and educate others, and speaking up,  Do what we can to make a difference in the lives of others and even more so, others who are not just like us, through advocacy and social action, Center others, especially those most marginalized, in all that we do. 

  ** We reserve the right to add or change this pledge to reflect ongoing learning and understanding.