Study Asks Therapists the Age-Old Question: To Advocate or Not to Advocate?

Advocacy is the promotion, support, and advancement of ideas pertaining to a specific cause or issue. With relation to psychology, advocacy can apply to promotion of a myriad of issues. Social acceptance, judicial education, and professional awareness are just some of the areas of concern within the psychological field for which advocacy could play a major role. But advocating for psychological causes is far less common than other social and personal issues. The media have never broadcast an Occupy APA before, because it probably has never happened. Undergraduate students pursuing degrees in psychology rarely appear on the evening news holding signs asking for more grant money to advance research on mental health issues.  Amy E. Heinowitz, a doctoral student at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, was curious as to why individuals involved in the field of psychology do not engage in advocacy behaviors at rates similar to professionals in other fields.

Heinowitz surveyed a group of psychology students and staff members from a local college and asked them about their attitudes toward advocacy. She found that there were distinct differences between individuals who advocate and those who do not. “Results indicate that those who advocate do so regardless of whether the issue lies within or outside of their specific field,” said Heinowitz. “More simply, those who advocate, advocate.” This could be the result of a personal character trait of the advocate, regardless of their profession. The low number of psychological advocates may be due to the fact that many individuals who pursue a field in psychology are more interested in personal causes than larger social causes.

Upon further examination, Heinowitz discovered that there were three main barriers that prevented people from advocating for mental health issues. They were as follows: a complete lack of interest in advocacy efforts, being uncertain of which topics to advocate for and how to go about doing it, and finally, being unaware of the political or social concerns that warrant advocacy. Taken together, these barriers result in a relatively low rate of advocacy for a field that desperately needs social, financial, and political support. Heinowitz encourages mental health students and professionals to educate themselves on the psychological issues that are most vulnerable to policy change. Advocacy by field members will ensure that clients will continue to be able to receive the most appropriate care available in their time of need.

Reference:
Heinowitz, A. E., Brown, K. R., Langsam, L. C., Arcidiacono, S. J., Baker, P. L., Badaan, N. H., et al. (2012). Identifying perceived personal barriers to public policy advocacy within psychology. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029161

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  • jen

    jen

    August 2nd, 2012 at 10:59 PM

    advocacy can be done in other forms too.a blog can be a form of advocacy.a new idea submitted to an umbrella organization is also an advocacy.although some professionals advocate lesser than others,they are constantly doing things that is resulting in changes,however small they are.advocacy can be silent and audible/visible.all of us do advocate at some point of time.

  • Wilson Suttles

    Wilson Suttles

    August 3rd, 2012 at 6:49 AM

    One reason for a lack of advocacy that was not mentioned was the practical lack of time. If there is such a lack of funds, one person may be hired for a job that takes the time of two to do. In that case, those who work in the field of psychology may be so busy that they do not have time to protest or even make themselves aware of something that should be protested. If that is the case, we won’t be seeing an increase in advocacy for quite some time due to the economic situation of our world.

  • Leona Chandler

    Leona Chandler

    August 3rd, 2012 at 6:53 AM

    I have worked in a psychiatric ward for children before and I think personality is definitely the reason for not getting out there and protesting what is wrong. Only one person I worked with cared enough to buck the status quo. Everyone else was totally content coming in to work and doing the same thing every day. Change was met with a ton of resistance and things generally ended up going back to the way they were in no time flat. Now, these same people would probably say that money and administration were to blame for a lack of progress,but a few weeks “on the inside” painted a very different picture.

  • Wilson Suttles

    Wilson Suttles

    August 3rd, 2012 at 2:49 PM

    I have worked in a psychiatric ward for children before and I think personality is definitely the reason for not getting out there and protesting what is wrong. Only one person I worked with cared enough to buck the status quo. Everyone else was totally content coming in to work and doing the same thing every day. Change was met with a ton of resistance and things generally ended up going back to the way they were in no time flat. Now, these same people would probably say that money and administration were to blame for a lack of progress,but a few weeks “on the inside” painted a very different picture.

  • solomon

    solomon

    August 5th, 2012 at 9:04 AM

    If we as a community do not stand up and advocate and fight for the things that we deem to be the most important in life, then who is supposed to do that? We can’t keep pretending that one voice doesn’t matter, because surely it does. We have to be brave though, be strong, abd be ready to take the criticism when there are others who do not believe in what we say and stand for. If an issue is important to you, then by all means, fight for it, get the message out, and show others why this is something that is worth fighting for and worth getting them behid the message too.

  • seanhughes

    seanhughes

    August 6th, 2012 at 11:27 AM

    I really do hate to say this but I know that there have been times in my life when I have failed to advocate for causes that are near and dear to me and in the end I wind up feeling terrible because I did not lend my voice to something that I really could have made a difference with. I guess as I have gotten older it does not bother me so much to think that I could be alienating someone else just because I voice my opinion. So what is they don’t agree with me? Isn’t that the beauty of this country? You don’t have to agree with me but you do have to agree that I have the right to say it. So I think that advocating is something that should not be frowned upoin but encouraged. You can do it without offending, and remember that the only thing that is more offensive is allowing others to smother what you have to say and to make you feel less important as a result.

  • Eliza

    Eliza

    August 7th, 2012 at 5:53 PM

    It concerns me that there are those therapists who would say that they don’t advocate because they aren’t sure what to advocate for?!
    Sorry but aren’t these educated people who should know the issues in their field that deserve to be promoted and that they feel strongly enough about to indeed promote in their professional community?
    I don’t think that you should choose a cause to stand behind all for just being able to say that you support this or that.
    But surely there is something out there that as a therapist interests or concerns you, or that you have strong beliefs about, that could use your help and support?
    I happen to think that this is a way that every professional should work if you indeed are passionate about what you do and the people that you are helping. It gets you involved in the greater good, and helps you to stay educated about the ares which are currently of the most interest in your field today.
    I hate to go so far as to suggest that this is your obligation as a member of a professional community that advocates for others, but I guess if the truth be told, I kind of think that it is.

  • Al

    Al

    August 8th, 2012 at 4:44 AM

    You could look at it as maybe therapists are afraid of alienating their patients and peers if they speak out about something that could be seen as divisive. So to avoid that they choose to remain quiet.

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