This week, faculty, students, staff and leadership came together for the Adler School’s first-ever school retreat, focused on the meaning of social justice and socially responsible practice. Among those offering opening remarks on this was Kevin Osten, Psy.D., Core Faculty and Director of our LGBTQ Mental Health and Inclusion Center:
We welcome all of you here. We understand your busy lives and full schedules, and we give our appreciation and thanks for the effort you made to be here with us today.
As we start the day, we want to be transparent, and recognize that there are many different thoughts and feelings in the room. Why are we here? What is this day about? How does this day help me in my everyday work? With those questions in mind, a few thoughts.
First, the evolution of the School bears a moment of reflection. A major focus has always been training practitioners. Adlerian theory charges us to work with people in empowering them to feel better to solve problems, to live in the world more respectfully and more responsibly, and to function more effectively.
The evolution of the concept of social justice suggests that interventions are on a continuum. Practitioners don’t just work alone with an individual or a family system; they look at the contexts within which that individual operates.
We know contextual factors influence mental health outcomes. For instance, the mere presence of an arrest record, absent a conviction, is an exclusionary practice–an important contextual factor that directly impacts the mental health of many individuals by barring them for employment opportunities.
We could help this person employ coping skills to reduce stress, elevate mood, and reconcile their past, but as long as exclusionary practices are in place, our efforts, no matter how good they may be, will be blunted. These exclusionary practices exact a heavy health toll on any person, support system and community living under their shadow.
I would say that we practitioners carry both a privilege and responsibility to impact contextual factors and systems that have the opportunity to allow people better outcomes. I would also dare to go so far as to say that it is every citizen’s responsibility and privilege, as well–our goal if you will, in that effort “to form a more perfect union.”
To that end, we have many routes to obtain social justice outcomes. Whether your chosen avenue is rooted in conservative, liberal, moderate, or another political philosophy, it matters not.
All of these philosophies carry with them courage and criticism. Our hope is that our community will engage in these kinds of deliberations and conversations, not just today, but every day on campus.
But before we get there, we have to have a common understanding and language on social justice, what it is, and how it can be used to promote mental health. Welcome to today.