At the centre of the growth of guidance and counselling in the nation is advocacy. Training better counsellors, getting more people on board, and even the professionalization of the “profession” will not bring satisfying results if there is no adequate advocacy.
In this article, I have highlighted some smart ways we, as counsellors, can infiltrate society and champion our course for the growth of our profession.
What is Advocacy?
Advocacy is the sum total of all the activities that are undertaken in order to promote a cause. The dictionary defines it as any action that speaks in favor of, recommends, argues for a cause, supports or defends, or pleads on behalf of others.
When you are advocating for counselling, it means you are taking actions in order to increase the acceptance, prevalence and thriving of guidance and counselling at any level.
How to Advocate for Guidance and Counselling
1. Leverage trends
Leveraging trends is a powerful way of getting the world to listen to the cry of counsellors. Mostly, society does not embrace professional guidance and counselling because they have not seen how impactful it can be to them. And because they have a predisposition towards counselling, our calls and cries are usually not well received.
But whenever a pressing issue arises or there’s a trending case of injustice, since the attention of the world at that point is in that direction, it can be used as an avenue to advocate for counselling as a solution or prevention.
For example, when a rape or domestic violence case goes viral, the world will pay attention more when you show them how counselling can be institutionalized to help future occurrence of that. But not only negative trends can be used. Anything trending at all works.
2. Through radio and TV programs
As much as the internet is fast becoming the primary media in our world today, there is still an appreciable number of people who can only be reached through radio and television. In fact, if you want to get a message across to the grassroots and rural areas, the most effective means is still radio especially, then television.
Having radio dramas, interviews, talk shows that sensitize people about the benefits they can get from professional guidance and counselling, is an investment that will have long-term effects.
Even if people don’t immediately begin to patronize counsellors, they will begin to get acquainted with the fact that counselling exists and they will join the spreading the word, and will eventually come to resort to counselling when situations arise.
Think about how the HIV/AIDS message was spread in Nigeria and you will appreciate the power of strategic radio and TV programs. One person might not be on every radio station but just one radio station will still do a great job in that particular environment.
3. Partnership with religious organizations
Another platform that has the attention of many is religious organizations. If counsellors can convince religious leaders and make them see how counselling is helpful and isn’t against their religious beliefs, the leaders can open them up to a wide market of stalwarts.
Many mental and psychological issues that need professional counselling and therapy to be handled are being covered under the carpet because of erroneous religious beliefs.
But if religious leaders can show their support for, and endorse professional counselling to their members, many people will come out for help.
4. Community based outreaches
Although there are several means to reach communities, none will have as direct impact as actually going into the communities themselves with sensitization programs.
Community leaders can be very instrumental to the embracing of guidance and counselling in their communities and even foster the establishment of counselling centres in their communities.
Specialized sensitization sessions can be held e.g. girls only, youth only, husbands only and so on, so each individual demographic can see how counselling can benefit them based on their unique peculiarities and challenges.
5. School sensitization programs
There are two approaches that can be taken in schools to benefit guidance and counselling. The first is to sensitize them about guidance and counselling and how it can help them handle their challenges.
The second is to reform and strengthen school career guidance programs so as to find students who are interested and whose personalities are fitting to be counsellors and therapists. There are still many citizens of Nigeria who don’t know that guidance and counseling is a career option.
Intensifying advocacy at the school level cannot be overemphasized since the orientation people tend to hold about life, what works, and societal structures are usually formed at school.
If students don’t see counselling as a thing while in school, it would take extra effort to help them appreciate it after school. That’s where we are currently with the older generation.
6. Partnership with publishing companies
This is another avenue to reach children. I can still remember while in secondary school that some chapters of our textbooks contained topics that weren’t taught by our teachers but we went on to read by ourselves because they contained ideas that were new to us or interesting to read.
While the best practice is for the government to include teaching on guidance and counselling in the school curriculum for subjects like civic education (or similar to it), counsellors can still reach out to book publishers for them to include a chapter on guidance and counselling in textbooks in a captivating way that will pull students to read.
The idea here is to get students intimate with the fact that guidance and counselling is part of our society.
Like reaching out to book publishers, counsellors can reach out to movie producers to include counselling into some of their movie story lines. These include both English and our native language movies.
If counsellors are seen in productive action in movies, it sows a seed of a possibility people can resort to when faced with similar challenges. Personally, I got intimated with the possibility of handing over the stress of your wedding ceremony to an event planner through movies.
8. Sponsorship of entertainment events (Bonus)
Entertainment is another platform that has the attention of many. Banners and billboards advocating for counselling can be introduced to the events venues of entertainers. This both endorses counselling with the entertainer’s social reputation, as well as creates awareness about the involvement of guidance and counselling in our everyday life.
I have only highlighted these 7 means to open you up to the possibilities for advocacy that exist. You can certainly get more avenues. The key is to simply find where people’s attention is and put your message there.
Olusegun Iyejare is a career coach and certified counselor. He helps individuals discover and maximize their potential to live satisfying lives regardless of obvious limitations holding them back.