Discussions on Best Practices in Counselling with Black Women- Part 1

To create change within the experiences for women of color, Creating change for Black women should consider how domains such as  the interpersonal, structural, institutional and hegemonic domains influence, dictate, and perpetuate the experiences of women who experience violence. Black women are not just seeking to address interpersonal challenges, but are connected to a larger cultural, communal and political system which influences their lives in a phenomenal manner.counselling

Feminism appeared to develop after the movement around violence against women began in the 1960’s. (Busch and Valentine, 2000). The first-wave feminism focused upon liberating white middle class women from subservient positions within the family and the culture. The second-wave feminism emerged giving a voice to the experiences of women of color. One writer commented that the, “presence of racism in feminist theory challenges the feminist’s” assertions of the primacy of gender oppression in male-dominated society and undermines their goals of social transformation (Dua, 1999, pg.50). White feminist saw racism as a moral problem and sought to change the attitudes of individuals who held these beliefs however, by focusing on the individual, they ignored the systems of racism that existed within the institutional structures of our Canadian society, and as this author comments, “these determine the social, political, and economic realities of Canadian women”(Dua, 1999, pg.50).  Thus, came the development of anti-racist feminist thought, which is, “a body of writing that attempts to integrate the way race and gender function together in structuring social inequality”(Dua, 1999). In Dua’s analysis of history, she found that anti-racist feminist thought developed from marginalized women resisting the dominant controls in society, to a period of women challenging the police, institutional structures and policies such as immigration law, and developing institutions such as shelters that protected women from being abused by dominant controls, to current feminist thought that integrated race and gender (Dua, 1999, pg.10-16). Race, class and gender oppression are interrelated and connected with each other and women may experience one or all of these types of oppressions on a different level. Understanding the journey of women of colour and their experiences of abuse, requires “one to be informed with a consideration of her migration, her isolation, her lack of economic and social support, an extremely abusive marriage, and a sexist and racist host society, where hospitals continue to neglect signs of violence against women” (Bannerji, 1999, pg 261). Patriarchy is re-experienced within the dominant society, and further infiltrated in her home leaving the woman to feel silenced (Bannerji, 1999).

Community practice is a powerful way to create change within, from changing the personal to the institutional. In this practice, the community as a whole is the primary partners in the process (Aronoff and Bailey, 2005, pg.31). Through capacity enhancement the social worker comes into the community and establishes networks of individuals, groups, and organizations for community empowerment and social change (Aronoff and Bailey, 2005, pg. 31). Community enhancement focuses upon developing the strengths within the community. Community models exist to support community practice, using strategies such as assessment, mapping, intervention and evaluation to support change, and mobilize community members towards change. The social worker takes on roles as an educator, coach, organizer, and facilitator to work on action for social justice, advocacy, and accessing social services.

Through work in the interpersonal domain, the social worker has a unique role to develop a framework of practice. The social worker seeks to help the women develop her inner sense of efficacy and resiliency to repair those moments of spirit injury using her ability to engage and actively listen to the service user and develop her trust. Through the telling of the story, we also become witnesses to her experience and encourage her to react to the situation, and in essence deal with the issue of violence against women. (Bannerji, 1999) The class presenter was able to tell her story in a supportive environment where she was able to heal as she continued to speak and share her experiences to help others and raise awareness and action on the issue, ultimately providing a powerful tool to heal the injury within her spirit.

Empowerment practices are transferring the feeling like a victim to a survivor and healing oneself from difficult experiences and encourage the exercise of power (Busch and Valentine, 2000 and Prevatt-Hyles, 2006). Empowerment practice helps women gain power and access to services, using enabling, linking, catalyzing and priming (Busch and Valentine, 2000, pg. 86). Busch and Valentine argue that these methods are specific to the process of empowering women in violent relationships. Enabling is similar to efficacy and identifies and recognizes the strength of women. Linking connects women with others who share similar histories, issues and barriers. Catalyzing is obtaining resources for women within their community and priming is when social workers seek to educate the bureaucratic systems about the barriers and difficulties that women experience in their lives (2000, pg. 86).

This analysis of women of colour who experience abuse focused on creating change in social work practice to meet the needs of these groups of people. Through history of slavery and colonization, women of colour have been objectified and personified in a manner that has dehumanized their selves and separated their body from their identity (hooks, 1989). Their experience of abuse did not just include their physical body, but also their sexual identity, their spirituality, their children, and more and was perpetuated within their relationships with their partners, their culture, and the dominant society institutions, culture, and systems of dominance and practice (hooks, 1989). Creating change is possible by examining with a critical lens the concepts that have informed our understanding of women of colour (hooks, 1989 and Prevatt-Hyles, 2006), and objectively understanding the systems of dominance that have perpetuated violence upon women of colour, their bodies, and their lives for centuries (Dua, 1999). As social work clinicians we can begin to support individual emancipation, efficacy and expression among women of colour, as well as work with the community and institutions around supporting and protecting women and re-framing our understanding of violence to include a wrap around system of support and change for all those involved within the situation and create change within this framework of practice (Prevatt-Hyles, 2006).


Aronoff and Bailey (2005) “Partnered Practice: Building on Our Small Group Tradition” in The Social Work with Groups Haworth Press: Vol. 28 (1).

Bannerji, “A Question of Silence: Refecltions on Violence Against Women in Communities of Color” in Scratching the Surface: Canadian Anti-Racist Feminist Thought , Dua, Enakshi and Angela Robertson ed.

Barnoff and Moffat, 2007 “Contradictory tensions in Anti-oppression practice in feminist social services” in Affilia, Vol.22 (1)

Bishop, Ann (2002). Becoming An Ally: Breaking the Cycle of Oppression 2nd Edition Toronto: Fernwood.

Busch and Valentine (2000) “Empowerment Practice: A focus on Battered Women”, in Affilia, Vol 15.(1)

Dua, Enakshi and Angela Robertson, editors, Scratching the Surface: Canadian Anti-Racist Feminist Thought

Green, Roger (2000) “Applying a community needs Profiling Approach to Tackling Service User Poverty” in British Journal of Social Work, Vol. 30, pg. 287-303.

Hooks, Bell (1989) Talking Back: Thinking feminist and Thinking black Toronto: between the lines press

Hyles, Dianne (2006) Life Source Mapping, Disk One to Four, Toronto: Liberation Practice International

Mullaly, Bob (2002) Challenging Oppression: A critical social work approach Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Prevatt-Hyles, (2006) “LPI’s Life Source Mapping: 7 E’s of Liberation” and Spirituality.

Unger, Michael (2004). Surviving as a Postmodern Social Worker: Two Ps and Three Rs of Direct Practice, in Social Work, Vol. 49, No.3, pp. 488-495.

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