Revisit “Empowerment”: its new context and meaning to counselling profession in the New Millennium
Revisit “Empowerment”: its new context and meaning to counselling profession
in the New Millennium
CHAN Kwok-bong ( firstname.lastname@example.org )
The Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs Association of Hong Kong
In the modern society, the economical advancement and the growth of
information technology open up vast opportunities for individual autonomy.
However, with these advancements, the world is becoming globalized and the
society is growing with increasing complexity that our individual autonomy will
become increasingly powerless. Eyllard (1998) asserted that in reacting with these
changes “fears are common, hopes are scare.” People in general felt that new
social problems are emerged in the new millennium could no longer lead to
promising future. Theobaid (1997) even asserted that the past successes have led
us to collective future failure. To thrive, but not only to survive, in the new
millenium, it requires us to have new eyes on our past experiences, or new
paradigms to re-create our past experiences, for our present and future lives.
Ellyard (1998) believes that a new global paradigm is needed and it should embody
the synthesis and hybridization of the old and the emerging new. Theobaid (1997)
suggests new type of communitarian communities to reworking successes in the
future. Ellyard (1998) developed the new paradigm of Planetism for the new
millennium. These writers suggest a re-creation of the communitarian and
interdependent culture that empowers us and enlightens our humanity to create a
future. They further suggest changes of our roles and our mindsets, as well as the
development of new mission-oriented strategies to reach the possible future. These
all create new context, meanings and challenges for the counselling profession. To
thrive in the future, counselling profession should not only prescribe these global
changes as new tasks for counsellors. It creates new meanings of the counselling
profession. The global paradigm shift thus creates new context for the evolution of
counselling profession at present and in the new century.
In this paper, I will examine the new missions of counselling profession in the
global context of the new millenium. Parallel with the global concern, I will focus
my discussion in the area of empowerment. The context and meaning of
empowerment, the ways it is expressed and practiced will also be examined. I will
first outline the global changes and the problem contexts in the new century. Some
observations on the shifts or changes in values and mindsets that might be required
to address these challenges and some relevant strategies developed from these
values and mindsets will be presented. In the second half of my paper, I will
examine how counselling could meet these new challenges with particular reference
to the idea of empowerment. I will summarize these together with my views and
visions for the future.
The Global Issues in the 21 Century
Eyllard (1998) asserted that we live in the global trend of globalization.
With the technological development and economic advancement in for the past
decades, the world is becoming more unified – globalized – in the way our lives are
conducted and determined. We live in the country that is closely linked with the
world. Issues, such as security, employment, education, political, economic,
cultural social life and so on, could be resolved in its community or government in
the past. These must now be conducted and determined with the consideration of
the other parts of the world. Parallel with globalization, he also identified the trend
of tribalization. On the basis of ethnic differences, large entities will break into
smaller states. The breakup is not only marked by the independent movement.
Mindell (1998) asserted that we all have tribalistic tendencies: a tendency to strongly
attach to a group based on the ethnical and cultural backgrounds, in order to promote
the collective goods of the group. The fields of becoming more unified and
independence progress simultaneously. Together with the third agent of technology
change, these agents are destabilizing and traumatizing the nation economies in most
developed and developing countries. Unemployment rate, economic recession,
education and qualities of life are some of the related alarming issues in Hong Kong,
as in other developed and developing countries, as a result of transiting into the
globalized world. It is not only in itself alarming. The increasing impotence of the
community and government to resolve the social problems in its global context of
globalization and local context of ethnical and cultural diversity creates strong
senses of anxiety and insecurity. The general climate is that the future is not as
promising as it has been promoted by politicians or government. People perceived
that as threats more than opportunities and felt fears more than hopes.
However, it is not only the problem of transition or adjustment. Theobaid
(1997) stated clearly that our past economical successes are our burdens at present
that have led to future failure. He elaborated that the economic prosperity during
the past decades though allowed us to accumulate individual wealth, the overall
qualities of life was declining. Eyllard (1998) also suggested that economic growth
is creating problems as much as it is solving them. It does not guarantee a promising
future. He summarized five undesirable forms of growth from the report produced
by the United Nation Development Program (UNDP) in 1996, which are occurring
around the world. They are jobless growth, ruthless growth, voiceless growth,
rootless growth and futureless growth. The jobless growth results from two factors.
The first is the disappearing of employment opportunities in micro-economic and
enterprise-level reform in order to increase competitively in global trade. The second
is that new jobs are not creating fast enough to replace them. The ruthless growth
refers to the increasing gap between the rich and the poor, in term of quality or
quantity as a result of economic growth. The voiceless growth refers to the growth
of economic that has not been accompanied by an extension of democracy. The
rootless growth refers to the increasing risk of marginalization or elimination of
cultural groups because of the control of economic resources or opportunities by the
dominated cultural group. The futureless growth refers to the waste of resources that
are needed by the future generations in order to achieve the economic growth for the
present generation. These undesirable growths circle all over the world, in both the
developing and developed countries, and are expressed in various ways now.
Issues of unemployment, poverty, waste management, pollution, discrimination,
terrorism and so on are the alarming problems that most countries are now facing.
The social problems of increasing population of working poor, the increasing stress
among them and their families, the increasing rate of youth unemployment and air
pollution are some of the vital problems that people in Hong Kong has encountered.
Besides the present expressions of these concrete problems, writers also
suggested that there are potential problems for the new century parallel with
economic growth. Theobaid (1997) argued that the major problem of economic
growth is that it is not geared to the sustainable growth in the future. In thriving for
economic growth we are not respect the natural limits, producing much more than
we need and ignoring the negative consequences to the whole system. Besides the
five undesirable forms of growth that we are now facing, he suggested that the
ecological problems and its related health problems, the malfunction of the welfare
net, the strong polarization of different ethnical and cultural groups could likely be
the serious problems in the coming decade.
It is not only the problem itself a problem, but also the ways we are now
dealing with it is also a problem. Eyllard (1998) argued that the problems are
mainly resolved with the problem-centred strategy. In both the private and public
sectors, the predominant mode of problem solving strategy is targeted to remove
undesirable elements from the future, but not add desirable elements to the future.
The task is to ameliorate present damage more than prepare and develop for the
future. For public sector, the problem of this strategy is two-folded. Firstly, the
nature of the social problem in concern is expanded, though the extent may be
periodically lessened. Secondly, the allocation of budget or the actual spending is
expanded with the nature of problem that administrative finical control or
privatization will finally be regulated to tackle only the selected priority problem
areas so as to lessen the government burdens. Problems related to managerialism or
privatization become in concern. This is the case of Hong Kong, as well as in other
countries, in handling welfare and health issues. The strategy is not only unable to
repair the old, but also likely to create new problems.
In short, in the coming century, people will experience three fields of
antagonistic forces. Firstly, we experience both the fruit and devil of economic
growth. Secondly, there is a strong climate for autonomous and increasing urge for
interdependence. The third field is related to the technological advancement that
simultaneously disseminates the two field forces above by constructing and
propagating those messages and practices over the different parts of the world. The
fields are expressed in themselves in various forms of problem. To summarize, the
general problem areas people face in the new century includes the general feeling of
fear and anxiety while transiting into the new millennium, the state of ambivalence
for the paradoxical existences of the devil and the fruit of the economic growth, the
potential problems that emerge with the unsustainable practices, and the present and
future impacts of the inadequacy in handling recent problems.
Possible Future: The Paradigm Shift, Ways and Strategies
In response to the global changes, Eyllard (1998) suggests a paradigm shift is
needed. He identified there is a paradigm shift from cowboy culture to spaceship
culture, i.e. Planetism. The past century has been the century of independent.
Different parts of the world and their people achieved the independence that parallel
with the economic and technology growth in the past century. The value of
individualism and independent was promoted under the capitalist system. The
breakup of USSR and the cultural shifts in USA in the twentieth century were some
of the examples. In the context of globalization, a new paradigm was emerging in
the 1990. The Planetism culture, an interdependent culture, gradually formed with
the advancement of information technology and increasing global trades. The Global
network, information web, and trade agreements, treaties and laws at both global
and national levels facilitated the emerging of Planetism all over the world. Values
of communitarianism and interdependent are promoted. While facing with the social
problems of the past century, people believed that democracy and sustainability
growth could be the key for the future. The values changes expressed in various
forms: the urge for democracy in some eastern countries, the increasing awareness
of ecological concern in both developing and developed countries, such as China,
British and H.K., and the increasing numbers or tribes in various eastern and western
countries, the evolution of third sectors in those small government countries, the
strategic alliances in both national and enterprise levels all over the world.
Eyllard (1998) believed that the changes of values and mindsets as above could
empower us and enlighten our humanity for our future lives. However, in order to
thrive in the future, Eyllard (1998) suggested that we should further develop a
preferred future strategy towards changes. He argued that our usual “flight and
flight” responses system has distracted us to see changes as threats and
disempowered us to see any hope for the future. Its ways in dealing with social
problems will consequently delay and accumulate problems in the future as I have
argued above. The preferred future perspective, however, envisages us to have
visions for the future. It empowers us by leads us with hope, inspiration and
commitment to discover the future rather then repair the past.
The mission-directed strategy is a way of the preferred future accord to Eyllard.
The direction of this strategy is to “set out to create a positive future consisting of
many new and desirable elements, as well as removing undesirable ones.” This is a
strategy comes from inspiration, innovation and collaboration that in line with the
communitarian and interdependent values. Unlike problem-directed strategy,
which guided by “problem-shooting” philosophy and only provided limited options
to solution; mission-directed strategy, which is guided by visions and values, opens
up different pathways to the preferred future. For example, mission-directed
strategy to health may involve nutrition, stress management, creating pollution-free
environment and many other possible ways, instead of killing diseases only.
Recent evolution of welfare sectors to third sectors could be a realization of
mission-directed strategy .
Eyllard (1998) believed that the mission-direction strategy could be the strategy
of the leader for the future. He considered the empowerment of leaders with vision
of preferred future is important in the new millenium. Parallel with the humanistic
thought of Planetism, Eyllard (1998) argued that it is important for the leader to both
have caring and compassion in human nature, as well as courage and commitment to
create change. It also requires leader to “think global, act local”. Covey (1989)
also thought that leaders are people of both independence and interdependence. He
elaborated the ideas of interdependence to “being synergistic with others”. As
collaboration and Networking are keys to interdependent culture, Covey (1989) also
develops a win-win strategy with focus on celebrating differences in collaboration
Besides leadership, Eyllard (1998) also considered empowerment in the areas
of learning and innovation. The empowerment nature of learning and innovation
could be described in two interconnected elements. Firstly, it develops people to
develop things for the new changes. Secondly, it develops people to initiates
change for the future. Creating new changes require innovation that translates
ideas and concepts to practices and products. It requires creativity and collaborative
uses of knowledge. Learning in the Planetism stressed on creating future successes.
It is a key to resolve current problems and meet future challenges. Thus learning has
to be continuous and life-long, in context and experiential, just-in-time and updated,
transformative and transcendental, learner-driven and customized for different
learners. In the new century, we are not being taught, but actively learn. Learning
happens during life, but not in the schools. The essential element for learning is not
only the knowledge, but also the learning skills. Eyllard (1998) referred these as a
new models and pedagogy of learning. Eyllard (1998) predicted the rapid
development of “mindware”, knowledge technology and wisdom technology in the
coming decades. In fact, recent trends in knowledge management reflected how this
new learning culture is expressed now. The process of development, as to develop
both things and peoples, requires these new mindsets and strategies in learning and
In Planetism, a sustainable society is one of the preferred futures. We should
also change the mindset to sustainability. We should respect and adapt to the
natural limits, as well as caution about the unintended consequences to our planet
because of our present actions. As a mission-directed strategy, it requires both the
removal of the unsustainable practices and the creation of sustainable ones.
Economically and ecologically, it is both essential for us to reduce exploitation and
waste, and to promote equity and conserve resources. Generally speaking, we
should be at all time caution about to ensure equitable sharing of resources among
our generations and the future generations, as well as to ensure that other species are
able to live in this planet and protecting the restoring capability of our environment.
To realize the communitarian and independent culture in a civil society, Ellyard
(1998) and Mindell (1993) suggested similar strategies. To summarize, they
include the following. The first strategy concerns the promoting a caring culture
with ourselves, our community and different cultures. The second is to expand our
“circles of concern” to the whole world. The third concerns with enhancing our
minority awareness and reinvention of initiation of people with different
backgrounds of us. The forth is focus on the preservation and transmission of
In a word, for the new millenium, we should shift our mindset to Planetism that
promise sustainable future. In order to realize this, we should develop our
mission-directed strategies in leadership, learning, innovation and sustainability
practices in economical, ecological, social and cultural areas.
Counselling Profession: The New Horizon
Rooted in its historical and cultural background, McLeod (2000) summarized
that “counselling plays a role in society of promoting an image of person as an
intrinsically autonomous and separate being, and in supporting strategies for dealing
with social problems experienced at individual level.” During these decades,
empowerment was practiced, either implicitly or explicitly, by most of the
counsellors in promoting autonomous individuals. In this traditional perspective of
counselling, social problems were translated to issues of individual personality and
upbringing. Although, there is a wide range of understandings in which
empowerment was being defined and expressed, in traditional counselling
approaches, such as in behavioural and Rogerian perspectives, it have been operated
basically in individual dimension. In these perspectives, changes focused on
facilitating the growth of independent people. Empowerment for the clients was
considered in isolation from the border social context. Such practice is within the
domain of problem-directed strategy. In response to the global changes, Mcleod
(2000) thought that counselling has evolved and changed in different ways. Some
argued that it is better to position counselling profession in empowerment people to
engage constructively with the rapid changing world of the new century. It
requires changes in values, mindsets and strategies as I mentioned above. In this
part of my paper, I will examine how counselling profession has evolved to meet
these challenges with the focus of empowerment practices.
In response to the global changes and new problem contexts, new theoretical
and practical concerns are emerging. Mcleod (2000), in examining the issue of
power and politic in counselling, suggested that various ethnical, cultural, social and
religious groups were marginalized in relation to counselling. He examined that
how power differences between clients and counselling were constructed, implicitly
and explicitly, in counselling through both the use of language and concepts in
counselling and in the arrangements of counselling services. Instead of merely
minimize the power differences; he suggested principles of anti-oppressive practice
as a way to the preferred future. As a mission-directed strategy, he suggested a
re-examination of tradition theories in order to reduce oppressive practices and the
focuses on empowerment and emancipation as goals of counselling.
Empowerment is considered in the following perspective. It facilitates the client,
as an expert of oneself, to make sense of his or her issues in social and historical
context. Secondly, it transforms the problem issues in community context by
working collaboratively with the client groups to initiate necessary social-political
changes in the community. The practice reflects the shifts to embody humanistic
and social concerns for the groups of homosexuality, women, and lower classes and
so on, which have been formerly constructed as “disadvantage groups.”
The development of social construction theories in counselling also reflects
their future visions. Corey (1997) summarized their future visions “Living life
means coping with problem, but not fusing with them… Today is the first day of the
rest of your life.” It reflects both the compassion of present history and the hope for
the future. The practices of the social construction approaches do not ignore the
problems of the past. Instead, it replaces the client as an expert and works
collaborative to co-author clients’ past stories towards the hopeful future. They
referred empowerment as a process of building up collaboration and interdependent
between counsellors and clients, facilitating the expressions of client stories in their
social and cultural contexts, the re-authoring of hopeful stories for the future and the
realization of these stories. White (1998) further summarized the narrative works
with groups and in the communities, which indicates both the alternate stories and
their realization in community are of equal importance. It is clear that counselling
emerged itself in social context as participants of changes, but not only as supportive
agents to social problems.
Recent innovation of Adventure Therapy by Gass (1993) integrated learning
into therapy indicates another possible way. Like experiential learning, the therapy
focuses on placing clients, as learners. In the counselling process, “structural” wild
activities are delivered in group context that usually require clients to have
collaborative action and creative problem solving. It shifts the focuses to group
achievement and transformative learning, from the traditional perspectives of
individual adaptation and dysfunctional introspection. They considered
empowerment as the active learning and experimentation of alternatives of the
clients in the group process. They also considered that the use of small group
development in the natural, literally both wild and real, environment provides the
integrative whole for transformative and contextual learning. Unlike the traditional
perspective, such as cognitive behaviours which focused learning on coping and
adaptation, recent development of adventure therapy sees learning with
Mcleod (2000) outlined the development of counselling as a vehicle for
spiritual experience and communion in response to the global changes. The
development of psychosynthesis, with its dual emphasis on personal integration and
transpersonal transcendent, should be one of the ways. The focus on bodily
experience and inner awareness provides a pivot for us to face the ever changing and
antagonistic forces in the global environment. Psychosynthesis sees learning as a
transcendent experience and a state of becoming. Psychosynthesis refers
empowerment to the realization of will in both the direction and actions.
Above paragraphs outlined how theories and practices is emerging with the
global changes and trends. It should not be treated as the rejection of traditional
approaches, the embodiment of the synthesis and hybridization of new and old is the
central theme. In fact, with respect to cultural and social diversity, practitioners
have placed much effort in integrating these new and old in multicultural context
and with the localization of practices. Recent trend in localization of family
therapy in Hong Kong would be an example. However, the practices of
empowerment in different social and cultural backgrounds, such as the collective
culture of China, require much examination and development.
Besides theoretical and practical development, the professional development of
counsellors is another crucial area. Mindell (1993) urged that counsellors should
develop their minority awareness. McLeod (2000) argued that counsellors should
develop their interdisciplinary perspective. It requires counsellors’ innovation to
work collaboratively with other professions, such as social workers in community
works and outdoor trainer in adventure based therapy, in the future. Whitemore
(2000) asserted that counsellors are both the guides and the travellers. The central
idea is that counsellors are not isolated from the global changes. In that global
context, we are the guides of our clients that see themselves in difficulties, as well as
travellers that sort out possible ways for our clients and ourselves. Empowerment
happens in these two interdependent directions. Mindell (1993) further suggested
the worldwork and deep democracy approaches, in order to expand our “circle of
concern” to the whole world. It is not only the tasks for the counsellors to complete
but also the visions that counsellors to envisage. In response to this, counsellors
should be life-long learners, innovative, mission-directed and have visions for
Regarding with the practices of empowerment, new forms of counselling
organization are emerging with the central theme is “think global, act local.”
Firstly, various counselling organizations transformed themselves from service
providers to dual roles of advocators and service provides. With information and
technological advancement, counselling organizations network themselves to
advocate their ideas and contemporary efforts. The rapid development of social
construction approaches in western and eastern countries during this decade is one
of a good example. Such network reflects its communion characteristics, as it
provides a strong energy for global advocacy and platform to collect indigenous
practice wisdoms. Secondly, some counselling organizations successfully
established themselves in enterprises that deliver mission-directed services. This is
a milestone of the third sectors. They have their missions directed to the collective
goods, social capital and gears towards sustainability growth. In USA, Project
Adventure Inc., institute that promotes the adventure based therapy could be an
example. Thirdly, with multicultural concerns, new innovations are noted. Some
new counselling organizations, in Hong Kong and in USA, are setting up to develop
services for men, groups of cross-cultural marriages and cross-country marriage.
Other organizations in Hong Kong which develop services for women and families
try out community work approaches and build up network with other professions,
such as school teachers, social workers and recreational professionals. Fourthly,
some counselling organizations try out different forms of knowledge management
that encourage sharing of knowledge and wisdoms and facilitate innovations. This
also marks the trend of building up learning culture in counselling organization.
With the aids of information technology, the sharing of knowledge and wisdoms
does not confined to organization level, but all over the world. The increasing
among of learning and practice resources in the World Wide Web may indicate such
In short, the practices of empowerment in the new millennium should not focus
only on the individual level. Contemporary practices expanded it in the global
contexts. To realize this, new forms of counselling organizations are emerging.
These all require a shift of mindset and value of counsellors.
In the new millennium, we should develop a Planetism vision to embody both
the new and old. The vision of the Planetism is building up a communitarian
society with sustainability growth. It aims at both resolving past problems and
developing the future. To realize this, it requires a shift of mindset to
mission-directed future perspective and new related strategies. Counselling
profession could not be isolated from the global trend. Rather, as a vehicle to
achieve the Planetism vision, it should reinvent itself. In the new global contexts,
the practices of empowerment are expressed differently in theoretical and
organization domains. New forms of counselling organization and new innovations
in counselling profession are emerging that realize the Planetism vision.
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