Disrupting injustice: An action plan to mobilize social change within psychology


As students in psychology and aspiring clinicians, we feel it is pertinent to provide a space in which to focus not only on multicultural issues, but those pertaining to broader social justice initiatives and concerns. According to Goodman et al. (2004), a social justice approach can be defined as “scholarship and professional action designed to change societal values, structures, politics and practices such that disadvantaged groups gain increased access to these tools of self-determination.”

As a result, we believe it is necessary to expand our focus to include how attention to individual well-being may be contextualized in efforts to promote a more just and equitable society. Our aims, ultimately, are dual and reciprocal: 1) to conceptualize ways in which to incorporate a social justice lens on both a micro level with clients, and also a macro level with advocacy work, and 2) to understand how injustices in a variety of spheres (criminal justice, housing, etc.) affect the well-being of individuals, particularly for those who are disproportionately likely to be oppressed by these systems and who have access to fewer resources.

With this in mind, we have spent several months questioning what a social justice-oriented clinical psychology program might look like. This is just one of the many questions that has framed our “action plan,” an eight-week program of events at the New School, including films, lunchtime talks and readings that cover a range of issues from white supremacy to reproductive justice. Our focus includes both consciousness-raising initiatives, and exercises to explore how our work could be utilized to speak to the lived experiences of the diverse communities we intend to serve. Although our action plan is just a small step towards answering these questions, we hope it will be of use not just to our fellow students at the New School, but also to others, in clinical psychology programs elsewhere. 

Where possible, links to readings are provided below, otherwise you can find PDFs here.

Update (03/07/18): After reflecting on a comment posted by user Frances below, we wanted to both provide some clarification about the action plan as well as make some changes. While we had initially imagined a more expansive series, we ultimately cut some topics and materials from the final series, which is in no way intended to be either a comprehensive or definitive guide to what a social justice-oriented clinical psychology program might look like. Rather, we consider the action plan the first step in a longer and ongoing process and discussion on the inclusion of material that may not typically be part of clinical psychology training.

We acknowledge that despite well-meaning intentions, there are voices that have been left out. Our action plan does not address disability or LGBTQ issues, or other aspects of culture such as socioeconomic background. The scope of the programming also leans towards the domestic rather than the global, which offers a narrow focus of social justice, in a highly interconnected world. Without wanting to burden any of our fellow students, we hope that this student-led initiative will become a fixture at the New School, with programming that is open to suggestions.

In light of the comment made below, we have decided to change the film on Monday 30th April from What I Want My Words To Do To You to 13th. This decision was made not to be tokenistic but because we believe that engaging in any type of social justice-oriented work is a lifelong exercise that involves self-reflexivity, flexibility and the willingness to engage in difficult conversations. We will continue to review the action plan and remain open to suggestions for programmatic change.

Week 1: Monday 5th March

Location: Wolff Conference Room (Room 1103) of the 6 East 16th Street building
Time: 12:00pm-1:30pm

Film: Wise, Tim. (2013). White Like Me.

Optional materials

DiAngelo, Robin (2015). White fragility: Why it’s so hard to talk to white people about racism. The Good Men Project.

McIntosh, P. (1989). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. In M. McGoldrick (Ed.), Re-visioning Family Therapy: Race, Culture, and Gender in Clinical Practice (pp. 147-152). New York, NY: Guilford press.

Podcast: Seeing White (2017). A 14-part documentary series exploring whiteness in America — where it came from, what it means, and how it works.

Ignatiev, Noel, The point is not to interpret whiteness but to abolish it. Talk given at the conference, “The Making and Unmaking of Whiteness,” University of California, Berkeley, April 11-13, 1997.

Metzl, Jonathan, When the Shooter is White, The Washington Post, October 6, 2017.

Week 2: Friday 16th March

Location: Wolff Conference Room (Room 1103) of the 6 East 16th Street building
Time: 10:00am-12:00pm

Speaker: Emily Breitkopf

Join Emily Breitkopf as she talks through the ethics of critical participatory action research, a social justice-oriented methodology through which researchers and participants work together to co-construct research. Emily will discuss the tenets of CPAR, share insights from her own work, and explore the interpersonal, social, and institutional limitations as well as the possibilities of engaging in a more equitable, participatory approach to psychological and social inquiry.

Optional reading

Torre, M. E., Fine, M., Stoudt, B. G., & Fox, M. (2012). Critical participatory action research as public science. In H. Cooper, P. M. Camic, D. L. Long, A. T. Panter, D. Rindskopf, & K. J. Sher (Eds.), APA handbook of research methods in psychology, Vol. 2. Research designs: Quantitative, qualitative, neuropsychological, and biological (pp. 171-184). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association.

Smith, L., & Romero, L. (2010). Psychological interventions in the context of poverty: Participatory action research as practice. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 80(1), 12-25.


Week 3: Thursday 29th March

Location: 79 Fifth Ave, 16th Floor. Room 1618
Time: 12:30pm-2:00pm

Required reading

Davis, Angela (1981). Racism, birth control, and reproductive rights. In Women, Race, & Class (pp. 353-367). New York: Random House.

Optional reading

Smith, Andrea (2005). Beyond Pro-Choice versus Pro-Life: Women of Color and Reproductive Justice. NWSA Journal, 17(1), 119-140.

Week 4: Wednesday 4th April

Location: Hirshon Suite (Room 205) of 55 West 13th St. building
Time: 11:00am-1:00pm

Film: Robertson, Shari, & Camerini, Michael. (2000). Well-Founded Fear

Well-Founded Fear documents the dramas that unfold in the INS offices in New York City, focusing on the pleas of immigrants to say in the United States. To be granted asylum, applicants must demonstrate a “well-founded fear” of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Week 5: Monday 9th April

Location: Hirshon Suite (Room 205) of 55 West 13th St. building
Time: 12:00pm-2:00pm

Speaker: Rachel Cohen

Join clinical psychologist Rachel Cohen, the founder and executive director of Common Threads, an organization that works with women in post-conflict and refugee situations to help them recover from the psychological consequences of sexual and gender-based violence. Common Threads provides a space for women to sew their stories onto cloth as a way of making their journey towards greater personal empowerment.

Optional reading

Herman, Judith. (1992). Trauma and Recovery. Glenview, IL: Basic Books.

Garlock, Lisa. (2016) Stories in the cloth: Art therapy and narrative textiles. Journal of the American Art Therapy Association33(2), 58-66.

Anderson, L., &Gold, K.(1998). Creative connections: The healing power of women’s art and craft work. Women and Therapy, 21(4) 15-36.

Cohen, Rachel. (2013). Common threads: A recovery programme for survivors of gender-based violenceIntervention11(2), 157-168.

Week 6: Monday 16th April

Location: Wolff Conference Room (Room 1103) of the 6 East 16th Street building
Time: 12:00pm-2:00pm

Social Justice Cube Exercise

Dr. Richelle Allen, the interim director of the New School Psychotherapy Research Program, will lead a discussion on the various ways in which psychologists can advocate in the field. We will consider how we can work with and on behalf of others, on both a micro and macro level.

Required reading

Pare, D. (2014). Social justice and the word: Keeping diversity alive in therapeutic conversations. Canadian Journal of Counseling and Psychotherapy, 48(3), 206-217.

Mizock, L., & Page, K. V. (2016). Evaluating the ally role: Contributions, limitations, and the activist position in counseling and psychology. Journal for Social Action in Counseling and Psychology, 8(1), 17-33.

Week 7: Tuesday 24th April

Location: Klein Conference Room (510) of 66 West 12th St. building
Time: 2pm-3:30pm

Are white allies a positive force or do they risk shifting the focus away from black voices? Join Shanelle Matthews, director of communications for the Black Lives Matter International Network, and Zachary Sunderman, a PhD student in sociology at the New School, as they discuss the the intricacies of the 21st-century fight for civil rights and the role that white allies play.

Optional materials

Matthews, Shanelle, & Noor, Miski (2013). Celebrating Four Years of Black Lives Matter. (PDF)

Week 8: Monday 30th April

Location: Hirshon Suite (Room 205) of 55 West 13th St. building
Time: 12:00pm-2:00pm

Film: Film: DuVernay, Ava. (2016). 13th. Los Angeles: Kandoo Films.

Optional materials

Torre, E. & Fine, M. (2005). Bar None: Extending Affirmative Action to Higher Education in Prison. Journal of Social Issues, 61(3), 569-594

Gavin, Madeleine, Katz, Judith, & Sunshine, Gary. (2003). What I Want My Words To Do To You.  

Week 8: Thursday 3rd May

Location: Hirshon Suite (Room 205) of 55 West 13th St. building
Time: 12:30pm-2:30pm

Speaker: Ragnhild Bruland

Join Ragnhild Bruland as she presents her research on the ways in which dance influences resilience and coping mechanisms for youth. Ragnhild’s research focuses on the Flex Program, an arts education initiative founded in 2014 that fosters positive growth among young people in difficult circumstances through creative mentorship and dance.

The New York-based program consists of two formats. The first, FlexIN, is an onsite service provided in facilities such as secure detention centers and foster care, while FlexOUT, provides free workshops for high school students.

Optional materials

Sheets-Johnstone. (1981). Thinking in movement. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 39(4), 399-407.

Video: Flex is Kings