Mental health professionals are in unique positions. They have knowledge about the individual level of experience, but have some background in social issues. Experiencing firsthand the difficulties of marginalization, the struggles and impact of oppression, and witnessing abuses of power and the negative outcomes for the powerless enables mental health professionals to have a lot of social knowledge. More mental health professionals need to use this knowledge for the greater good of communities and individuals who are victims of a corrupt system.
When you’re an expert in social issues, it is your responsibility to disseminate that information to the public. You’re aware of facts and information about the world that other people haven’t been exposed to. They may not know why they hate black people, “the gays,” and why they think women should be in the kitchen or in the bed, it’s just part of their culture. It’s not just their responsibility to search for new information, it’s up to you to expose them to data that challenges their perspectives.
Here’s five steps mental health professionals should take to use their power for the greater good:
1. Share information.
Create professional social media accounts and/or your own website and share content. Become a thought leader and share your ideas with others. You are privileged to information that most people don’t have, and now it’s easier than ever to share those facts with others. Developing your own personal brand isn’t just great for your own business, when done correctly, it can also empower people and change our culture.
2. Advocate for others.
Don’t just recycle popular garbage. Take stands on important social issues. While it may be a risky move to comment on something controversial, taking a stand for what’s right is a moral obligation. The world is an unequal playing field, and unfortunately, most popular opinion is uninformed. Advocate for individuals who are marginalized and oppressed, it’s not only the right thing to do, it should be a component of your identity as a professional.
3. Tell stories.
Rather than hiding behind the veil of professionalism, share your personal experiences with the world. Content is king in the digital world. People identify with stories, so when you share yours, other people will listen. This will not only improve your personal brand, it also encourages others to embrace vulnerability and share aspects of themselves. When you tell stories that highlight social justice issues, you give others permission to do the same.
4. Challenge legislation.
Become more aware of local, state, and federal legislation. All it takes to become more knowledgeable about laws that impact mental health is a simple Google search. Take the time to look for ways to make a difference in the practice of law, which disproportionately impacts the lives of minority individuals. Mental health professionals should be involved in politics to ensure the rights of diverse individuals rather than maintaining the dominant social hierarchy founded in inequality.
5. Empower others to speak.
Know when to be silent. Sometimes you need to encourage others to speak up by letting them use your platform to share their wisdom. It’s important to use your platform to empower others to describe their unique perspectives that challenge the dominant narratives that perpetuate social problems.
The time is now. There’s no better time to get started than today. As a doctorate student, I can attest to the fact that psychology is still decades behind other professions when it comes to public interaction. It’s no longer the case that you need to attend community meetings and talk to government agencies about change, those are still worthwhile and important, but you can change public perception by sitting and typing on your computer. Use social media and other tools of modern communication to spread love, acceptance, and empathy. Stand up for the rights of disempowered individuals, and know when to listen instead of speak. You can be the spark that creates social change, you just need to share your voice.