Our Human Right to Work: The American Counseling Association's Advocacy Campaign

By Mark Scholl, Judy Daniels, Justina Wong, and Claire Openshaw

The news headlines are a constant reminder of the many critical and complex issues that are currently faced each day. Raging wildfires and other weather related disasters resulting from climate change, racism and numerous other systemic injustices, and of course the current public health crisis causing global economic turmoil are just some of these issues. The unemployment rate within the United States is currently at 6.9%, with a total of 11.1 million people unemployed (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020), and this does not include the 16 million individuals who seek additional assistance due to the pandemic. These issues impact psychological stability, individual and community well-being, and the future economic viability of many communities. Looming large scale concerns like these can easily become overwhelming for our clients of color in particular, and the resulting psychological distress can manifest in multiple ways. Counselors are needed, now more than ever, and this is particularly true for career counselors. NCDA is in a pivotal position to help clients and communities face these uncertain economic times by helping clients find the most culturally competent career counselors committed to promoting their career development.  

The Role of Professional Associations

The American Counseling Association’s (ACA) Human Rights Committee (HRC) wants to connect with divisions like NCDA to help address human rights issues that are impacting the clients and communities that they serve. The members of the HRC are aware of NCDA’s commitment to addressing barriers that potentially impede clients’ rights, as evidenced by its recent conference keynotes and the work of the Diversity and Cultural Inclusion Committee. More specific, the annual Diversity Initiative Award recognizes career counselors who have shown a high degree of cultural responsiveness in their career counseling activities.

Photo By Library Of Congress On Unsplash

History of Human Rights

Individuals from diverse populations have a right to freedom from discrimination and a right to pursue career opportunities that match their talents, training, and skills. Frank Parsons, often referred to as the father of career counseling, was a social reformer and staunch advocate for human rights (Zunker, 2016). His approach to counseling, introduced in the early 1900s, emphasized matching an individual’s talents with their optimal vocation. Parsons did not believe in limiting access to employment opportunities or vocations based on gender, ethnicity, or race. As a result, his approach also affirmed individuals’ rights to workforce participation, and freedom from discrimination.

The 1960s and 1970s represented a landmark stage in the history of career counseling. A variety of newly created social programs (e.g., The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964) affirmed federal support of citizens’ rights to an education and to pursue meaningful work. Donald Super’s Life Space, Life Span model (Super, 1980, 1990), with its emphasis on beliefs about the relative salience of a variety of life roles, affirmed the client’s rights to a family life, civic participation, and the freedom to pursue a preferred lifestyle. These are only a few examples of the ways in which human rights are particularly relevant to the history and practice of career counseling.

Call for Advocacy Statements

The mission of the HRC is to bring awareness to human rights and social justice issues that impact the counseling profession and to address barriers that impede human rights and wellness. ACA’s HRC has a long history, going back to the 1960’s, of addressing issues of injustice. It has served as an important committee for the association and its members. In the last few years, this committee was tasked by the Governing Council to establish advocacy statements for ACA which draw attention to social justice issues that impact our profession. Some of the recent motions initiated by the HRC have focused on issues of immigration, women’s rights and the “me too” movement, the climate crisis, and gun violence. The many unprecedented social justice issues we currently face within our society are a wake-up call for all of us to become more proactive and address these issues by looking at how to support counselors in their work.

Human rights issues that may impact NCDA members and their clients are numerous. The issues include the: 

  • Covid-19 pandemic and racism-induced employment crisis
  • climate disaster and displacement of communities, and the impact of that on the job market
  • skyrocketing national unemployment rates, layoffs, and furloughs. 

Linking NCDA to the HRC provides a stronger base in which we can address human rights issues through career counseling and development. In future newsletters we hope to talk about the impact of the specific human rights issue on the psychological well-being of clients. One way that the HRC could work with NCDA is to develop an ACA advocacy statement outlining the importance of employment as a basic human right.

We welcome the opportunity to collaborate so that this important work can be done. If you are interested in working on this initiative, please contact the Human Rights Committee through any of the authors listed below.



Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2020). The unemployment situation: October 2020. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf

Super, D. E. (1980). A life-span, life-space approach to career development. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 16, 282-298.

Super, D. E. (1990). A life-span, life-space approach to career development. In D. Brown, L. Brooks, & Associates (Eds.), Career choice and development: Applying contemporary theories to practice (2nd ed., pp. 197-261). Jossey-Bass.

Zunker, V. (2016). Career counseling: A holistic approach. Cengage.




Mark SchollMark B. Scholl, Ph.D., LMHC, Associate Professor, Wake Forest University, schollmb@wfu.edu


Judy DanielsJudy Daniels, Ed.D., Professor, University of Hawaii, judydaniels@gmail.com


Justina WongJustina Wong, B.A., Master’s Student, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, justinawong@yahoo.com


Claire OpenshawClaire Openshaw, Ph.D., LCPC, Assistant Professor, Governors State University, claire.openshaw7@gmail.com



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