This essay highlights the advancement and necessity of an Empowerment approach for supporting help-seekers. Empowerment Psychology has its roots in community psychology, multicultural, and social work theories. The early emphasis on empowerment is associated with building up disenfranchised communities and supporting individuals through a sociopolitical lens (Rappaport, 1981). Zimmerman and Warschausky (1998) argued that the empowerment construct has inherent variance according to one's access to resources, but must include intrapersonal, interactional, and behavioral components. Various empowerment models express these components (Bakari, 2022; Cattaneo & Chapman, 2010; Masin-Moyer, Kim, Engstrom & Solomon, 2022).
For example, Cattaneo & Chapman's (2010) Empowerment Process Model includes Power-Oriented Goals, Self-efficacy, Knowledge, Competence, Action, and Impact. Masin-Moyer, Kim, Engstrom, & Solomon (2022) emphasize Self-esteem, Self-soothing, Emotional Boundaries, and Decision-making. Bakari (2022) argued that empowerment should be an integral part of counseling's best practices and put forth an Empowerment Model of Emotional Wellness to meet the needs of help-seekers. Rather than psychological constructs, the model includes seven curriculum objectives to guide clients into an empowering self-narrative. The objectives are: 1) Expose clients' emotional defenses, 2) Explore clients' early influences, 3) Motivate clients to see themselves as free agents in the world, 4) Align clients' relationship expectations with empowerment, 5) Encourage clients' vulnerability of trial and error, 6) Raise awareness of outdated scripts of conformity, and 7) Help clients understand how they show up in their worlds.
The Empowerment Model of Emotional Wellness offers a prescribed curriculum to increase the efficacy of the practitioner and maximize the therapeutic value for the client. The curriculum assures that the helper and help-seeker will address empowerment's intrapersonal, interactional, and behavioral components. Equally crucial to the model are the assertions that 1) counselors should be proactive in helping clients understand and create empowered goals, and 2) counselors should be versed in a model that supports mental wellness, not just address mental illness.
The objective of the approach is to restore individuals' internal expression of power. Distress and disempowerment are often not obvious. Many people are fully functioning in their outer world but internally burdened without meeting the criteria for mental illness. The relationship between life satisfaction and empowerment is well supported (Cheung, Mok, & Cheung, 2005; Hossain, Asadullah, & Kambhampati, 2019; Roos et al., 2016). Unfortunately, help seekers may not know how to articulate an internal problem, much less identify its root cause.
Help-seekers do not state the absence of empowerment traits when they seek help. The presenting problem often has something to do with someone else (Satir, 1991). Disempowered people have difficulty in one or more of the following areas: mental flexibility, orienting toward the present, cognitive predictability, emotional independence, and truthful living. False perceptions about oneself, others, or the world contribute to life dissatisfaction. Increasingly, practitioners are petitioned to guide help-seekers beyond problem-solving and into empowerment (Cattaneo, & Chapman, 2010; Masin-Moyer, Kim, Engstrom & Solomon, 2022).
The Empowerment Model for Emotional Wellness does not treat clients for depression, anxiety, grief, or anything else. Practitioners help clients navigate inner safety, competence, and confidence. Self-awareness develops mental flexibility, and as clients come to know and honor themselves deeply, they develop healthier patterns to create optimal lives. Clients are guided to set and respect healthy boundaries, self-soothe, and make good decisions based on what they want rather than what they fear. Self-mastery enables clients to govern their lives in a way that brings them joy.
Empowerment Psychology considers systemic influences on individuals while connecting them to internal resources to heal and direct their lives. It is a strength-based understanding of emotional wellness. It serves the successful and the underachieving, the content and the victimized persons who want to take control over their lives. An empowerment psychology approach is optimal for clients ready to take responsibility to become their best selves and practitioners willing to partner with them on that journey.
We thank out guest columnist, Dr. Rosenna Bakari, PhD. Dr. Bakari has provided instruction for TCI participants on A Clinician's Use of Online Forums and Social Media to Provide Support and Healing, which is available as an Online Self-Study and offers 1.5 CEs. And she will be presenting a live webinar on the topic of Empowerment at the 2023 Summit -- course details can be found here.
About Dr. Bakari:
Dr. Bakari, a Philadelphia native, is an empowerment expert psychologist. Her professional background varies from working as a drug recovery counselor to training preservice teachers and counselors. In 2010, she founded Talking Trees, Inc., the only international organization that focuses exclusively on empowering adults who experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18. She developed the Living Openly Model of Advocacy and Support based on her work with survivors worldwide. In a world that requires survivors’ silence, the model supports survivors who choose to heal by living openly.
One of Dr. Bakari’s goals is to support the shift of psychology from a focus on mental illness to mental wellness and break down barriers to wellness resources. As an empowerment coach, she works with clients worldwide using online one-on-one and group platforms to support life changes, help resolve trauma, and reset healthy life narratives. She bases her practice on her 8-week empowerment curriculum that restructures power in the help-seeking relationship.
Dr. Bakari graduated from Cornell University in 1984 and went on to earn her Master’s degree from SUNY at the age of 22. She later earned her Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Her most recent professional presentation was for the 2021 American Counseling Association Conference, where she presented on Online Advocacy.
In addition to her professional endeavors, she promotes mental wellness through transformational poetry. This year, she also published her sixth book related to empowerment. Her latest book, The Healing Journey: Relationships Health and Wellness, is a radical new book on healing intended to meet people where they are on their healing journey with such topics as “How to heal childhood trauma without forgiving the person who caused it.”