When encouraging client self-advocacy or advocating on a client’s behalf, it is vital that career professionals be aware of ethical considerations such as informed consent
By Andrew Bassingthwaighte
While career development practitioners (CDPs) help clients navigate their career journeys, often we are also called upon to help these individuals deal with other issues that may impede them on their path. These issues can range from housing to immigration support to discrimination, to name a few; in each case, there is often a desire either from within us or from the client to act as an advocate.
Advocacy is a long-recognized concept in career development, and many professionals are aware of the value of this process, especially when the goal is to help clients access supports and resources that will further their economic and social well-being. Many of us engage daily in promoting self-advocacy – or the ability of our clients to make choices and decisions that affect their lives. Sometimes, though, there is a need to engage in further advocacy work on behalf of a specific client or community.
No matter the type of advocacy that we engage in, it is essential for CDPs to recognize two issues when engaging in this type of work. The first is to respect the dignity of clients with whom we work. The second is to be aware of any ethical considerations that could affect our work or profession.
Forms of advocacy
Advocacy looks different depending on the client or community that we are supporting. There are four main types of advocacy that could intersect with career practitioners’ work:
- Self-advocacy: This involves empowering the clients with whom we work to make choices and decisions that affect their lives. Self-advocacy is regarded as an ideal form of advocacy as well as one that CDPs are most trained to engage in (Cadenas, 2018). Supporting clients in this type of advocacy requires establishing trust between the career practitioner and the client. This approach should incorporate cultural humility and sensitivity (Anderson et al., 2012, Cadenas, 2018).
- Professional advocacy: Career practitioners serve as a bridge between their client and those in positions of power – such as people working in housing organizations or disability services – to make them aware of the client’s needs. It is essential when engaging in this type of advocacy to recognize that we are working with the client and give them space to speak and be heard (Mitcham et al., 2012).
- Citizenship advocacy: Career practitioners expand their roles beyond the services they offer and act as a resource to communities that may face marginalization or discrimination within different sectors. The goal of this advocacy is to be a resource to those in the community and support their efforts. Community organizations such as immigration employment councils can support this work.
- Public advocacy: In what is seen as the final level of advocacy (Cadenas, 2018), career practitioners work with both institutions and groups to draft public statements and inform policy processes. CERIC, for example, seeks to catalyze conversations around the economic and social impact of career development at a national level.
What all these advocacy models have in common is that they encourage practitioners to go beyond their typical daily tasks and engage in the process of challenging social justice issues that many of their clients face daily.
Engaging in advocacy: What to be aware of?
For those wanting to engage in advocacy efforts, the Canadian Standards & Guidelines for Career Development Practitioners – Code of Ethics highlights several areas that practitioners should be aware of in their work. Chief among these is the notion of informed consent.
The Code of Ethics framework (CCCD, 2004) prioritizes informed consent in several areas concerning how information is collected and used, but also with respect to the individual and their rights. At all times within our advocacy efforts, we need to ensure that we are putting the rights of the client first and taking the time to engage them in the process to identify their level of comfort with any steps taken.
However, there are times when, despite a client’s insistence on confidentiality, action is required (for example, where there is evidence of imminent danger to the client or others) (CCCD, 2004). In a CERIC blog on “The Ethics of Advocacy,” Roberta Neault (2012) gives a compelling overview of the debate that practitioners face when dealing with these concerns, which I encourage all practitioners to review.
Your comfort level
Further to recognizing the client’s comfort level when engaging in advocacy, as practitioners, we need to be comfortable in our abilities to do this type of work. The national Code of Ethics (CCCD, 2004) is clear that we must recognize the boundaries of our competencies, especially when dealing with issues that involve legal or other advice that may be outside of our areas of expertise. Alongside this, though, are personal competencies and boundaries. In becoming involved in advocacy work, we need to recognize our capacity and resilience when dealing with potentially stressful or traumatic issues.
Conflicts of interest
Our efforts may come into conflict with the agencies, organizations or funders that we work with each day. In some cases, this can be beneficial, as our advocacy work might identify opportunities to fill gaps or provide tailored services to individuals or groups. In other cases, though, our work may come in direct conflict with organizational policies or the practitioner’s personal beliefs or value systems.
It is vital that practitioners inform clients up front about the limitations of our services, alongside disclosing any potential conflicts of interest that might arise. In instances where a conflict arises and we need to step aside from the process, it is imperative to work with the client on what happens next (ie, referral to another organization), so the client is not left struggling with a lack of agency.
Engaging in advocacy is a critical but also enjoyable element of a career practitioner’s work. While there are several ethical considerations to bear in mind when engaging in this work, we need to understand that we are not alone. Not only are there groups and organizations that can help support the clients we work with, but as practitioners, we can also access these groups to learn from them, the issues that they face, and how we can support and walk alongside them as allies.
Andrew Bassingthwaighte is a Talent Development Specialist and Master of Arts – Social Justice and Equity Studies candidate at Brock University in St Catharines, ON. Having worked for almost 20 years in the UK and Canada providing employment counselling, training and mentoring to individuals from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, he now has the privilege of serving on Brock University’s President’s Advisory Committee on Human Rights, Equity and Decolonization (PACHRED).
Cadenas, G. (2018). Advocacy in career development with immigrants. Career Planning & Adult Development Journal, 34(4), 7–20.
Mitcham, M., Greenidge, W., Bradham-Cousar, M., Figliozzi, J., & Thompson, M. A. (2012). Increasing career self-efficacy through group work with culturally and linguistically diverse students. Journal of School Counseling, 10(22).
Anderson, S. K., Peila-Shuster, J. J., & Aragon, A. (2012). Cross cultural career counseling: Ethical issues to consider. Career Planning & Adult Development Journal, 28(1), 127–139.
Canadian Council for Career Development. (2004). Canadian standards and guidelines for career development practitioners: Code of ethics. Retrieved from
Neault, R. (2012, October 31). The ethics of advocacy: A Canadian perspective. [Blog post]. Retrieved from ceric.ca/2012/10/the-ethics-of-advocacy-a-canadian-perspective/