Tag Archives: social assistance

Counseling Diversity in Context

To mark the publication of Counseling Diversity in Context, author Jason Brown explains the political context within which counselors and psychotherapists work and how his book is intended to provide useful guidelines for those who wish to take a more activist role to promote social justice, equality, and equity.

Counseling Diversity in ContextCounseling and psychotherapy are political activities. I try to convince students of this. It seems strange to many of them that I would even mention politics in a micro-skills counseling practicum course. But really, just as everything a counselor does with a client is (or should be) therapeutic for the client, it is also political, whether this is acknowledged or not. Not only do counselors and psychotherapists practice in professions that are political, each is also a citizen, a status that comes with its own responsibilities.

The point of my new book, Counseling Diversity in Context, is to talk about the contexts within which psychotherapists practice and clients live. It speaks to something that is fundamentally challenging to many of us: despite best efforts to understand, own, and act in ways that are authentically ourselves, the environment has a lot of influence on what we do. This is a great thing when there is reciprocity and the right balance of support and challenge, but that’s not usually the case when we are struggling.

Consider, for example, a young adult on social assistance and looking for work. A dejected woman who has been applying for jobs for weeks, who cannot afford minutes for her cell phone to take and return calls from prospective employers, comes for counseling. While depression may be a “problem,” the “problem” may also be an absence of schools that accommodate parents or a lack of access to affordable child care. While income support is far below many poverty lines, fear of losing it if her partner lived with them (and helped out financially as well as with caregiving) keeps them separated. Counseling could help improve her energy and motivation, and may be supplemented by connecting her with free short-term childcare and providing a card for telephone minutes. However, the “problem” is also poverty, the welfare system, and how these reflect classism, sexism, and racism.

Addressing the full situation may sound idealistic, I know. But in the big picture, each person, group, organization, community, and nation influences others. Therefore, we each participate in the creation and maintenance of our sociopolitical environment. With equality as a goal and equity as a first step, the context in which clients live can no longer be viewed as benign—it must always be seen as part of the problem for which clients seek therapy.

A major barrier to acting on notions of social justice, equality, and equity—even if a majority of stakeholders actually agree that such action needs to be taken—is how to do it. That’s the emphasis of the second half of Counseling Diversity in Context. It takes a look outside of the psychotherapist’s office and into the communities where we practice and live. It offers a way to assess that community and identify potential changes, as well as approaches and tactics to bring that change along.

Counselors and psychotherapists need not be leaders of community change. In this book, a range of possible roles are outlined with pros and cons of each, where the principles apply equally well to institutions, agencies, and programs. In each chapter, case examples illustrate the connections between social issues and personal problems. They also point to ways these can be addressed both within and outside the counseling office, and, importantly, how clients themselves may be best positioned to advocate for, lead, or support community change.

Counseling Diversity in Context is for students in counseling and psychotherapy training in psychology, social work, medicine, and other allied disciplines. It may fit well within courses on diversity and culture, as well as supplement readings in professional and reflective practice or counseling theories and methods.

There are discussion questions for each chapter that can be used to identify different perspectives and positions on issues. Internet links to various social justice organizations and initiatives are included for further reading. There are also several frameworks that students may use to explore personal experiences with oppression and liberation, how these are experienced by their peers and clients, as well as how addressing them may be promoted within professional organizations and communities.

Jason Brown is Professor of Counseling Psychology in the Faculty of Education at Western University.

The State of Provincial Social Assistance in Canada

To mark the publication this week of the newest book in the Johnson-Shoyama Series on Public Policy—Welfare Reform in Canada: Provincial Social Assistance in Comparative Perspective, edited by Daniel Béland and Pierre-Marc Daigneault—the authors provide the following summary of social assistance issues and necessary reforms. The Johnson-Shoyama Series focuses on important themes in provincial public policy and is intended both to explore the range of policy variation across Canada in comparison with federal and international patterns, and to present viable alternatives.

By Daniel Béland, Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, and Pierre-Marc Daigneault, Department of Political Science, Université Laval

welfare reform in canada

In Canada as in other advanced industrial societies, social assistance is a central component of the welfare state. This is true because social assistance programs support members of some of the most vulnerable populations in our society. With the key exception of aboriginal peoples living on reserve,* social assistance for working-aged people is a provincial matter. Commonly referred to as welfare, this type of social assistance does not have a good reputation in Canada.** In fact, just like in the United States, the term welfare frequently has negative connotations, in both popular parlance and media discourse. Yet, although citizens and policymakers alike might think we know a lot about welfare, in reality, public knowledge about provincial social assistance programs is rather sketchy. As a result, much more work is needed to provide a truly comparative and systematic overview of major issues and trends in this policy area, which is the safety net of last resort for so many Canadians. Moreover, because each province operates its own social assistance program, a lot can be learned by analyzing and comparing the different jurisdictions in a rigorous manner.

This is exactly what our recent University of Toronto Press volume does. Titled Welfare Reform in Canada: Provincial Social Assistance in Comparative Perspective, this volume gathers some of the best specialists of social assistance in Canada, from both within and outside academia. Contributors include scholars from different disciplines (political science, economics, sociology, and social work) as well as current and former policy practitioners. They offer the first systematic look at provincial social assistance in more than 15 years. An outstanding feature of the volume is that each province gets its own chapter, which allows for an in-depth, comparative look at social assistance trends and reforms across the country. Simultaneously, broad historical, international, empirical contributions allow the reader to grasp the “big picture” of social assistance while paying attention to its various dimensions and issues. Finally, more focused chapters explore crucial issues such as aboriginal issues, activation programs, disability, gender, housing and homelessness, immigration, and population aging. The result is a rigorous analysis of social assistance trends in Canada that both practitioners and researchers should find useful, as the most comprehensive primer on social assistance ever published.

Several of our volume’s findings are particularly striking. First, as Ronald Kneebone and Katherine White show in their contribution, as in the past, provincial social assistance benefits for single employable individuals are generally set well below what is needed to cover their most basic economic needs. On average, lone parents as well as married parents fare relatively better, although this is much more the case in Prince Edward Island, Québec, and Saskatchewan than in British Columbia, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia, for instance.

Second, as this example suggests, significant variations among provinces persist in the field of provincial social assistance. At least regarding differences in benefit levels for single employables, lone parents, and married parents, there is no evidence of a strong convergence in benefit levels.

Third, and simultaneously, there are clear signs of convergence in the field of disability benefits, which, since the 1990s, have declined in all provinces except Québec. Yet, in a number of provinces, such as Alberta, there is an obvious gap between those with temporary and permanent disabilities, as the latter group sometimes receives much more generous benefits than the former.

Fourth, since the mid-1990s, the average social assistance recipiency rate has declined across the country. While the recipiency rate was higher than 12 per cent in 1995, it is now only slightly above 6 per cent, which represents a deep change in provincial social assistance. Today in Canada, the average recipiency rate is comparable to what it used to be 45 years ago, towards the end of the post-war boom.

Finally, as Gerard Boychuk suggests in his chapter on the historical development of social assistance in Canada, the termination of the federal Canada Assistance Plan (CAP) in the mid-1990s did not result in the strong, unilateral impact on provincial social assistance that many observers anticipated at the time. A reason for this is the fact that CAP itself featured relatively weak conditions imposed on the provinces in exchange for federal funding. Boychuk further argues that social assistance reform is primarily driven by economic and political factors, whose impact can vary greatly from province to province. The policy lesson here is that the provinces, and not Ottawa, are truly in charge of social assistance. This means they are entirely responsible for the well-being of some of the most vulnerable segments of the Canadian population.

Bending the Cost Curve in Health CareBeyond the issue of social assistance, this volume stresses the importance of rigorous case studies and comparative analyses of public policy across the 10 provinces. This case was clearly made in the book co-authored by Michael Atkinson et al., Governance and Public Policy in Canada: A View from the Provinces (University of Toronto Press, 2013).

More recently, in a different policy area, Greg Marchildon, Livio Di Matteo, and their contributors recognize the need for systematic, inter-provincial comparative research in Bending the Cost Curve in Health Care (University of Toronto Press, 2014). We hope that our volume, alongside these two existing books and other recent publications, helps draw more attention to provincial public policy from both a scholarly and a practical standpoint.


*The federal government pays for on reserve benefits at the same rate as provincial social assistance in the province where they live.

**Harell, A., Soroka, S., & Mahon, A. (2008). Is welfare a dirty word? Canadian public opinion on social assistance policies. Policy Options – Options politiques, 29(8): 53-56.


Daniel Béland is Professor and Canada Research Chair in Public Policy (Tier 1) at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (University of Saskatchewan). A student of comparative fiscal and social policy, he has published 12 books and more than 100 articles in peer-reviewed journals. Recent books include The Politics of Policy Change: Welfare, Medicare, and Social Security Reform in the United States (Georgetown University Press, 2012; with Alex Waddan), Ideas and Politics in Social Science Research (Oxford University Press, 2011; co-edited with Robert Henry Cox), What is Social Policy? Understanding the Welfare State (Polity, 2010), Public and Private Social Policy: Health and Pension Policies in a New Era (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008; co-edited with Brian Gran), and Nationalism and Social Policy: The Politics of Territorial Solidarity (Oxford University Press, 2008; with André Lecours). You can find more about his work on his website: www.danielbeland.org.

Pierre-Marc Daigneault (Ph.D.) is an Assistant professor of public policy and public administration in the Department of Political Science at Université Laval. Before his current position, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the École nationale d’administration publique (ÉNAP), the Ministère de l’Emploi et de la Solidarité sociale du Québec and the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (University of Saskatchewan). Trained as a political scientist, he pursues research on social policy and, in particular, on social assistance and activation programs. In addition, Daigneault has a keen interest in questions related to governance, policy paradigms, program evaluation, and research methods. His research has been published as book chapters and in various peer-reviewed journals, such as the American Journal of Evaluation, Canadian Journal of Political Science, Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation, Evaluation and Program Planning, Evaluation Review, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, Journal of European Public Policy, Political Studies Review, and the Journal of Mixed Methods Research.