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Scientist-Practitioner-Advocate Training Model


Since its initial accreditation in 1980, the program has consistently followed a scientist-practitioner training model. The field of Counseling Psychology, through its focus on ethnicity, race, culture, gender roles, and the challenges experienced by sexual minority persons, has a longstanding interest in social justice and the effects of social oppression (Toporek & McNally, 2006). The individual members of our faculty each share a strong commitment to social justice in our teaching and research, but we are not content with these roles alone. Instead, like many other counseling psychologists, we have combined knowledge gained from research with the applied skills we have developed, to work where we can as advocates for social change. Our commitment stems from working directly with clients on campus and in our communities. Thus, in 2007, when the current group of core faculty came together for the first time, we decided to adopt a new training model that adds a third component -- training in social justice advocacy. The program now follows a scientist-practitioner-advocate training model (Fassinger & O’Brien, 2000). In July, 2009, the APA Commission on Accreditation reviewed the new model and reaccredited our program for the next seven years. To the site visitors’ knowledge, ours is the first – and so far the only – APA accredited program to adopt this model. An observer commented to the site visitors that, although in many ways the UT Counseling Psychology program has a new focus, in other ways this focus has been part of the individual commitment of faculty and students for quite a long time.

Integrating Elements of the Model

Our vision was to add the advocate component without diminishing our ongoing commitment to the scientist and practitioner elements. The figure below depicts how we conceptualize the model.

Social Justice Model

We continue to place a very high value on the integration of science and practice. Graduates of the program are competent in each of these domains, but more importantly, they are able to use highly developed research skills to enhance the effectiveness of their practice and to use their advanced intervention skills to inform the research questions they pursue. Just as the roles of scientist and practitioner are mutually enhancing, we believe the role of advocate strengthens training in both science and practice, and is strengthened by the two traditional elements. The intersection of Practice and Advocacy involves moving outside the treatment setting to advocate for clients’ needs with policy makers and those who control resources. This often involves facilitating change at an organizational or systemic level. In the treatment setting, the model calls for working with clients to find their own voice and, if they choose, to help clients develop the tools to advocate for themselves.

The intersection of Research and Advocacy emphasizes that rigorous research is one of the most effective ways to serve as an advocate. The empirical tools of needs assessment, program development, and program evaluation serve as powerful means to help large numbers of clients. Advocacy goals can become the foundation for a systematic program of research. Rigorous epidemiological studies can be a persuasive means of documenting social problems and suggesting possible solutions. In this way, science becomes an act of advocacy in the best traditions of social action research. At the core of all three training components is the Social Justice Practicum.

Social Justice Practicum

We believe students increasingly desire the skills to intervene directly to address social problems. We value a training emphasis on engagement with the wider society, and an appreciation for the social context of our work as Counseling Psychologists. The two-course Social Justice Practicum (SJP) sequence is taken during students’ fourth year on campus, after they have completed practicum and one year of traditional field placement. During the year prior to SJP, students participate in one semester of Social Justice Colloquium, where they will meet agency directors, community organizers, and advocates for a wide range of issues. Based on these contacts, students select an issue and an agency for SJP in the following year. Because students admitted in 2008 are the first cohort in the new model, Social Justice Practicum will be offered for the first time in Fall, 2011. We have begun to develop community contacts in anticipation of our first SJP. Our work with the Family Justice Center has already resulted in a paid graduate student assistantship working with survivors of intimate partner violence.

The core value of Social Justice Practicum is that it must not replicate traditional field placements. Consequently, work with individual clients or unstructured therapy/support groups must remain a relatively minor component of SJP. Instead, the emphasis is on developing community-wide interventions. Students will begin in the Fall semester thoroughly studying their issue, developing their skills in needs assessment, epidemiological research, and program development. Even if they will not actively be involved in influencing policy, students will acquire skills for lobbying decision-makers, and making research-based presentations intended to influence policy and raise awareness in community audiences. In weekly class meetings, students will learn about a range of social problems and proposed solutions. They will study case examples of efforts to promote social change and the techniques that proved successful and learn to take a global perspective in understanding how society-wide problems impact the lives of individuals.

With these skills in place by the end of the first semester of SJP, during the second semester students will deliver the intervention they have developed and assess its effectiveness with rigorous research. The intervention may consist of an ongoing series of educational or skills-based workshops or small groups for agency clients. Students are required to make at least one presentation to raise awareness for a community or campus audience. Finally, students will develop a program manual and related training materials so that others can carry on their work.


Fassinger, R. E., & O’Brien, K. M. (2000). Career counseling with college women: A scientist-practitioner-advocate model of intervention. In D. A. Luzzo (Ed.), Career counseling of college students: An empirical guide to strategies that work (pp. 253-266). Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

Toporek, R. L., & McNally, C. J. (2006). Social justice training in counseling psychology: Needs and innovations. In R. L. Toporek, L. H. Gerstein, N. A. Fouad, G. Roysircar, & T. Israel (Eds.), Handbook for social justice in counseling psychology: Leadership, vision, and action (pp. 37-43). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Counseling Psychology Faculty Group Photo

Contact Information

Counseling Psychology Program
1404 Circle Dr., Rm. 312
University of Tennessee
Knoxville, TN 37996

Phone: 865-974-3328
Fax: 865-974-3330

Program Director

Jacob Levy, Ph.D.

Program Administrative Assistant

Alecia M. Davis
Phone: 865-974-8319