Council in the making

In January of 2017, ProChoices launched a call out for community consultants to participate in the development of a council

An interview synopsis

At ProChoices we apply Feminisms as a tool for organizational change in an effort to promote experiences beyond the constraints of bureaucratic structures, individualist intention, and corporate organizational management. Similar to other Feminist informed organizations, ProChoices values process over normative prediction and strives to develop responsive protocols that are inclusive to all voices and compatible with the organization’s mission, principles and practice. We continue to explore the many ways we can apply and embody our Feminist-Narrative ethics within the organizational practice, and as it evolves in synchrony with our practice.

Participatory democracy supports ProChoices to organize its feminist integrity intention, and as the clinic staff, therapists, board, clients, and community are invited to make meaningful contributions, this supports the sustainability of ProChoices. Through collaboration and consultation informed by the participants’ narratives, insights, and creativity, we aim to uphold collectivist intention and values, ensuring the clinic maintains an active and critical reflexivity in the face of ever changing wants and needs.

In January of 2017, ProChoices launched a call out for community consultants to participate in the development of a Council at ProChoices. In the spirit of exploring beyond the boundaries that can be experienced as limiting in mainstream organizations, we are inspired by transparency in our explorations and development, as we share with the community insider knowledge that is honored as valuable input in the developmental process. As a bit of a background, in an interview with Hilda, Clinic Director at ProChoices, she explains how her desire for a Council materialized:

“Out of a sheer want of creating safe space for women, the therapist learning experience, and for the feminist discourse itself […] and to include feminism in the therapy – to really do this – to keep it alive[…] and to have an opportunity to be in a discursive experience through the application of the ideas to our operations and the pedagogy[…] Having one person as the only lead on all this seemed incongruent to the idea of collectivist intention”

As we began exploring the development of a process-based ethical committee of some kind, we consulted the wisdom, ideas and visions from the ProChoices therapist team in order to find opportunities to further embody collectivism in our practice. With a great deal of exploration and consultation, these discussions eventually morphed into an idea of a Council, which Hilda describes today as,

“…a place to support the intention and values of the ProChoices mission, while keeping on track and developing our language […] to support the translation of the theory into practice – and to support our negotiation of collective unity which requires the development of protocols that are important to how we offer our services”.

When asked why the process of developing Council has been an important step for ProChoices, Hilda answers:

“Because it’s our process, it’s not anybody else’s, it’s not capitalist agenda, it’s not corporate agenda. The voices and the participants have the opportunity to find how they can work together while acknowledging that we are not occupying formulaics and methodology that belong to other discourses. People are not models, they’re filled with complexity and we need to continue to have opportunities to discuss, process, understand, and shift our protocols accordingly. The priority is safety, inclusion, quality therapy, accountability on multiple levels – with each other, to our principles, to our public, to the code of ethics, to our clients, and so on”.

As our interest in developing a Council grew, ProChoices therapist and activist, Laura Orozco, stepped up as Council Coordinator and began the process of organizing public consultation to inform the development of Council. When asked what drew Laura to the Council project, Laura describes her experiences studying radical political theories such as Feminist Theory and Queer Theory, and the intersectionality of mental health and colonization.

“I was looking a lot, and writing a lot, with these ideas around trauma being political rather than personal, around different worldviews… but I was also seeing very harmful practices. And so there was kind of this disjoint, or dissonance, between the theories I was really interested in and the practices that I was seeing around me. I was interested in finding a way to bridge those, or explore how to embody the theories, which became really important to me.”

Laura further explains how the development of a Council could bridge two worlds of theory and practice, to which she excitedly responded:

“It’s a way of making sure that we are not replicating any of the harmful practices that we see around us, and making sure that how we chose to operate really reflects what we want it to reflect. But more interestingly to me it holds space for conversations around what it means to work ethically. It’s exciting for me that it can create that space because I think the only times that practices can change are when they are called into question or when questions are asked about them. And the Council is about that question asking, and of that pooling of resources and intentions to change.”

Further, with regards to our Feminist politics and Council as embodying an act of resistance, Laura explains,

“It feels very important to make sure that what we’re saying that is the foundation of all that work is actually shared and is agreed upon by everybody. It’s an anti-oppressive move to redistribute power and to honour the different kinds of contributions that people can bring to the table. And if we’re talking about oppression as a source of different kinds of painful experiences, then alleviating that oppression can actually be a beautiful preventative public health move”.

When describing their ideas for the future of Council, Laura and Hilda appeared to share an engaging anticipation of Council as a generative opportunity to explore the diversity of meanings involving power, accountability, and non-oppressive ways of working. Further interest was indicated as shared involving the vision of a caring space for asking questions in response to new needs and wants, as a source of guidance and collective reflection that could further support ethical questions and enhance the wisdoms and knowledges, as a Feminist grassroots organization.

With regards to what the Council is going to look like once launched, please see the information Laura synthesized from all her work and the therapist’s input, recently developed as a crucial step to the inception of an active Council. We hope that the Code of Values will serve as a guide to maintaining our institutional ethical integrity.

We extend our appreciation and acknowledgement to our previous ProChoices Grads, clients, our community, current therapists, and all those who have informed and contributed to our process and the development of our Council. You are all indispensable to the work we do and we are grateful and appreciative of your knowledge and contributions.

Written by Alisha Gori (Sept 2016 Cohort) with the collective editing and support from the ProChoices team

Alisha Gori (Learning Therapist, Group Coordinator, Researcher/Writer) began her journey with ProChoices as a volunteer leading a research project that explored therapists’ understandings and meaning involving collectivist intention, unified values and principles, and the activity of individualism. The research data synthesized from her work project has made a contribution to the development of the ProChoices Clinic Council. Alisha later joined ProChoices as a Practicum student while completing her MA of Counselling at Adler University, and fell in love with the learning and practice of Feminist Narrative Therapy and the mission and guiding principles of the ProChoices Community Clinic. Alisha continues to work as practicing certificate program graduate therapist at ProChoices, co-facilitates client groups and offers her experiences as a learning therapist with other ProChoices therapists and in a blog series, exploring all aspects of Feminist Narrative Therapy from client, therapist, and a life-long student perspective.