Advocates in Public Service Settings: Voices From the Field

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Numerous conceptual pieces addressing the importance of advocacy within psychology have been published over the last 20 years. Most recently, that chorus of voices has increasingly focused on the needs of historically marginalized populations (Burney et al., 2009; Garrison, DeLeon, & Smedley, 2017; Nadal, 2017). Despite this attention, a dearth of research has explored the experiences of seasoned advocates who work with such populations. The present investigation drew from an interdisciplinary group of award-winning advocates to reveal how they define and conceptualize advocacy; the motivators and barriers they've experienced; and their recommendations about how to support newcomers to advocacy. Through semistructured face-to-face interviews that were content analyzed qualitatively, the 14 advocates describe important lessons about advocacy work. Participants' desires to become an advocate were fueled mostly by personal interests and early formative experiences. They found collaborations and building networks (i.e., building relationships with people on all sides of an issue) to be their chief advocacy strategies, and stressed the importance of interpersonal and communication skills (e.g., taking initiative, making connections with those in power) in their skill repertoire. The main barriers encountered included psychological resistance (i.e., intentional blindness toward hidden populations), funding constraints, and various other negative obstacles. Although most found creating a work-life balance elusive, they were energized by mentoring advocacy newcomers, by successes achieved in legislative/policy/program advances, and by creating systems that provide needed services. They shared wisdom about a host of issues for a new generation of advocates.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Psychological Services