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Jackie Schuld Art Therapy Blog

What is the Difference Between Advocating and Policing in the Therapy Field?

The mental health field is saturated in internal and external policing by therapists. In my essay on the "Internal and External Policing of Therapists," I explored what it looks like and why it happens.

After sharing this essay with my professional network, an art therapy graduate student made an astute comment and question:

“I find that even as a student I have to watch for potential liabilities when I’m volunteering, involved in creative workshops, and what I say when talking to people in general. I love advocating tho, and was wondering what you thought about policing versus advocating for proper safety in the community of mental health?

A watercolor illustration by art therapist Jackie Schuld of an egg shaped face that is unsure
"Deciding Whether to Speak Up" Watercolor by Jackie Schuld

This student is spot on. Students are often placed in vulnerable situations where they have little power over the environment or the decisions made about safety and liability.

In these situations, I absolutely want students to feel safe and that they can advocate for themselves. It is a healthy, positive attribute to stand up for one’s needs.

This differentiates itself from “policing” in two ways:

  1. The intent is personal safety. It’s not coming from a place of being overly critical of oneself or others. It’s coming from honoring needs.

  2. The concern is about oneself and the community that one is operating in. You have knowledge about yourself and the community in which you are immersed. You’re not stepping into someone else’s lane as an outside observer and saying, “Hey, this is what you’re doing wrong.” When we do this without having full knowledge of the other person, situation, environment, or laws, it falls into harmful policing. However, if we are in our own environment and see needed change to enhance the well-being of the community, we are well within our rights to advocate for that.

We can also separate advocating from policing by HOW we approach a situation. Instead of barging in and declaring everything that is wrong, we can ask questions and seek to understand more about why things are the way they are. We can open up a dialogue by sharing our observations, what we feel, and what we need. We can also be ready with possible solutions or a willingness to brainstorm together. When we approach it this way, we are coming in a spirit of collaboration and mutually lifting up the community.

This does not ensure that we will get the results that we want, but it does ensure we come from a place of integrity and act in alignment with our values.


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