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Eye on Psi Chi: Summer 2020

Eye on Psi Chi

Summer 2020 | Volume 24 | Number 4

International Social Justice: How Do I Make a Difference in My Country?

Urvi Paralkar
Southern Illinois University, Carbondale

The social and political conditions that we live in today call for a greater and urgent need for global outreach and advocacy. As an international student in the United States, I have gained significantly from interacting with and learning from talented peers and professors. Graduate education has allowed me to feel empowered, taught me to voice my opinions, and motivated me to challenge and question the existing social injustices and institutional barriers inherent in the systems around us. The more I immerse myself in the field of psychology in general and counseling psychology in particular, the more I am pulled toward advocacy, social justice, and developing a multicultural understanding of the issues we face in the world. The global nature of the world we live in today, in fact, calls out for a greater collaboration across national boundaries and working in an international sphere through learning, unlearning, and relearning from our peers around the world.

Being a counseling psychology student and studying at a program that values social justice has granted me several opportunities to develop an awareness of the urgency and implications of social justice work. It has also afforded me the circumstances that facilitate a utilization of my skills and zeal for outreach/advocacy/awareness in the United States. However, I often feel torn and guilty for being unable to materialize the valuable skills that I am learning here and for being unable to put these skills to effective use so I can also make a difference in my home country. I feel driven to apply the skills and knowledge that I am gaining in my graduate education. Yet, trying to make a change (no matter how little) and actively be an advocate in a place that is miles away from you is a challenge. It’s a question I often try to resolve for myself. How do I become more engaged in international social justice work? How can I make a difference in my home country?

Collaborating with people worldwide is easier today with the advances in technology and the ease of reaching out to people virtually. However, simply pondering over solutions to propagate and encourage international social justice efforts would not be enough. Although we have a few international psychology programs in the United States, we are still a long way from utilizing our potential for international social justice work. The global mental health movement, which looks at the mental health needs in low and middle income nations but espouses an orientation of providing equitable access to care for all individuals around the globe, is another attractive option for those interested in international work (Koplan et al., 2009). Programs in international psychology as well as the global mental health movement are separate specializations that individuals may choose to pursue. The challenge, however, lies in integrating and possibly emphasizing international social justice work within the more mainstream clinical and counseling psychology programs.

As I think about my own experience being an international student in the United States and attempting to engage in meaningful work in my home country, I recognize that a major barrier to the development of international advocacy might possibly be a lack of institutional policies or program focus. Emphasizing international social justice work has the potential to not only allow international students to effectively utilize their graduate training to advocate in their home countries (or in other countries around the globe) but also offers a lucrative chance for domestic students interested in broader diverse cultural contexts to build experience. I brainstormed about some ways of encouraging or facilitating these efforts. These are, more importantly, ways in which I would envision international social justice work being encouraged.

1. Discourses in International Psychology

Currently, most doctoral programs follow the American Psychological Association (APA) guidelines for required classes and offer electives depending on program specializations. The more global we get in our outlook, the more we have to learn from one another as citizens of the world. Counseling and clinical psychology is in a unique position to consider the international mental health needs, making courses in international psychology (whether basic or advanced) a strongly emphasized factor, just like social justice. Counseling psychology’s Model Training Program (Scheel, Stabb, Cohn, Duan, & Sauer, 2018) calls for a commitment to understanding and working in international settings and contexts. At the moment, however, it seems that, although international collaboration is a value that psychology in general embodies, more systematic efforts toward an incorporation of international psychology would be beneficial.

2. Designing Practicums and Internships Outside the United States

Developing and, more importantly, popularizing the concept of APA-approved practicums and possibly internships outside the United States is another way to allow international students or students interested in global approaches to mental health to become involved in community outreach and advocacy that extends in the world. Some schools already provide this option. However, it does not appear to be very popular or hassle free. Supervision for such practicums is usually provided remotely or arranged locally through partnerships. Multiculturally focused supervision is an important component of such an experience. Developing practicums outside the United States has benefits not only for cross-cultural understandings but also cross-cultural learnings and eventually development of better, more culturally competent interventions. This also lays the foundation for emic approaches to research that may be driven by social justice implications.

3. Startup/Mental Health Innovation

As the field of psychology moves toward having a more active role in being social justice advocates, helping students develop this skillset becomes crucial. Encouraging a skillset could take several forms. It could take the form of conducting research and filling in gaps in knowledge or developing culture specific theories. It could also take the form of encouraging social entrepreneurship and leadership development. Allowing students to collaborate with their peers in order to develop startups or create innovations in the mental health field would be great way to develop leadership. This could even replace or be an add-on to a thesis/dissertation. It could also be a social justice project, an option that some programs already have. The goal of such an approach would be to allow students the autonomy and agency to be creative, indulge in an approach that resonates with their values, and possibly carry on their legacy and work throughout their lifetime. Rather than just a “project” to get away with, it becomes a “project” that defines a student’s core values and commitment to being a psychologist.

4. Increase in International Conferences with a Non-Eurocentric Focus

There has been a rise in the number of international conferences and collaborations in the last few years. However, one must bear in mind that not everyone might be able to attend these conferences, given the costs as well as visa restrictions that citizens from different countries might encounter. Thus, any attempts made toward making international conferences more accessible as well as encouraged and funded by departments and programs will likely to be beneficial to the future of international social justice work. These collaborations provide a great opportunity to form research collaborations with peers, network, seek supervision, and attend classes with a non-Eurocentric focus. Psychology has been dominated by Western thought, and in order to be inclusive of differing view points and interpretations, a conversation is necessary. International conferences provide the space for these pertinent conversations.

5. Student Led Organizations

Treating students as junior colleagues in graduate school ensures that the power dynamic is not as stringent and that student opinions are valued. An encouragement of student-led organizations would allow students to actively participate in decision making and leadership, which are important attributes to international social justice work as well as to their training as psychologists.

These solutions range from systemic level changes to individual efforts. None of the solutions are simple, and some of them require more hoops to be jumped through than others. This might even seem aspirational and idealistic. However, there needs to be a starting point to encourage international social justice work. I am optimistic that, by starting to think about some or all of these solutions, the pace of international social justice work can be accelerated.


Koplan, J. P., Bond, T. C., Merson, M. H., Reddy, K. S., Rodriguez, M. H., Sewankambo, N. K., & Wasserheit, J. N. (2009, June). Towards a common definition of global health. The Lancet, 373(9679), 1993–1995.

Scheel, M. J., Stabb, S. D., Cohn, T. J., Duan, C., & Sauer, E. M. (2018, January). Counseling psychology model training program. The Counseling Psychologist, 46(1), 6–49.

Urvi Paralkar (she/her) is a PhD student in counseling psychology at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. She completed a MA in clinical practices in psychology from the University of Hartford and a BA in psychology from St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai, India. Urvi feels strongly about social justice issues and hopes to create meaningful change through advocacy both within the United States as well as at home in India.

Copyright 2020 (Vol. 24, Iss. 4) Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology

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