Social class is implicated in almost every facet of the human experience, but for counselors and other mental health care providers, social class is difficult to understand. A lack of theoretical clarity between social class and socioeconomic status, not connecting classism as a function of social class, and psychologists’ use of a sociological framework to understand a psychological experience has contributed to this problem. While sociologists typically study macrolevel experiences and tend to use income, education, and occupation to group individuals into discrete social class categories such as upper, middle, and lower class, psychologists are interested in the intrapsychic and interpersonal function and understanding of social class and classism. Classifying people based on three criteria and then assuming people within that category see the world similarly may prove to be insufficient.
Instead, counselors should examine social class as a descriptor of another psychological construct or experience. For instance, counselors do not study race specifically, but explore racial identity and acculturation. In the case of social class, counselors could examine worldview and identity. Some researchers have embraced a social class worldview approach and advocated for classism to be considered a coconstruct to social class. Much like the study of race, racism is integral to the construction and maintenance of race. For social class, classism is related to the prejudice and discriminatory behaviors that perpetuate social inequalities and economic injustice. That is, societal inequalities are a result of classism in the sociopolitical (e.g., the unequal distribution of power), socio-historical (e.g., biased and inaccurate histories of peoples), and sociostructural (e.g., legal, education, and economic systems) systems.
For counselors, it is suggested to explore the client’s worldview associated with various aspects of social class and classism. First, it would be important to find a common language and understanding between client and counselor for social class that is rooted in theory and to allow for some clarity in the dyad. Second, counselors could explore how clients experience and understand how economic expectations potentially influence their behavior and attitudes. In session, they may explore how clients changed behaviors to fit in with new peer groups or how they negotiate materialistic needs. Third, counselors may examine how clients’ classism experiences, either as the subject or perpetrator, have affected their sense of self and relationships with others. Finally, the session may focus on action related to changing attitudes and behaviors related to social class and classism. Future researchers should focus on developing psychologically based measures of social class and develop theory to link social class and classism. Working toward a phenomenologically based understanding of social class would help counselors integrate this cultural construct into their practice.
- American Psychological Association, Task Force on Socioeconomic Status. (2007). Report of the APA Task Force on Socioeconomic Status. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- Liu, W. M., Soleck, G., Hopps, J., Dunston, K., & Pickett, T. (2004). A new framework to understand social class in counseling: The social class worldview and modern classism theory. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 32, 95-122.