Abstract: Critical Dialogue: Developing Critical Consciousness through Reflection (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Critical Dialogue: Developing Critical Consciousness through Reflection

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Encanto B, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Carol Lee, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL
Dora Watkins, Doctoral Student, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, IL
Darris Hawkins, High School, Peer Facilitator, North Jersey Community Research Initiative, Newark, NJ
Alexis Jemal, JD, PhD, Associate Professor, Hunter College, New York, NY
Liliane Windsor, PhD, MSW, Associate Dean for Research and Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL
Background and Purpose: Racism permeates the criminal justice system, creating inequities for people of color through oppression in the United States. Most interventions for individuals with histories of incarceration focus on job training and case management. These interventions do not address the inequities that are formed by the criminal justice system. Critical dialogue (CD) is an intervention component designed to help clients develop critical thinking skills. Critical questions to analyze the impact of racism, classism, and sexism throughout clients’ lived experiences are used to facilitate dialogues. CD includes six 2-hour-long sessions where participants look at images and answer critical questions. Each session includes a theme, a take home message, and homework in the form of an assigned ethnographic research reading. This presentation will:1) describe findings from qualitative analysis of intervention sessions to examine the development of critical reflection; and 2) discuss how CD can be incorporated into social work practice.

Methods: A random sample of 43 CD voice-recorded sessions from 24 intervention groups available from the Community Wise Optimization Trial were included in the analysis. Three session recordings were independently coded by two doctoral research assistants using N-Vivo to develop a coding tree with 100% consensus. The coding tree was then used to code the remaining sessions. The final code list was analyzed to develop themes that indicated potential intervention active ingredients for increasing participants’ critical reflection (i.e. using critical thinking skills to analyze the impact of social determinants of health on health inequities). Quotes that illustrated examples of each theme were transcribed.

Results: Analysis identified four potential active ingredients in CD: 1) Language, 2) image discussions; 3) critical questions; and 4) homework. Language referred to the development of a common language through the use of a glossary and dialogue that captured participants experiences of social and health inequities. The image discussions consisted of participants’ reflections about the intervention images which were developed to capture social determinants of health that impact SUD (e.g., incarceration, stigma, lack of access to quality services). Critical questions (e.g., “How did you come to believe that x is true?”, “What evidence supports this belief?”) were posed by participants and facilitators and seek to move the discussion from belief defending to critically assessing information and the thinking process. Finally, participants were assigned readings that they would discuss at the beginning of each session. Their readings reflected the theme of the session and consisted of findings from ethnographic research on that topic. For example, “Today my whole way of thinking comes from how I don’t want to raise my children... I don’t want them to hear somebody say something about someone and then all of a sudden that’s just the truth. I want them to at least be able to take a look at it and see what’s going on.”

Conclusions and Implications: Critical Dialogue is an evidence-based intervention informed by critical consciousness theory that can be incorporated into social work practice to address the impact of racism, sexism, and classism on maintain health inequities.