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The Process of Empowerment:
Implications for Theory and Practice

John Lord and Peggy Hutchison

Published in

Canadian Journal of Community Mental Health
12:1, Spring 1993, Pages 5-22.

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Both authors were involved in the Empowerment Research Project at the Centre for Research & Education. This ongoing research was partially funded by the Secretary of State, Government of Canada and the Scottish Rite Foundation. This article is based on a series of empowerment studies completed at the Centre. Some of this data has also been published as Lives in Transition: The Process of Personal Empowerment, a monograph which is available from the Centre (73 King St. West, Suite 300, Kitchener, Ont. N2G 1A7).

Process of Empowerment

Lord & Hutchison

The Process of Empowerment:
Implications for Theory and Practice

INTRODUCTION
The concept of empowerment is of increasing interest to researchers, practitioners and citizens concerned about mental health issues. In some respects, empowerment is a new buzzword. As Edelman (1977) has noted in relation to language and the politics of human services, sometimes new language is used to describe the same old practices. Others believe that empowerment language can actually lead to raised awareness (Rappaport, 1986). Regardless, a growing number of people are searching to understand the meaning of empowerment and ways it can be used to change their settings and lives. Empowerment can begin to be understood by examining the concepts of power and powerlessness (Moscovitch and Drover, 1981). Power is defined by the Cornell Empowerment Group as the "capacity of some persons and organizations to produce intended, foreseen and unforeseen effects on others" (Cornell Empowerment Group, 1989, p.2). There are many sources of power. Personality, property/wealth, and influential organizations have been identified by Galbraith (1983) as critical sources of power in the last part of this century. Others have pointed out that the class-dominated nature of our society means that a small number of people have vast economic or political power, while the majority have little or none (Moscovitch & Drover, 1981) At the individual level, powerlessness can be seen as the expectation of the person that his/her own actions will be ineffective in influencing the outcome of life events (Keiffer, 1984). Lerner (1986) makes a distinction between real and surplus powerlessness. Real powerlessness results from economic inequities and oppressive control exercised by systems and other people. Surplus powerlessness, on the other hand, is an internalized belief that change cannot occur, a belief which results in apathy and an unwillingness of the person to struggle for more control and influence. Powerlessness has, over the years, come to be viewed as an objective phenomenon, where people with little or no political and economic power lack the means to gain greater control and resources in their lives (Albee, 1981). As an illustration of powerlessness, Asch (1986) has noted that generally people with disabilities;

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Process of Empowerment

Lord & Hutchison

... have so internalized the general negative attitudes towards them because of their disabilities that they cannot believe that collective action can improve their lives. They have seen the problems as inherent in their medical conditions and have not been urged to join others to demand structural changes that

would render the environment useful for them. (p. 13)
Most of the literature also associates empowerment with personal control. Rappaport (1987) points out that "by empowerment I mean our aim should be to enhance the possibilities for people to control their own lives" (p. 119). Cochran (1986) believes that people understand their own needs far better than anyone else and as a result should have the power both to define and act upon them. The Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion notes that "people cannot achieve their fullest...
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