Powerlessness can take many forms. It can be the inability to gain personal control or make progress towards meaningful goals. It can be a sense of being marginalized or being excluded from participation --think of this country’s history with exclusion with all male golf clubs, all white sports teams, higher education for the wealthy and white and work opportunities for white men as a just a few examples.
Lack of power can come from inequalities in the environment, a need for personal strength, not having material resources and power imbalances in society. The ability to right power imbalances and a sense of personal control is linked to greater health and well-being.
Empowerment is not explicitly addressed in DBT, however, the concept of gaining personal mastery and making progress towards meaningful goals is certainly compatible with DBT goals. Many of the skills taught in DBT are designed to improve a sense of competence, mastery and positive connection.
In the October 2010 issue of the American Psychologist, Lauren Bennett Cattaneo and Aliya Chapman define the core elements of empowerment and propose a model for the process of empowerment. They present empowerment as a process in which a person without power sets meaningful goals towards increasing power, takes action toward that goal and observes and reflects on the impact of this action to continue towards his/her goal.
Empowerment is seen not just as mastery or self-advocacy, but as a process focused on personally meaningful and powerful goals. Change is both personal and internal, as well as social. In this model, to be empowered you cannot simply feel better about your abilities, you must have an impact.
Components of the Process:
Set Personally Meaningful Goals. This is the process of identifying personal aims which are compelling to you. The reward for achieving these goals will not be pleasure, but an increase in power.
Self-efficacy. Self-efficacy has been described as the individuals beliefs about his/her abilities. It is a recognition of the power and capability that an individual may already possess. Self-efficacy has been linked to motivation and performance and goal achievement.
Knowledge. This is the identification of the course of action necessary to achieve your goal. It could be becoming aware of the ways power disparities function in your life or recognizing oppression.
Competence. This is the skill necessary to achieve the goal. Identification of skill deficits and learning new skills is key to the empowerment process.
Action. You must actually do something to become empowered. Action is informed by your goal, belief that you can achieve the goal, knowledge and skills.
Impact. The process of empowerment involves and assessment of what happens following your actions. Did your action have an impact?