The team at OAC knows we’ve done our job when a participant feels so empowered with the knowledge they’ve received at our programs that they share it with others. Empowerment drives us. Empowerment is a part of our vision and history. We strive to empower consumers through our programs, educational materials, and website. We hope to empower case managers and other HIV professionals with tools that enable them to better serve our community.
So what is this empowerment concept all about? Studies show that people living with HIV/AIDS who are engaged in social activism (advocating for the good of the community) are more likely to have better psychosocial outcomes. Consumers who are actively engaged in improving their communities are more likely to have better coping skills, are more knowledgeable about resources, and have wider social networks.
Even though this finding is significant, we recognize that not everyone is ready to advocate for their community. Some people find confidence and acceptance in self-advocacy (advocating for the good of the individual). One social psychologist believes that an individual must not only possess a feeling of empowerment or self-awareness, but they must also have a sense of social justice. This sense of social justice can prepare someone who excels at self-advocacy for social activism, but only if they’re ready for it.
Because it cannot be defined on its own, empowerment theory suggests that empowerment is a process of personal transformation. Experiential learning leads to feeling empowered, which leads to personal revelations and growth. Empowerment assists with finding self-determination and self-fulfillment.
Even though we have a greater understanding of empowerment, measuring the concept is still challenging. Clinical psychology argues that empowerment is based on attitudes and perceptions, not on behaviors. In a world of metrics and behavioral assessments, empowerment would be easy to measure if it was seen in individual behaviors. Yet, empowerment can only be measured by an individual’s personal acceptance, self-determination, and social engagement.
In summary, empowerment happens when you’ve accepted yourself (HIV status and all), when you know what you want out of life, and when you’re ready to learn and experience personal growth. Translating your personal empowerment into something bigger than yourself can be exciting. When you make the connection between empowering yourself and how your attitude affects those around you, you begin to empower others.
Empowerment is obtainable, but it takes work to reach that attitude. We’d love to hear your stories of what empowers you in your daily lives.
Written by Sarah Sobel