Counseling Multiple Heritage Adolescents: A Phenomenological Study of Experiences and Practices of Middle School Counselors

By Maxwell, Michael J. | Professional School Counseling, October 2012 | Go to article overview

Counseling Multiple Heritage Adolescents: A Phenomenological Study of Experiences and Practices of Middle School Counselors


Maxwell, Michael J., Professional School Counseling


The number of middle school students with multiple heritage backgrounds has grown since they were first able to identify their multiple racial identities in the 2000 U.S. Census. Today, the multiple heritage population makes up 3% (U.S. Census, 2011) of the total population. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to explore the perceptions and counseling practices of middle school counselors who work with adolescents with multiple heritage backgrounds. The authors identified five themes that made up the essence of this study: (a) generation dependent, (b) significance of presence, (c) single race identity, (d) students in crisis, and (e) need for acceptance. This article discusses the themes, implications for counselors, and the need for continued research.

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The 2000 United States Census was the first time in the country's history that individuals were allowed to check more than one box classifying their race and/or ethnicity (Hernandez, Denton, & McCartney, 2007). At that point, an additional, separate portion of the population was being recognized by federal agencies in the United States. As noted by Hernandez et al. (2007), the number of individuals identifying with more than one race increased exponentially in the 2010 U.S. Census. Today, multiple heritage individuals comprise 3% of the U.S. population, or nine million people (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011). According to Henriksen and Paladino (2009a), multiple heritage individuals are those who possess a variety of characteristics in their backgrounds that include race, ethnicity, religion, language, gender, sexual orientation, and national origin. This definition is also inclusive of those individuals classified as biracial and multiracial.

In another recent development, the United States Department of Education (2008) required that any public school that receives federal funds must match its student demographic information with that of the U.S. Census beginning in 2010. School counselors were faced with providing services to students who have specific needs associated with having multiple heritage backgrounds. Few empirical research studies in the past decade have addressed the counseling needs of biracial, multiracial, or multiple heritage adolescents (Abu-Rayya, 2006; Renn, 2003; Wallace, 2004; Ward, 2006). Taking into consideration the growing number of multiple heritage students, a significant discrepancy exists between the quantity of published research on this population and the need for counseling strategies for middle school counselors who work with this recently recognized ethnic group.

MULTIPLE HERITAGE ADOLESCENT IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT AND SCHOOL COUNSELORS

Early multiple heritage identity development models prescribed a pessimistic outlook for multiple heritage individuals. The first and most widely used look at multiple heritage development was from the work of Stonequist (1937), who focused on studying individuals with one Black and one White parent. This model was referred to as the Marginal Man. The underlying premise of this model of development was that multiple heritage individuals suffered psychologically because they could not identify with one racial/ethnic group and therefore did not know the side in which they fit. This was the first deficit model of identity development.

A second model of note was developed in 1968 by medical doctor Joseph Teicher. In case studies of four psychiatric patients ages 8 to 12, each with one Black parent and one White parent, Teicher (1968) wrote that the children were hospitalized due to issues with their racial identifications. He concluded that biracial children who are hospitalized for psychiatric treatment are admitted because of crises related to racial identity. However, each case study presented by Teicher also depicted single-race parents with symptoms similar to those of the admitted biracial children. As a final note, Teicher utilized only psychiatric patients to develop a model for describing biracial child identity development. …

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