The Relationship between Racial Identity Development and Multicultural Counseling Competency

By Vinson, Teraesa S.; Neimeyer, Greg J. | Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, July 2000 | Go to article overview

The Relationship between Racial Identity Development and Multicultural Counseling Competency


Vinson, Teraesa S., Neimeyer, Greg J., Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development


Eighty-seven incoming doctoral students (65 European American and 22 people of color) completed a battery of tests (e.g., a multicultural counseling competency measure). More advanced levels of racial identity development were generally correlated with higher levels of multicultural counseling competency, greater amounts of prior multicultural training, and higher self-reported ratings of overall counseling competency and multicultural counseling competency.

Multicultural counseling has become a critical issue during the past 25 years (Lee, 1991), developing into what has been identified as the fourth force in the fields of counseling and counseling psychology (Watkins, 1983). There are many concerns within this field, one of which is the study of multicultural competencies and the mechanisms that foster their development (Constantine & Gloria, 1999; Richardson & Molinaro, 1996; Steward, Boatwright, Sauer, Baden, & Jackson, 1998). The purpose of our study was to investigate the relationship between multicultural counseling competency and racial identity development in European American counselors and counselors of colon.

Multicultural counseling competency and racial identity development have been linked to one another since the first stirrings of the multicultural counseling movement in the 1950s and 1960s. At least since the time of Wrenn (1962), counselors have been asked to recognize their cultural encapsulation and work to overcome it. With this emphasis came the recognition of culture as an integral part of one's person (Parks, Carter, & Gushue, 1996). Multicultural counseling developed in relation to this recognition, quickly evolving to occupy a position of prominence and centrality in counseling (Heath, Neimeyer, & Pedersen, 1989; Neimeyer & Norcross, 1997).

Jackson (1995, p. 3) defines multicultural counseling as counseling that takes place between or among individuals from different cultural backgrounds, underscoring the observation that virtually every counseling-therapy interaction is slightly cross-cultural (Sue et al., 1982, p. 47). Multicultural competency is broadly recognized as a critical component in effective cross-cultural relationships, fostering empathy and understanding (Jackson, 1995). Moreover, the rapidly increasing ethnic minority population in the United States highlights the growing importance of multicultural competencies (Fox, Kovacs, & Graham, 1985; Lee, 1991).

In addition to its presumed impact on the therapeutic alliance, multicultural counseling competency is also associated with other positive therapeutic indicators. Although the role of cross-cultural factors in therapeutic outcome is not yet clear (Neimeyer & Gonzales, 1983), greater cross-cultural competence has been related to higher levels of multicultural counseling client contact (Sodowsky, Kuo-Jackson, Richardson & Corey, 1998; Sodowsky, Taffe, & Gutkin, 1991) higher enactment of culture-sensitive roles (Pomales, Claiborn, & LaFromboise, 1986), the evaluation of cultural sensitivity in other counselors (Steward, Wright, Jackson, & Jo, 1998), and more advanced levels of racial identity development (Neville, Heppner, Louie, Thompson, Brooks, & Baker, 1996; Ottavi, Pope-Davis, & Dings, 1994), which is the focus of our study. The concept of racial identity development has developed over the last 15 years, with the work by Helms (1990) providing a major impetus to research in this field.

According to Helms's (1996) model, individuals progress through several stages, called statuses. Her recently updated model of White racial identity development consists of six statuses. Status 1 is called Contact, in which a person is satisfied with the way things are racially. Status 2 is Disintegration and is characterized by disorientation and anxiety experienced in response to racial dilemmas. Status 3 is Reintegration, in which a person idealizes his or her own racial group and devalues other groups.

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