Culturally Competent Counseling for Religious and Spiritual African American Adolescents

Article excerpt

Religion and spirituality are deeply rooted in traditional African American culture. Data suggest that African American adolescents maintain higher baseline rates of religious activities and beliefs than their peers (Bachman, Johnston, & O'Malley, 2005; Smith, Faris, Denton, & Regnerus, 2003). Recognizing these data, this article examines strategies for helping school counselors enhance their multicultural counseling competence through the integration of African American adolescents' value orientations and belief systems in counseling aimed to maximize academic, career, and personal/social development.


Multicultural counseling competence for professional school counselors refers to school counselors' ability to work effectively with students from culturally distinct groups. Some researchers have articulated a rationale for emphasizing race and ethnicity as the primary correlates of multicultural counseling competence (Day-Vines et al., in press; Locke, 1990), while others have advocated a broader conceptualization of multiculturalism that includes age, gender, nationality, social class, geographic location, sexual orientation, and religious affiliation (Ivey & Ivey, 2003). Among people who share a common racial designation such as African Americans, race may operate in tandem with other salient identities. In order to deliver culturally relevant counseling services, school counselors must consider the overlapping and interacting features of multiple identity structures such as race, religion, and spirituality (Robinson & Howard-Hamilton, 2000; Tatum, 1997).

More specifically, the American School Counselor Association's (ASCA, 2004b) position statement on multicultural counseling and ASCA's (2004a) Ethical Standards for School Counselors call for professional school counselors to work with students within appropriate cultural contexts and only use counseling interventions and techniques that are consistent with those cultural factors. Among African American students this may require the school counselor's recognition and consideration of religious and spiritual themes embedded in students' narratives, conceptualization of problem situations, goal development, self-regulatory skills, and orientation toward problem resolution (Doswell, Kouyate, & Taylor, 2003; Holcomb-McCoy & Moore-Thomas, 2001; Moore-Thomas, 2005). In short, if African American adolescents' beliefs, behaviors, and decisions about academic, personal, and career issues are affected by their religion and spirituality, school counseling approaches, strategies, and interventions also must reflect an understanding and valuing of the adolescents' religion and spirituality (Lonborg & Bowen, 2004).

This article examines strategies for helping school counselors incorporate the value orientations and belief systems of African American youngsters in order to maximize academic, career, and personal/ social development. The article opens with a discussion of religion and spirituality in the African American community, continues with an illustrative case study integrating the key issues of African American adolescents' religion and spirituality, and closes with implications for practice.


Religion and spirituality are deeply rooted in African American culture (Wheeler, Ampadu, & Wangari, 2002). The prominence of religion and spirituality in the Black community is empirically supported by recent study data indicating that 80% of African Americans find religious beliefs to be very important, while 43% almost always seek comfort through religion (Chatters, Taylor, & Lincoln, 1999). These findings are strengthened by other research that suggests African Americans rely on religion and spirituality as a source of hope, liberation, and material and emotional support (Armstrong & Crowther, 2002; Newlin, Knafl, & Melkus, 2002; Spencer, Fegley, & Harpalani, 2003; Watt, 2003). …


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