Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Relational-Cultural Theory for Middle School Counselors

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Relational-Cultural Theory for Middle School Counselors

Article excerpt

Young adolescents (ages 11-14), typically in the middle school grades, face life tasks involving connections and belonging with their peer group along with the development of their individual identity (Henderson & Thompson, 2010). Learning to negotiate through these developmental tasks, they face myriad relational challenges. This article explores the application of Relational-Cultural Theory (R CT) with early adolescents. It provides implications and recommendations for school counselors.

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Gabrielle is a seventh-grade student who has come to see her middle school counselor in tears. She explains that she is "fighting with her ex-friends." A group of girls with whom she was once close friends are now ignoring her at lunch, deleting her texts without responding, and whispering about her in the hallways. Gabrielle is saddened by the loss of these friendships and the isolation she is now feeling. For her part, Gabrielle reports that she originally found comfort in being part of this circle of friends. Soon, one of the other girls in the group, Neveah, started to send texts to other friends about Gabrielle, questioning her sexual reputation. Beginning to doubt her relational safety, Gabrielle started gossiping about Neveah on her Facebook site. Gabrielle reports, "I thought, what's the big deal? We all gossip about each other all the time. It's always so hard to tell who really has your back."

Traditional models of human growth and development focus on separation and individuation as core components of healthy maturation. In contrast, Relational-Cultural Theory (RCT) is an approach to understanding development within the context of relationships. This approach emphasizes the healthy expansion and deepening of relationships as the goal of development rather than separation and individuation (Miller & Silver, 1997). Disconnection is viewed as the primary source of human suffering, while healthy connections are seen as key components of satisfaction and growth.

Young adolescents, typically in the middle school grades, are facing life tasks involving connections and belonging with their peer group along with the development of their individual identity. As they are learning to negotiate through these developmental tasks, they face myriad relational challenges. This article explores the application of Relational-Cultural Theory with early adolescents in the middle school grades and provides a brief overview of concepts.

RELATIONAL-CULTURAL THEORY

At the core of RCT is the notion that all people, throughout the lifespan, grow in connection with others. When people are able to be authentic in relationships, and when others are able to be authentic in return, a cycle is created in which mutual empathy, connection, and growth are possible. Mutual empathy, or the two-way ability to put oneself in another's position and allow others through the self-boundary (Jordan, 1991), leads to mutual empowerment and growth. According to Ruiz (2005), through this process, "individuals realize that they have an impact on each other" (p.35). Relational-Cultural Theory further purports that growth through connections fosters what are referred to as the "five good things" (Miller, 1986, p. 2). Miller (1986) defined these five good things as 1) each person feels a greater sense of "zest" (vitality, energy), 2) each person feels more able to act and does act, 3) each person has a more accurate picture of her/himself and the other person(s), 4) each person feels a greater sense of worth, and (5) each person feels more connected to other persons and exhibits a greater motivation to connect with others (p. 3).

According to RCT, all people have an intense desire for connection. In spite of this yearning, people often block connections with others by using behaviors that keep them from the very thing they desire. Relational-Cultural Theory refers to this as the "central relational paradox" (Miller & Silver, 1997, p. …

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