Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Sex Role Attributions of American-Indian Women

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Sex Role Attributions of American-Indian Women

Article excerpt

Specific research on the sex roles of American-Indian women is lacking in mental health counseling. This article examines the sex role attributes of this population of women as compared to a predominately White normative group using the short form of the Bem Sex Role Inventory. A group of 505 American-Indian women completed the inventory. Results indicate a significant difference on the masculine subscale between the two groups with American-Indian women having higher scores. Available minority normative groups were also compared to the American-Indian women in this study. Implications for mental health counselors are provided.

Despite considerable progress made over the past 20 years or so in addressing some of the health care needs of American Indians and Alaskan Natives, the overall health care of Native Americans lags well behind that of all other race groups in the United States. The problem is particularly acute in behavioral health. Although there is wide variation across the country's 554 federally recognized tribes; in general, Native Americans appear to be at higher risk for mental health problems and substance abuse (alcohol and drugs) than other ethnic groups. (Provan & Carson, 2000, p. 17)

In the 21 st century there remains the need for behavioral health care professionals to serve the health care needs of people. The opening statement paints a bleak picture of the general health care needs of American Indians and Alaskan Natives, but targets specifically behavioral health care needs concerning mental health and substance abuse. The most recent governmental statistics for indigenous peoples provide empirical evidence that mortality rates due to the behavioral health concerns of alcoholism, accidents, suicide, and homicide are greater than the age-adjusted rates for other racial groups in the United States (Indian Health Services, 1998). The frequency of "co-occurring mental health and substance abuse problems are estimated to be as high as 80%" (Provan & Carson, 2000, p. 17). Mental health issues are the fourth leading cause of hospitalization among American Indians 15 to 44 years of age and the fifth leading cause for ambulatory visits for indigenous peoples 25 to 44 years of age (Proven & Carson, 2000, p. 17).

Truly, mental health counselors are essential to the successful treatment of American-Indian behavioral health concerns. In 1997, as estimated 2.3 million American Indians lived in the United States (Indian Health Services, 1998). Thus, mental health counselors may find American Indians seeking their services. Since research indicates women are more likely to seek mental health counseling services (Watkins & Peterson, 1986), it may be necessary for mental health counselors to assess the attributions of American-Indian women so that appropriate treatment can be provided. This assessment of attributions helps the mental health professional understand, predict, and manage the direction of treatment and mental health interventions (Martin, 1983). Indeed the benefits of assessing client attributions far outweigh the potential for bias in interpretation from the mental health counselor. Yet, the mental health counselor must be aware of the potential for bias when contemplating attributions of indigenous clients.


Attribution theory emerged from the social psychology realm. It is described as a framework which explains how people make sense of their own behavior and the behavior of others (Martin, 1983). The key participants in attribution theory are the actors and the observers. In the context of mental health counseling, the client is the actor and the mental health counselor is the observer. The potential for bias exists in assigning attributions based on the interaction of these two key players. To spotlight these potential biases, the mental health counselor should consider four possible explanations for the differences between perceived and actual attributions (Martin, 1983). …

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