Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Counseling Applications of Racial and Ethnic Identity Models: An Introduction to the Special Issue

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Counseling Applications of Racial and Ethnic Identity Models: An Introduction to the Special Issue

Article excerpt

Racial and ethnic identity development models have been considered one of the most promising approaches to the field of multicultural counseling (Sue & Sue, 1999). Several conceptual models posited for visible racial and ethnic groups (VREG), in particular, have often been presented and discussed in major textbooks of multicultural counseling (e.g., Atkinson, Morten, & Sue, 1998; Pederson, 1991; Ponterotto, Casas, Suzuki, & Alexander, 1995; Sue & Sue, 1999). These models include the People of Color Racial Identity Model (Helms, 1995), the Minority Identity Model (Atkinson et al., 1998), and the Ethnic Identity Development Model (Smith, 1991). In addition, a number of specific models were developed to conceptualize the cultural identity experiences and conflicts of African Americans (e.g., the Nigrescence models; Cross, 1995; Cross & Vandiver, in press), American Indians (e.g., Choney, Berryhill-Paapke, & Robbins, 1995), Asian Americans (e.g., the Internal-External Ethnic Identity Model; Sodowsky, Kwan, & Pannu, 1995), Hispanic Americans (e.g., Ruiz, 1990), and biracial individuals (see Kerwin & Ponterotto, 1995). A number of books have also been devoted to discussing the application of these models to school counseling (Sheets & Hollins, 1999) and organizational interventions (Thompson & Carter, 1997). Multicultural counseling experts (e.g., D. W. Sue, Arredondo, & McDavis, 1992) have also emphasized the needs for White counselors to have an awareness and knowledge of as well as skills to examine White racial identity development (Hardiman, 1982; Helms, 1992; Rowe, Bennett, & Atkinson, 1994).

Models of racial and ethnic identity development are important for the practice of mental health counseling for a number of reasons. First, they inform mental health counselors of the contributions of sociopolitical influence and minority experience to VREG members' identity experiences and psychological conflicts and alert mental health professionals to the appropriate racial, cultural, and political context that needs to be captured in the assessment and diagnostic process. In particular, it has often been recognized that salient physical characteristics predispose VREGs to the perception of "difference" and experiences of racism during ethnic contact situations (Helms & Cook, 1999; Kwan, in progress; Sue & Sue, 1999). Despite the vast sociocultural (e.g., U.S.-born vs. foreign born) and psychocultural (e.g., identifying with White majority group vs. own ethnic group as reference group) differences, members of a particular VREG are often ascribed a collective demographic identity (e.g., Asian and Pacific-Islander Americans) based on salient physical characteristics (e.g., skin color). During ethnic contact situations, these visible characteristics may provoke ethnicity-specific images (e.g., cultural practices such as language accent, food preference) and nonethnicity-related stereotypes (e.g., inferred traits such as Asians are good at science) that are used as attributional, emotional, and attitudinal referents to categorize and treat VREG members (Kwan). In other words, certain interpersonal behaviors might not occur or might be different in the absence of such salient physical characteristics. Therefore, Smith (1991) noted that "[m]embers of minority groups often struggle to cope with multiple realities, meaning differing minority and majority group interpretations of what it means to be a member of each group" (p. 183).

Second, racial and ethnic identity models provide useful tools for understanding differences in the psychocultural experiences among members of the respective VREGs. This is particularly important as socially ascribed demographic identity often obscures VREG members' psychological identification with their own ethnic group or White majority group as their salient reference group. These models describe a process in which VREG members vary in their capacity to (a) confront and abandon their idealized relationship with the White majority group, (b) come to terms with their ethnic membership group as their identity reference group, and (c) define a sense of self and develop a set of collective identities that is encompassing while autonomous of race and ethnicity. …

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