Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Racial Identity Development: The Case of Mr. X, an African American

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Racial Identity Development: The Case of Mr. X, an African American

Article excerpt

This article depicts the practical application of Helms's Racial Identity Development model in counseling. The case scenario involves an African-American student at a major, predominately White university who is struggling with issues of self-efficacy and self-esteem related to his racial identity development. The article describes ways to conceptualize the psychological distress and interpersonal concerns of the student in a way that promotes effective assessment, a counseling relationship, and appropriate intervention strategies.

African Americans make up 12.8% of the population. African-American men constitute 47% of African Americans in this country (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001). The many struggles encountered by African-American men have led some researchers to label them as "endangered species" (Parham & McDavis, 1987). They have a unique history in America as it relates to social, political, economic, financial, health, and psychological issues. Much of the literature on African Americans is related to the limited opportunities for economic and educational growth experienced by Black men. There are few African-American men in political positions of power in America (Booker, 1997, 2000). While more African Americans are attending colleges, their overall number continues to be small (Cuyjet, 1997). Many African-American males are not completing their degree requirements (Littleton, 1995). According to the U.S. Department of Labor (2000), 15% of White men hold executive, administrative, or managerial positions while only 8.9% of Black men hold similar positions. Black men continue to earn wages higher than Black women, but lower wages than White men and women (Booker, 2000; U.S. Census, 1999). Furthermore, for those Black men who are not in college, many are unemployed or are incarcerated (Booker, 2000; Parham & McDavis, 1987; Thorn & Sarata, 1998; Watts, Griffith, & Abdul-Adil, 1991).

African-American men suffer physically and psychologically. They have a shorter life expectancy rate than white people or any other minority group in this country (Booker, 2000; Thorn & Sarata, 1998). They are least likely to seek medical treatment (Parham & McDavis, 1987) and are often misdiagnosed with more severe or dangerous illnesses (Garretson, 1993). In many African-American communities, the recovery rate for many illnesses is lower for African Americans due to the poor delivery and/or access to health care and health facilities (Booker, 2000; Parham & McDavis, 1987). They are least likely to use mental health services (June, Curry, & Gear, 1990; Thorn & Sarata, 1998), but were twice as likely as White males to die of mental disorders between 1994-1997 (Chappell, 2000). With the exception of suicide, more Black men than Black women and White persons experience higher rates of death due to drugs, alcohol, lung cancer, heart disease, homicide, and motor vehicle accidents (Booker, 2000; Chappell, 2000; Littleton, 1995; Parham & McDavis, 1987).

The affects of these many social, political, economic, health, and educational issues impact the psyche as well as the health of African-American men daily. Racial identity theories came out of the notion that African Americans go through stages when affirming their Blackness (Cross, 1995). This article explores how racial identity theories can be used when working with Black men in counseling with race-related issues (Helms, 1995) and other issues that negatively impact their psychological well being.


Numerous racial identity models seek to explain the development of racial identity in persons of color who live in the United States. For example, the Atkinson, Morton, and Sue (1989) majority and minority identity model can be used for people of color irrespective of racial and/or ethnic background. Sodowski, Kwan, and Pannu (1995) developed a model of racial identity for Asian Americans. …

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