Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Models of Racial and Ethnic Identity Development: Delineation of Practice Implications

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Models of Racial and Ethnic Identity Development: Delineation of Practice Implications

Article excerpt

Racial and ethnic identity is the exclusive focus in the development of guidelines for multicultural counseling proficiency (Taskforce, 2001). In this special issue of the Journal of Mental Health Counseling, several mental health professionals have illustrated how models of racial and ethnic identity can be applied to the case of Mr. X as an African American (Hargrow, 2001), Asian American (Alvarez & Kimura, 2001), Hispanic/Latino (Delgado-Romero, 2001), and a biracial individual (Aldarondo, 2001). In addition, Daniels (2001) applied the White racial identity development model (Helms, 1995) to the White character in the case. In this article, I summarize common themes that emerged across these articles. Specifically, I discuss variables that need to be addressed when working with members of visible racial and ethnic groups (VREG; Cook & Helms, 1988), and delineate some assessment questions for counselors. These questions are not intended only for White counselors working with nonWhite clients, but also for nonWhite counselors working with nonWhite clients. As aptly captured by the title of Helms's (1992) book, these models challenge all counselors to "understand the White persons in the person's life."


It has been noted that counselors are qualitative instruments whose assessments are also subjected to potential biases, especially when working with the racially and culturally different clients (Sue, 1996). A number of authors in this special issue have reinforced the importance to examine, along with knowledge of VREGs, counselors' own cultural values and biases, which invariably reflect one's racial and ethnic identity development and define the nature of the multicultural counseling relationship. According to the Interaction Process Model (Helms & Cook, 1999):

   The therapist's expression of her or his underlying racial identity
   statuses influences his or her interaction to the client, and the client's
   underlying statuses, in turn, influence his or her reactions to the
   therapists ... [E]ach complementary response to the other person's
   observable expressions of his or her racial identity ... constitutes a
   relationship. (pp. 180-181)

Racial identity, therefore, represents an interactive, process variable, rather than merely a client or counselor status variable, that mediates the counseling relationship. As Sue (1988) has indicated, racial or ethnic match (i.e., based solely on racial classification or ethnic knowledge) is not sufficient for effective therapy to ensue. Instead, Helms (1995) noted that positive client change is more likely to occur when the counselor is at a more advanced racial identity status than the client (i.e., a progressive relationship), or when both the counselor and client are operating at relatively mature racial identity statuses (i.e., a parallel relationship). Therefore, it is crucial for counselors to have awareness and knowledge of and the skills to understand their own racial and cultural values, beliefs, and biases, which are some of the key components of multicultural counseling competencies (MCC; Arredondo et al., 1996; Sue, Arredondo, & McDavis, 1992) for counselors.

What, specifically, can be done to facilitate counselors' understanding of cultural values and biases? Pederson (1987) presented ten frequent assumptions of cultural bias that may be counterproductive to cross-cultural counseling. Based on these assumptions, Helms and Cook (1999, p.165) derived questions to help counselors assess racial and cultural biases. Students in the multicultural counseling course I teach have particularly found it necessary and helpful to raise self-examination questions pertaining to the follow assumptions:

* Normal Behavior--e.g., What do you consider to be normal therapist and client behavior during therapy?

* Individualistic Orientation--e.g., If group goals are in conflict with the client's individual needs or desires, how do you resolve the conflicts? …

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