Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Multicultural Counseling: Historical Context and Current Training Considerations

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Multicultural Counseling: Historical Context and Current Training Considerations

Article excerpt

Several interrelated systems contributed to the early development of the field of psychology. The systems involved were the American Psychological Association (APA), the academy, and mental health organizations. Collectively, these systems engaged in covert and overt racist practices for several decades. The following section traces the origins of such practices, which clearly define a need for the subsequent emergence of multicultural counseling.

American Psychological Association

In 1892,26 White men founded the APA (Street, 1994). This event marked the birth of an organization that was to have a long history practicing various methods of exclusion regarding racial/ethnic minority concerns (Guthrie, 1998). A well-utilized method was to simply ignore racial/ethnic minority concerns, such as inadequate "minority representation on APA committees, lack of Blacks hired by the APA Central Office, poor representation of Black graduate students in the nation's training pipelines, and questionable theoretical underpinnings on psychology directed toward minority groups" (Guthrie, 1998, p. 146). It appears that such practices may have been fostered and maintained by the attitudes of early leaders. For example, the first president of the APA, G. Stanley Hall, openly "referred to Black people as a 'primitive race in a state of immature development'" (Greene, 1986, p. 48). Lewis Terman and Erik Erikson, both prominent early psychologists, were also known to embrace negative stereotypes toward African Americans (Greene, 1986; Thomas, 1982).

In the late 1960s, at least two separate formal attempts were made by some members of the APA to raise awareness of racial/ethnic minority concerns within the organization. Led primarily by African American psychologists, these members called for a greater focus on (a) attracting minorities into the field, (b) increasing the representation of African American psychologists in key governance positions, (c) desegregating all elements of APA, (d) eliminating racist themes and research from APA journals, and (e) establishing a program where racial/ethnic minority concerns could be discussed openly (Guthrie, 1998; Guzman, Schiavo, & Puente, 1992; Williams, 1974).

The establishment of several formal structures within the APA during the 1970s and 1980s helped raise awareness of racial/ethnic minority concerns (D'Andrea & Daniels, 1995; Holliday, 1992, as cited in APA, 1997); however, the governance remained primarily composed of White males. In its 106-year history, only three racial/ethnic minorities have been elected to serve as president of the APA (Street, 1994). Current reports indicate that little seems to have changed within the key decision-making structures of APA. For example, only 6 of 105 seats on the Council of Representatives (the primary legislative, governing, and policy-setting structure) have been filled by racial/ethnic minorities (Essandoh, 1996), and only three racial/ethnic minorities have been members of the Board of Directors (Essandoh, 1996; Hall, 1997). In addition, few APA members seem to regard racial/ethnic minority concerns as a priority. Of approximately 83,000 APA members in various divisions, only 911 currently report membership in Division 45 (Ethnic Minority Issues) (APA, 1995).

Psychology and the Academy

The field of psychology is a predominantly White system founded in part on racist ideology and research (De La Cancela & Sotomayor, 1993; Guthrie, 1976; Thomas, 1982; Thomas & Sillen, 1972; Tripp, 1994). During the 1920s, thousands of African Americans were administered intelligence tests by so-called race psychologists, a group of professionals who specialized in racial differences (Guthrie, 1976; Suzuki & Valencia, 1997). A major focus of race psychologists was to compare the intellectual performance of White subjects with that of persons of color (primarily African Americans). Although early African American scholars openly questioned the underlying motives and the research designs and methodologies employed by race psychologists, their concerns were largely ignored by mainstream scholarship in psychology (Thomas, 1982; Tucker, 1994). …

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