Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Considerations for Treatment of African American Couple Relationships

Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Considerations for Treatment of African American Couple Relationships

Article excerpt

As rates of separation and divorce among African Americans increase exponentially, development of effective treatment approaches for this population is particularly essential. Cognitivebehavioral treatment approaches targeting African American couple relationships by necessity must consider several risk factors specific to these couples, including experiences of racism and economic stress, as well as incorporate cultural resources and supports that may render these couples resilient to these stressors. In an attempt to foster cultural competence in the application of cognitive-behavioral approaches in treating distressed African American couples, this article reviews current research on the impact of culture-specific stressors and resources on African American couple relationships; discusses strategies for addressing biases, power, and privilege issues among therapists and clients; and highlights newer integrative treatment approaches and strategies for their potential in addressing diversity.

Keywords: African American couples; cultural competence; couple therapy

Research and popular literature has drawn attention to the decline in marriages among African Americans 1 and the diminishing number of Black males deemed eligible for marriage due to joblessness, poverty, violence, and drug use, commonly referred to as the Black gender gap (Tucker & Mitchell-Kernan, 1995). A recent Washington Post article provocatively titled "Marriage Is for White People" commented on the growing sentiment among Black female professionals to consider reevaluating the benefits of the institution of marriage (Jones, 2006). Concern about the so-called endangerment of Black marriages has prompted interventions by governmental policy makers. Specifically, the African American Healthy Marriage Initiative (AAHMI) was created through the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) Healthy Marriage Initiative to develop culturally competent strategies for fostering healthy marriages and responsible fatherhood, improving child well-being, and strengthening families within the African American community (ACF, 2003).

Current statistics do indicate that Blacks are less likely to enter into marriage than other groups. Prior to 1950, African American women tended to marry at younger ages than their White counterparts, but around 1950 this trend was reversed (Cherlin, 1992). By the 1990s, 15% of Black women ages 20-24 had married, compared to 33% of White women in the same age range (Teachman, Tedrow, & Crowder, 2000). Although the vast majority of White women can expect to be married by their mid-to late 30s, only 65% of Black women have done so (Teachman et al., 2000). In 2001, according to the U.S. Census, 43.3% of African American men and 41.0% of African American women had never been married, as compared to 27.4 % of White males and 20.7% of White females (McKinnon, 2003).

In addition to the declining rate of marriage, African Americans appear to be at greater risk for marital instability. Although nearly half of all couples divorce (Bray & Hetherington, 1993), rates of separation and divorce for African American couples have increased nearly fivefold in the last 30 years and are double the rate of the general population (Tucker & Mitchell-Kernan, 1995). Approximately 47% of African American women separate from their husbands within 10-15 years of marriage, compared with 28% of marriages among their White female counterparts (Cherlin, 1998; Kposowa, 1998). Furthermore, only 32% of African American women remarry within 10 years of divorce, compared to 66% of White women (Cherlin, 1992).

Among the population of African Americans who do marry, 7% of these unions are with someone of a different racial and ethnic background (Lee & Edmonston, 2005). Rates of intermarriage for African Americans lag behind those of all other ethnic groups (Lee & Edmonston, 2005; Tucker & Mitchell-Kernan, 1995), due in large part to the history of enslavement and social and legal sanctions against intermarriage involving persons of African descent. …

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