Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Diversity, Social Justice, and Intersectionality Trends in C/mft: A Content Analysis of Three Family Therapy Journals, 2004-2011

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Diversity, Social Justice, and Intersectionality Trends in C/mft: A Content Analysis of Three Family Therapy Journals, 2004-2011

Article excerpt


During the formative years of couple/marriage and family therapy (C/MFT), a major focus was to create credibility for a field that shifted focus from treating individual pathology to using a systems paradigm for working with and utilizing relationships to foster positive relationships change (Broderick & Schrader, 1991). As time went on and the field increased in credibility, feminist scholars began highlighting the need for greater "awareness and sensitivity to issues of equity" (McDowell, Fang, Brownlee, Young, & Khanna, 2002, p. 179). This included critiquing core family therapy principles that masked power dynamics and maintained the status quo of dominant groups (see McDowell et al., 2002, for a summary).

Efforts have continued in recent years to enhance awareness and sensitivity to the experiences and needs of individuals and families from underrepresented and/or minority groups. An analysis of trends in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy from 1990 to 2000 noted a positive shiftin the amount of attention given to these issues (Bailey, Pryce, & Walsh, 2002). This expanding focus is also exemplified in the most recent core competencies published by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT, 2004), which emphasize the importance of recognizing "contextual and systemic dynamics" (1.2.1) and delivering "interventions in a way that is sensitive to special needs of clients" (4.3.2).


Despite these positive signs, more scholarly work is needed, not only to monitor trends in the published literature, but also to identify whether the most salient issues for clinicians, researchers, and underrepresented/minority groups are being studied. To appropriately do this, more clarity is needed to understand relevant terms such as diversity, social justice, and an intersectional approach to social inequalities. In this study, we wanted to examine the prevalence of diversity, social justice, and an intersectional approach in the C/MFT literature, while also enhancing awareness regarding the importance and potential utility of these issues. The following sections will define each term and explain their relationship with one another.

Defining Diversity

Diversity is a widely used term in scholarly C/MFT literature when studying issues related to underrepresented/minority groups. Nonetheless, our review of the scholarly C/MFT literature revealed no standard definition. The New Oxford American Dictionary (2005) defines diversity as "the state of being diverse; variety . . . a range of different things," thereby emphasizing that diversity implies difference and unlikeness. Relatedly, the American Psychological Association (APA, 2002) and AAMFT (2004) identify race/culture/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, ability, and religion/spirituality as the social identities most commonly associated with diversity. We define diversity research as addressing any of these issues globally or studying the experience of nonmajority, often understudied groups within these social identities who are most at risk for experiencing stigma, social inequality, and marginalization.

Defining Social Justice

Similar to diversity, social justice is commonly used in the C/MFT literature, but has not been clearly defined. This has led to a great deal of ambiguity between the two concepts. A social justice framework highlights how both historical and present structures grant unearned entitlements to some groups at the expense of others (McIntosh, 1998). A social justice analysis of power and privilege also goes beyond individual acts of discrimination within a relationship context to highlight how institutions or societal structures perpetuate inequalities in subtle, overlooked ways (Pascale, 2007) that "constrain possibilities for alternative, growth-enhancing, and satisfying interactions in peoples' lives" (Killian, 2001, p. …

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