Academic journal article The Professional Counselor

The Process and Implications of Diagnosing Oppositional Defiant Disorder in African American Males

Academic journal article The Professional Counselor

The Process and Implications of Diagnosing Oppositional Defiant Disorder in African American Males

Article excerpt

Research studies indicate that the number of African Americans diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is disproportionately higher than other demographic groups (Feisthamel & Schwartz, 2009; Schwartz & Feisthamel, 2009). One contributing factor for this disproportionality is that White American clients presenting with the same disruptive behavioral symptoms as African American clients tend to be diagnosed with adjustment disorder. Feisthamel and Schwartz (2009) concluded, "counselors perceive attention deficit, oppositional, and conduct-related problems as significantly more common among clients of color" (p. 51), and racial diagnostic bias may influence the assessment process. Racial biases in clinical decision making are explained in a conceptual pathway developed by Feisthamel and Schwartz (2007).

In the pathway, counselors who hold stereotypical beliefs about clients selectively attend to client information. The counselor's judgment is influenced by personal bias, resulting in misdiagnosing the client. African American masculinity stereotypes of criminal mindedness, violent behavior, aggression and hostility (Spencer, 2013) held by counselors with low multicultural social justice counseling competence (Ratts, Singh, Nassar-McMillan, Butler, & McCullough, 2015; Sue, Arredondo, & McDavis, 1992) potentially foster misdiagnosis and overdiagnosis of African American males with ODD.

Studies on how African American males are diagnosed with ODD and specific implications for African American males are relatively nonexistent. McNeil, Capage, and Bennett (2002) indicated the majority of information on children diagnosed with ODD has been obtained from primarily White children and families. They recommended that counselors working with African American families consider the African American family's unique stressors, worldviews and burdens; possible inclusion of the extended family; possible therapist biases that conflict with client's worldview; and positive factors that lead to competency, self-reliance and health in African American culture (Lindsey & Cuellar, 2000). Thus, an appropriate ODD diagnosis in African American males requires assessment and treatment plan considerations that include other related factors.

Diagnosing Oppositional Defiant Disorder in African American Males

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5; American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2013), ODD is characterized by a pattern of behavior that includes angry and irritable mood, argumentative and defiant behavior, and/or vindictiveness. Symptoms must cause significant problems at home, school or work; must occur with at least one individual who is not a sibling; and must persist for 6 months or more (APA, 2013). The diagnostic assessment also determines that (a) these behaviors are displayed more often than is typical for peers, and (b) symptoms are not associated with other mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, antisocial behavior and substance abuse disorders.

High rates of ODD diagnosis among African American males may occur because of low cultural competency in diagnosis and counselor bias (Guindon & Sobhany, 2001; Hays, Prosek, & McLeod, 2010; Snowden, 2003). Spencer and Oatts (1999) and Clark (2007), for example, found that health professionals misinterpreted symptoms of disruptive behavior disorders like ODD at greater rates for African American children. Misdiagnosis was common among children assessed as having symptoms of (a) obsessive compulsive disorder and response to rigid classroom rules, (b) bipolar disorder or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and engagement in destructive behavior, and (c) anxiety disorder (e.g., social anxiety) and dislike for school, and defiance toward teachers. These symptoms also may result from unfair treatment and discrimination (Smith & Harper, 2015). Misdiagnosis of ODD can reasonably be expected to have potentially adverse implications for healthy psychological, emotional and social development in family and education systems. …

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