Influences on Counselor Race Preferences: Distinguishing Black Racial Attitudes from Black Racial Identity

By Ferguson, Tara M.; Leach, Mark M. et al. | Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, April 2008 | Go to article overview

Influences on Counselor Race Preferences: Distinguishing Black Racial Attitudes from Black Racial Identity


Ferguson, Tara M., Leach, Mark M., Levy, Jacob J., Nicholson, Bonnie C., Johnson, James D., Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development


The authors examined differential contributions of Black racial identity and racial attitudes toward Whites in determining counselor preferences. Results indicated that racial attitudes accounted for a significant portion of the variance in same-race counselor preference. In addition, Black racial attitudes were distinguished from racial identity as independent contributors to counselor preferences.

Los autores examinaron contribuciones diferenciales de indentidad racial y actitudes raciales de individuos Negros hacia Blancos para determinar las preferencias por un consejero u otro. Los resultados indicaron que las actitudes raciales se hallaban detras de una porcion significativa de la varianza en la preferencia por un consejero de la misma raza. Ademas, las actitudes raciales de individuos Negros se distinguieron de la identidad racial como factores independientes de influencia en las preferencias por ciertos consejeros.

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Conflicting findings regarding the preference for counselor race among Black individuals has been a subject of debate in the counselor preference literature. In an early study, Banks, Berenson, and Carkuff (1967) found racial preferences for counselors among Black clients, and since then, the resulting literature in this area has grown. Many empirical studies have been conducted, some indicating that Black individuals have a preference for a racially similar counselor (Nickerson, Helms, & Terrell, 1994; Pope-Davis et al., 2002), whereas others suggest that there are no significant effects of racial similarity on preferences (Slattery, 2004; Strohmer, Leierer, Hotard, & Stuckey, 2003). Because of the inconsistent results within the large body of counselor preferences literature, recent studies have focused on within-group differences to explain these conflicting findings (Coleman, Wampold, & Casali, 1995; Speight & Vera, 1997; Townes, 2004).

Partly in reaction to the conflicting data, racial identity has emerged as one of the most robust sources of within-group variability in determining counselor preferences. Although many models of racial identity have been formulated over the years, in general, racial identity refers to a person's commitment, beliefs, and attitudes about his or her own racial group (Sue & Sue, 2003). Racial identity theories are often used to understand the psychological implications of belonging to a particular racial group, including thoughts, feelings, and behaviors toward one's own group as well as toward members of out-groups (MacDougall & Arthur, 2001). In the cross-ethnic counseling literature, these theories have been used to examine the within-group variability that is related to various counseling processes, such as the preference for a counselor of the same race (Helms & Carter, 1991; Parham & Helms, 1981).

One of the more comprehensive theories of racial identity is Cross's theory of psychological nigrescence (Cross, 1971, 1995; Cross & Vandiver, 2001) Cross (1971) initially proposed his model of racial identity, in part, as an explanatory mechanism for the differential findings regarding the counselor race preferences of Black individuals. Recently, the Cross Racial Identity Scale (CRIS; Vandiver, Fhagen-Smith, Cokley, Cross, & Worrell, 2001) was developed in response to the need for a broader measure to assess Cross's revised theory of racial identity development, referred to as the expanded nigrescence model (Vandiver, Cross, Worrell, & Fhagen-Smith, 2002). The focus of the expanded nigrescence model is on reference group orientations, or one's awareness of a social identity, specifically, what it means to be Black in reference to society. The reference group orientations emerge from the sum of one's socialization experiences and result in an individual's current cluster of racial identity attitudes. In the expanded nigrescence model, these reference group orientations are referred to as exemplars, with each exemplar attempting to describe the extent to which an individual is likely to engage in Black culture (Cross & Vandiver, 2001 ). …

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