Conceptualizing Identity Development in Members of Marginalized Groups

By Salazar, Carmen F.; Abrams, Lyndon P. | Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Conceptualizing Identity Development in Members of Marginalized Groups


Salazar, Carmen F., Abrams, Lyndon P., Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research


Counselors-in-training are often overwhelmed with information, including a plethora of identity development models that describe the experiences of various racial and cultural groups. A thorough grounding in the Racial/Cultural Identity Development Model (Sue & Sue, 1999), which weaves together commonalities in diverse models, provides students and new practitioners with a firm conceptual framework. Drawing upon clinical experience and relevant literature, the authors demonstrate that, in addition to describing racial and ethnic identity, the model may be used to describe identity development in the face of marginalization by oppressive systems (e.g., sexism, heterosexism, beauty-ism, able-ism); and multiple identities within a single individual.

Conceptualizing Identity Development in Members of Marginalized Groups

For some years, women of color have argued in the literature that emphasis on only one identity (e.g. race or gender) is inadequate to describe the experiences of people of color and members of other marginalized groups. True understanding must include attention to multiple and overlapping identities (Anderson & Collins, 2004). However, multicultural counseling has tended to focus on race and ethnicity alone; only recently has attention been given to other identities, such as gender, sexual orientation, disability, social class, and the convergence of multiple identities within one individual (e.g., Hays, 1996; Robinson & Howard-Hamilton, 2000). As counselor educators who teach multicultural counseling courses and share a commitment to infusing considerations of diversity throughout counseling curriculum and practice, we look for tools which will allow students and novice practitioners to draw together and describe in a culturally competent manner the elusive and subtle elements of personal identity and the sociopolitical forces that shape identity.

Typically, graduate students in counseling are in information overload much of the time, because so many of them come in naïve about issues such as race and ethnicity, gender, social class, and sexual orientation. Some have given little thought to these issues; those who have may experience difficulty applying their "common sense" knowledge or personal experience to client conceptualization. A variety of models have been developed to describe racial identity (e.g. Cross, 1971, 1995,), feminist identity (e.g. Downing and Roush, 1985) gay and lesbian identity (e.g., Cass, 1979; Troiden, 1989), and social class worldview (Liu, Soleck, Hopps, Dunston & Pickett, 2004). Because of information overload, students and novice practitioners may find it daunting to assimilate and apply these various models. If practitioners can learn one model well, and gain a firm understanding of racial identity development utilizing this model, then we can help them begin to frame other kinds of identity using this same model. Then practiotioners can branch out later into the various other models; but in the beginning they have one model with which they feel comfortable and competent. Frequently the model that students encounter in a multicultural counseling course is the Racial/Cultural Identity Development model (Sue & Sue, 1999), which is based on the Minority Identity Development model originally formulated by Atkinson, Morten, and Sue (1983). We propose that using this model to describe the attitudes, beliefs, and experiences of members of marginalized groups provides students and novice practitioners with a framework from which to build conceptualizations of client issues that include multiple identities, viewed developmentally.

An individual may be a majority group member with regard to several identities (e.g., White, middle class, male), and also be a member of a marginalized group with regard to one or more identities (e.g., gay, with a disability). Sue and Sue (1999) have applied the R/CID model to describe identity development of members of majority group culture (i. …

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