Introduction to the Special Section: Implications of Research with Diverse Families

By Turner, William L.; Wieling, Elizabeth | Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, July 2004 | Go to article overview

Introduction to the Special Section: Implications of Research with Diverse Families


Turner, William L., Wieling, Elizabeth, Journal of Marital and Family Therapy


Over the last decade, many family scholars have developed a greater sensitivity to the relative neglect of families of color in both applied and basic empirical research. As a result, a proliferation of research elucidating many nuances of ethnic minority families has come to the forefront. Emanating from these research efforts about families of color is a wealth of knowledge with useful implications for family therapists as well as clinicians across the mental health disciplines.

Although some of this research has focused directly on marriage and family therapy service delivery, much, if not most, has focused on more basic aspects of family research. However, these important findings have enormous implications for family therapists, and there is a great need for the psychotherapy community to better understand this new research and the ensuing implications for how we better engage and accommodate families of color in therapy.

Research studies that are focused on families of color present a particular set of challenges and call into question many of our tried and true research methodologies. Among the challenges faced by researchers who endeavor to pursue this work are: (a) Tremendous commitment of time necessary, often requiring months or years of relationship building and earning the trust of community members; (b) researchers' investment in the community, getting to know the needs of the community, providing expertise when possible and appropriate, and continued involvement once the research is complete; (c) development of a sensitivity and understanding of the cultural needs of the community, including actively engaging community members at all levels of the research-from conceptualization to dissemination; (d) development or refinement of our research methodologies-including taking a more participatory, engaged approach; (e) having the humility to admit that we do not know some things about the group we are studying and recognizing those we are studying as informants and not respondents; (f) heeding the call to give back to our communities stemming from a strong responsibility-often felt by researchers of color-to elucidate the problems and concerns of the communities from which they come, because they are aware of the problems that exists there and they recognize that if they do not take this examination upon themselves, no one else is likely to do so; (g) the task of developing multicultural, multidisciplinary research teams that can offer expertise and insight in a variety of ways; (h) overcoming serious and significant barriers between the community and the university setting due to a legacy of racism or a past marked by poor "town-gown" relations; and finally (i) getting over our denial of the significance of culture and ethnicity. This last challenge is a point of contention for many family researchers and therapists, wherein even well-meaning individuals prefer to take a "color-blind" approach, with a view that "people are people" and culture and ethnicity do not matter in a significant way. Unfortunately, this attitude, all too often, serves to deny one of the most salient forces in the lives of families of color, and our society as a whole.

Researchers of families of color are faced with questions as basic as how we define families and determine who is and who is not a family member. The answers to these and other important questions are monumentally consequential with respect to both prevention and intervention efforts. Moreover, there are several other limitations in the research on families of color. Among the limitations are the following: (a) A tendency to confound race and ethnicity with socioeconomic indicators, and (b) a propensity to draw overarching conclusions (sometimes erroneously) about whole groups based on small nonrepresentative samples of families of color, or to lump together all minority families (often from very different cultural traditions) in the sample and examine them in aggregate. …

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