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Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 2007, Vol. 38, No. 3, 321–328

Copyright 2007 by the American Psychological Association 0735-7028/07/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0735-7028.38.3.321

Color-Blind Racial Attitudes and White Racial Identity Attitudes in Psychology Trainees

George V. Gushue and Madonna G. Constantine

Teachers College, Columbia University

Is it really important to talk about race in therapy? Does discussion of societal racism have any place in the consulting room? The American Psychological Association’s (2003) recent multicultural guidelines highlight the limitations of a racially “color-blind” perspective for clinical practice. This study explored the relationships between color-blind racial attitudes and White racial identity. In a sample of 177 White counseling and clinical psychology trainees, we found that higher levels of attitudes that minimized or distorted the existence of contemporary racism (i.e., color-blind attitudes) were positively related to attitudes associated with less integrated forms of racial identity. Conversely, the results indicated that greater awareness of racism was related to more integrated White racial identity statuses. Implications for assessment, treatment, training, and future research are discussed.

Keywords: trainees, multicultural, racial attitudes, color-blind attitudes, Whites

Professional psychologists can expect to see the ever-increasing racial and cultural diversity of the United States reflected in their practices. Although many White practitioners are comfortable considering how “cultural” dimensions such as ethnicity, religion, or national origin influence their own identities and shape their approach to treatment, many are less comfortable when it comes to race. Yet race may be a particularly salient aspect of a therapist’s identity for some clients, particularly clients of color. How do White therapists think and talk about race—if at all? The field of professional psychology has begun to pay closer attention to the ways White practitioners possess multicultural competence (Con- stantine, 2001; Parker, Moore, & Neimeyer, 1998). The recent adoption of multicultural guidelines by the American Psychological Association (2003) has important consequences for both the practice and the training of psychologists. The guidelines

GEORGE V. GUSHUE received his PhD from the counseling psychology program at Teachers College, Columbia University. He currently teaches in the Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Teachers Col- lege, Columbia University. His research examines the influence of racial, cultural, and gender role attitudes on social cognition in clinical assessment and practice and in career development. MADONNA G. CONSTANTINE received her PhD from the program in coun- seling psychology at the University of Memphis. She teaches in the Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research interests include exploring the psycho- logical and vocational issues of African Americans; developing models of cross-cultural competence in counseling, training, and supervision; and examining the intersections of variables such as race and ethnicity in relation to mental health and educational processes and outcomes. WE THANK Rebecca Christensen, Christine Clarke, Tasha Prosper, Karen Pantzer, Cecilia Rougier, Kolone Scanlon, Daniel Sciarra, Robin Gold- stein, and Melissa Whitson for their comments on a draft of this article.


V. Gushue, Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, Teachers College, Columbia University, Box 64, 525 West 120th Street, New York, NY 10027. E-mail: gvg3@columbia.edu

note that even though some people may adopt a “color-blind” perspective in an effort to counter racial prejudice, the effect may be quite the opposite. The guidelines cite the need for increased multicultural awareness on the part of psychologists. An important dimension in providing culturally competent services to clients of color is psychologists’ ability to recognize and acknowledge that racism exists and can be especially damaging to people of color (Carr, 1997; Gushue & Carter, 2000). Accordingly, empirical studies (e.g., Constantine, 2002) have begun to examine the roles of White racial identity attitudes in the context of counselors’ self-perceived ability to work with culturally diverse clients. How- ever, few investigations to date have explored the degree to which White counselors’ racial attitudes might be related to their con- scious or unconscious minimization, denial, or distortion of race and racism, also known as color blindness (Neville, Lilly, Duran, Lee, & Browne, 2000; Neville, Worthington, & Spanierman, 2001). In the present study, we examine the associations between White racial attitudes and color-blind racial attitudes in a sample of counseling and clinical psychology trainees.

White Racial Identity

A number of models have been proposed to describe White people’s psychological orientation to their own race and to other racial groups in the context of racial socialization in the United States (Hardiman, 1982; Helms, 1990, 1995; Rowe, Behrens, & Leach, 1995; Rowe, Bennett, & Atkinson, 1994; see Sue & Sue, 2003, for an overview and synthesis). Two of the models have been the subject of extensive empirical research (Helms, 1990; Rowe et al., 1994). First, White racial identity theorists (e.g., Carter, 1995; Helms, 1984, 1990, 1995; Thompson & Carter, 1997) have postulated six distinct clusters of attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors (i.e., racial identity ego statuses) that describe differing psychological stances regarding race and, consequently, differing levels of adherence to or distancing from the values and norms of the dominant culture (see Carter, Gushue, & Weitzman, 1994). Alternatively, other theorists (e.g., Behrens, 1997; Rowe et al.,


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1994, 1995) have taken issue with Helms’s approach, arguing that Whites’ racial attitudes can be explained more parsimoniously by the empirically derived unidimensional construct of White racial consciousness (vs. the multidimensional structure suggested by Helms’s statuses). These authors have limited their discussion to racial “attitudes” instead of “identity” and have rejected the epi- genic components of Helms’s theory. LaFleur, Rowe, and Leach (2002) recently proposed two basic underlying constructs for White racial consciousness: racial acceptance and racial justice. Although the debate about the precise structure of Whites’ experience of race (unidimensional vs. multidimensional) is far from resolved, certain points of convergence have been noted (Block & Carter, 1996; Sue & Sue, 2003). Both models suggest that certain identifiable clusters of attitudes may be described within a broad spectrum ranging from racist to nonracist. In so doing, both groups of theorists offer a nuanced vocabulary for discussing the complexity of Whites’ experience of race. The present study has adopted the White racial identity model insofar as Helms (1995) has explicitly linked her conception of racial identity to information-processing strategies. It has been suggested that these differences in racial identity and cognitive processing may be related to the types of cognitive distortion suggested by the color-blind racial attitude theory (Neville et al., 2000, 2001). That potential relationship constitutes the focus of this investigation. According to Helms’s (1990, 1995) White racial identity theory, a healthy White racial identity emerges when Whites abandon their conscious or unconscious racist attitudes and progress toward more racially aware and nonracist identities. White racial identity attitudes have been conceptualized in terms of six interactive ego statuses marked by varying clusters of attitudes and beliefs about both Whites and people of color. Helms (1995) noted that there are no pure statuses, that at any given moment people may exhibit a blend of statuses, and that differing situations may cause different statuses to become salient. She aligned the statuses on a continuum ranging from less advanced or integrated to more advanced racial identities. Helms (1995) also suggested that different statuses are associated with varying information-processing strategies. In the following paragraphs, we describe the racial identity statuses in order from least advanced (contact) to most advanced (autonomy). In the first racial identity status, contact, Whites are unaware of the realities of institutional and cultural racism and the benefits they receive as a result of its existence. Helms (1995) suggested that these individuals are cognitively “oblivious” to contradictory information. The disintegration status is associated with White people’s initial response to their emerging awareness of their membership in the dominant racial group in a society marked by racism. This nascent awareness of how one has benefited from racism, albeit unintentionally, is often accompanied by feelings of confusion and guilt. According to Helms (1995), this may lead to a tendency to suppress information pertaining to privileges asso- ciated with White racial group membership. The reintegration status represents one potential resolution of feelings of White guilt. This status is characterized by an idealization of White values and accompanied by distancing from and denigration of people of color. According to Helms (1995), White individuals for whom this status is salient may selectively attend to information that romanticizes their own racial group and negatively distort infor- mation about other races (thus endorsing existing racial inequities).

Alternatively, Whites whose racial identity is characterized by the pseudoindependence status have begun to understand and acknowledge more readily their contribution to the existence of racism but may also continue to foster ideals of superiority and intolerance toward other racial groups. For instance, Whites for whom pseudoindependence predominates may focus on the need to “save the disadvantaged” (i.e., people of color). Certainly, helping others is a laudatory goal. However, doing so from a position of implied racial superiority is problematic. Helms (1995) suggested that this status may be characterized as “reshaping racial stimuli to fit one’s own ‘liberal’ societal framework” (p. 188). The immersion/emersion status represents Whites’ desire to seek a personal, nonracist definition of Whiteness as well as their initial quest to incorporate racial activism into their lives. Finally, White individuals for whom the autonomy status is salient have incorporated a positive racial identity that values a wide range of cultural perspectives. Autonomy is also character- ized by an activist stance that seeks to end social inequities and surrender the privileges gained from racism. With respect to cog- nition, Helms suggested (1995) that this status is associated with more “flexible analyses and responses to racial material” (p.188). Helms and Carter (1990) developed the White Racial Identity Attitude Scale (WRIAS) to measure the degree to which White individuals endorse contact, disintegration, reintegration, pseudo- independence, and autonomy attitudes, as measured through the respective subscales. A subscale to measure immersion/emersion attitudes was later added (Corbett, Helms, & Regan, 1992). In addition, Helms (1984, 1990; see also Gushue, 1993) pro- posed that differing combinations of racial identity statuses would influence interpersonal interactions in therapy dyads, group, or family settings. In a setting of unequal social roles, such as individual therapy, Helms categorized as progressive a dyad in which the therapist possesses a more integrated and mature racial identity than the client. She viewed this type of dyad as optimal for treatment, because the therapist is in a position to facilitate the client’s development. Conversely, a dyad in which the client’s and therapist’s salient racial identity statuses represent affective oppo- sites regarding race was termed crossed and considered a potential predictor of a breakdown in treatment. Helms also discussed dyads she characterized as regressive (the client is at least one status more advanced than the therapist) and parallel (the therapist and client express similar attitudes). Helms (1984) made predictions for common affective issues, counselor– client strategies, and counseling outcomes on the basis of each pairing and observed that therapists cannot facilitate growth in racial identity beyond the level that they have achieved.

Color-Blind Racial Attitudes

As a result of White individuals’ socialization in the United States, a place in which they hold a position of social power relative to people of color, many Whites have developed a sense of entitlement, often unconsciously, to privileges that members of other racial groups have been systemically denied (Sue, 2003). To protect their privilege, White people may deny, avoid, and distort the impact of race, as reflected in the adoption of color-blind racial attitudes. For some, the refusal to consider race as meaningful in any way may even be viewed as a way of prevailing over overt racial prejudice. However, White practitioners, in particular, who

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adopt color-blind racial attitudes could seriously impair their abil- ity to serve clients of color effectively and in a culturally sensitive manner. For example, a White counselor who espouses a color- blind philosophy and who possesses high levels of unconscious racism could attribute income disparities between Whites and Blacks in the United States to his or her perceptions that the latter group is “lazy,” lacks sufficient motivation to improve its financial standing, or possesses inferior intelligence, as opposed to consid- ering factors such as a historically unequal distribution of power and resources and institutional racism in such income disparities. With greater awareness of their own racial and cultural attitudes as well as an acknowledgement of the unearned privileges that they receive from membership in the White racial group, White coun- selors presumably would be better able to appreciate the myriad of issues and dynamics associated with race and racism in the context of working with clients of color. Color-blind racial attitudes reflect aspects of contemporary rac- ism. Unlike more overt forms of racism, the color-blind perspec- tive does not necessarily make explicit claims about White supe- riority. Rather, color-blind attitudes reflect the seemingly benign position that race should not and does not matter. Included in this stance, however, is a denial that racism continues to benefit White individuals (Neville et al., 2000, 2001). The color-blind perspec- tive maintains that all people today do, in fact, have equal access to economic and social success, regardless of race (Frankenberg, 1993). Thus, racism is understood to be a horrible thing of the past that has been rectified and no longer forms part of the social fabric. According to Frankenberg (1993), individuals who foster color- blind attitudes (even those who do so in an effort to be unpreju- diced) are more likely to focus on similarities between individuals across racial groups, which, nevertheless, has the effect of obscur- ing the abiding impact of White privilege. Research has suggested that adherence to a color-blind perspective could increase individ- uals’ racial prejudice and act as a rationale for racial oppression (Carr, 1997; Cha-Jua & Lang, 1999; Gushue, 2004). Thus, the inescapable, ongoing reality of racism in U.S. society makes it imperative that White practitioners be cognizant of the continuing existence and impact of race and racism in individuals’ lives (Constantine, 2002; Gushue & Carter, 2000). Although any psychologist, regardless of racial or cultural back- ground, could espouse a color-blind racial stance, White individ- uals, in particular, are more likely to adhere to color-blind racial attitudes than their counterparts of color (Carr, 1997; Neville et al., 2000). For many White practitioners, the adoption of color-blind racial attitudes is an attempt to reduce the dissonance associated with the sincere desire to believe in racial equality and the simul- taneous recognition at some level that they benefit from unearned advantages and privileges because of their racial group member- ship (Neville et al., 2001). In their quest to work as multiculturally competent helping professionals, White counselors must under- stand their personal racial attitudes and perspectives and acknowl- edge broader systems of racial oppression. Therefore, the purpose of our study is to investigate the associations between White racial identity attitudes and color-blind racial attitudes in a sample of counseling and clinical psychology trainees. On the basis of pre- vious research, we hypothesize that a higher endorsement of color- blind racial attitudes will be related to less advanced racial identity attitudes (i.e., more racist) among White counselors, whereas lower levels of color-blind racial attitudes will be associated with

more advanced racial identity attitudes (i.e., less racist) in this sample.

Survey of White Counseling and Clinical Psychology Trainees


Participants were 177 White graduate students drawn from counseling and clinical psychology courses from schools located in the northeastern United States. Respondents ranged in age from 21 to 52 years (M 26.86, SD 6.00). Of the participants, 19.2% were men, and 80.8% were women. Participants reported their socioeconomic status (SES) as working class (8.5%), middle class (51.4%), upper middle class (35.6%), and upper class (4.5%). The majority of the respondents were enrolled in degree programs in counseling psychology (71.0%), followed by clinical psychology (21.0%), “other” applied psychology programs (5.0%), and edu- cational psychology (4.0%). Participants reported that they had completed a mean of 2.61 (SD 1.81) semesters of their graduate program.

Survey Procedure and Assessments

Packets of questionnaires were distributed during classes for graduate-level counseling and clinical psychology students. The participants were asked to complete a packet that included the Color-Blind Racial Attitudes Scale (CoBRAS; Neville et al., 2000) and the WRIAS (Helms & Carter, 1990) and a personal data questionnaire specifically designed for this study. CoBRAS. The CoBRAS (Neville et al., 2000) is a 20-item measure of contemporary racial attitudes. The scale measures participants’ lack of awareness or denial of racism in the United States. Items are assessed on a Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly agree) to 6 (strongly disagree). The total scale is com- posed of three subscales. The first subscale assesses unawareness of White racial privilege and includes 7 items (e.g., “Everyone who works hard, no matter what race they are, has an equal chance to become rich”). The second subscale measures unawareness of institutional racism and has 7 items (e.g., “Social policies, such as affirmative action, discriminate unfairly against White people”). The third subscale, which has 6 items, assesses unawareness of blatant racial issues (e.g., “Racial problems in the U.S. are rare, isolated situations”). Item scores are added to obtain subscale scores and a total score. A higher score means higher levels of unawareness or denial of racism. In their validation study, Neville et al. (2000) reported concur- rent validity between scores on each of the subscales and the total score and scores on a number of related measures of racial and social attitudes. For instance, the subscales of the CoBRAS were all negatively related to both the Global Belief in a Just World Scale (Lipkus, 1991) and sociopolitical dimensions of the Multi- dimensional Belief in a Just World Scale (Furnham & Procter, 1988). Similarly, the subscales and total score of the CoBRAS were positively correlated with the Quick Discrimination Index (Ponterotto et al., 1995), a measure of racial and gender intoler- ance, and the Modern Racism Scale (McConahay, 1986), a mea- sure of racial prejudice. No strong association was found between the factors of the CoBRAS and the Marlowe–Crowne Social

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Desirability Scale (Reynolds, 1982), a measure of social desirabil- ity. Neville et al. (2000) reported Cronbach’s alphas ranging from .70 (Blatant Racial Issues) to .86 (CoBRAS total). Coefficient alphas for the sample in this study were .80 (Racial Privilege), .76 (Institutional Racism), .61 (Blatant Racial Issues), and .86 (total CoBRAS). WRIAS. This scale was rationally constructed by Helms and Carter (1990) to measure attitudes associated with the original five White racial identity development statuses theorized by Helms (1984). The scale consists of 50 items assessing Whites’ racial attitudes using five distinct 5-point Likert type subscales ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). The researcher derives scale scores by summing the 10 appropriately keyed items for each attitude scale. Accordingly, each attitude has a raw scale score that could range from 10 to 50. Helms and Carter (1990) reported internal consistency reliabilities (Cronbach’s alphas) of .53, .77, .80, .71, and .67 for the Contact, Disintegration, Reinte- gration, Pseudo-Independence, and Autonomy subscales, respec- tively. The scale also now includes an Immersion/Emersion sub- scale developed by Corbett et al. (1992) to measure attitudes associated with that status. For the sample included in our study, Cronbach’s alphas were as follows: Contact (.70), Disintegration (.71), Reintegration (.69), Pseudo-Independence (.74), Immersion/ Emersion (.82), and Autonomy (.52). Helms (1997) suggested that suppressed alpha coefficients may reflect the existence of some constraints in the sample studied. Thus, the low reliabilities on the Autonomy subscale may represent a restricted range in responses among participants (suggesting homogeneity regarding this status) or may be due to more or less equivalent patterns of cross-racial experience for this student sample. Additional reliability and va- lidity information for the WRIAS was reported by Helms and Carter (1990). Evidence supporting the content validity of the scales has been provided in a number of empirical tests (see Carter, 1995, for a review of this literature). Demographic questionnaire. A personal data sheet was used to investigate participants’ personal characteristics and family background. Participants were asked to indicate their age, sex, race, ethnicity, number of years of education, academic program, and self-reported SES.

Data Analyses and Survey Results

Preliminary Analysis

A multivariate analysis of variance revealed no significant dif- ferences among the participants on the variables of interest on the basis of gender (Wilks’s .95), F(9, 129) 0.71; SES (Wilks’s .77), F(27, 337) 1.33; academic program (Wilks’s .74), F(36, 485) 1.12; age (Wilks’s .93), F(9, 129) 1.01; or level of education (Wilks’s .95), F(9, 129) 0.76. Thus, the data for all participants were analyzed together. The means, standard deviations, and correlations of the scales used in the principal analysis of this study may be found in Table 1.

Principal Analysis

Because the primary purpose of our study was to explore the relationships among aspects of color-blind racial attitudes and racial identity statuses, we conducted a multivariate multiple re- gression analysis to examine our data. We chose this specific procedure for several reasons. First, a multivariate multiple regres- sion analysis is able to control for the possible intercorrelations among the predictor and criterion variables (Haase & Ellis, 1987; Lunneborg & Abbott, 1983; Stevens, 1986). Thus, for both pre- dictor and criterion variables that are moderately to highly inter- correlated, this analytic procedure is a way to account for multi- collinearity among the variables. Second, a multivariate multiple regression analysis can accommodate multiple predictor and mul- tiple criterion variables, all of which are continuously distributed, from which follow-up tests can determine the unique contribution of each predictor variable on each criterion variable (Lutz & Eckert, 1994). In our study, the predictor variables were the three subscales of the CoBRAS, and the criterion variables were the six WRIAS subscales. Overall, multivariate tests revealed that the three CoBRAS subscales accounted for significant variance in the WRIAS sub- scales: denial of racial privilege (Wilks’s .92), F(6, 168) 2.58, p .05, m .08 (where m is the multivariate effect size); denial of institutional racism (Wilks’s .86), F(6, 168) 4.58, p .01, m .14; and denial of blatant racism (Wilks’s .92),




Table 1

Correlations, Means, and Standard Deviations for the Color-Blind Racial Attitude Scale (CoBRAS) Subscales and the White Racial Identity Attitude Scale (WRIAS) Subscales















Racial Privilege










Institutional Racism









Blatant Racism























































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F(6, 168) 2.56, p .05, m .08. We then conducted follow-up analyses to examine the unique contribution of each of the predictor variables on the criterion variables. Results of these analyses indicated that higher levels of denial of racial privilege were negatively and significantly related to contact, F(1, 176) 4.54, p .05, 2 .03, and immersion/emersion attitudes, F(1, 176) 6.93, p .01, 2 .04 (where 2 is the univariate effect size). Furthermore, higher levels of denial of institutional racism were significantly predictive of higher levels of disintegration, F(1, 176) 10.83, p .01, 2 .06, and reintegration attitudes, F(1, 176) 6.72, p .01, 2 .04, and lower levels of immersion/emersion attitudes, F(1, 176) 4.72, p .05, 2 .03. Finally, greater unawareness of blatant racism was signifi- cantly predictive of higher levels of disintegration, F(1, 176) 5.21, p .05, 2 .03, and reintegration attitudes, F(1, 176) 9.40, p .01, 2 .05, and lower pseudoindependence, F(1, 176) 5.81, p .05, 2 .03; immersion/emersion, F(1, 176) 5.01, p .05, 2 .03; and autonomy attitudes, F(1, 176) 4.88, p .05, 2 .03. There are a number of limitations to this study, and our results must be interpreted with caution. First, because the participants in this sample were trainees, the results cannot be readily generalized to experienced practitioners. Further research is needed to confirm whether the relationship between color-blind racial attitudes and racial identity statuses found in this study also obtains for psy- chologists in the field. Second, as we have noted, 81.5% of the sample were women. Some researchers (Carter, 1990; Pope-Davis & Ottavi, 1994) have observed that women are less likely to be overtly racist given their experience of gender discrimination. Thus, further research with larger samples is needed to examine potential differences between men and women regarding the rela- tionships we have reported. Third, in this study we used self-report measures of racial attitudes. Recent literature has noted the possi- bility that participants may respond to such instruments in socially desirable ways (Constantine & Ladany, 2000). In this case, re- spondents might have avoided responses that appeared racist, even if those responses reflected their true attitudes. Finally, insofar as the study used self-report measures in a cross-sectional design, common method variance cannot be ruled out as a potential influence on the results. To address these limitations, we need to confirm our findings with research using other methodologies (e.g., behavioral observation, qualitative design).

Implications for Practice and Training

Numerous authors (e.g., American Psychological Association, 2003; Carter, 1995; Helms, 1995; Neville et al., 2000) have ob- served the potentially covert racism inherent in a color-blind perspective and the implications of color blindness for the practice of psychology. That is, by denying the importance of race (both for Whites and for people of color) in contemporary society, one endorses the status quo and undermines efforts to acknowledge and correct racial inequities. This study explores the relationship between color-blind racial attitudes and White racial identity atti- tudes. In a sample of 177 White counseling and clinical psychol- ogy trainees, our findings reveal that higher levels of attitudes that negated or distorted the existence of contemporary racism were positively related to attitudes associated with less advanced White racial identity statuses. In addition, the data indicate that greater

awareness of racism was positively associated with more inte- grated racial identity statuses. Thus, the results offer support for the hypothesized relationship between color-blind attitudes and more overt forms of racism, consistent with findings reported by Neville et al. (2000). As such, they have important implications for practice and training in psychology. A summary of the implica- tions for clinical practice and training are outlined in Table 2 and discussed in detail in the following sections.


Clinical assessment. The results of this study have implica- tions for clinical assessment. At the heart of most clinical assess- ments is a judgment as to whether a client’s reported feelings or behavior are a normal response to external events. For instance, context helps an evaluator distinguish sadness from depression in an individual, just as knowledge of cultural norms helps a family therapist determine the difference between closeness and enmesh- ment in a particular family system. Awareness of the various forms of contemporary racism provides an essential context for evaluat- ing issues raised by both White clients and clients of color. For instance, for a client of color, could “distancing” in cross-racial social situations be seen as a learned response to previous unin- tentional racist comments or slights, sometimes referred to as microaggressions (Franklin, 1999; Sue & Sue, 2003)? A color- blind therapist might characterize such microaggressions as harm- less, unintentional “misunderstandings” to which the client has overreacted. From this perspective, a treatment goal might be to explore the causes of the client’s oversensitivity and consider strategies for better coping in similar situations as a way to improve his or her overall social functioning. Conversely, a ther- apist with greater awareness of the manifold expressions of con- temporary racism might validate the client’s experience. Although the incidents described by the client might not have been inten- tionally hostile, they may well reflect contemporary forms of racism. In this instance, a racially aware therapist is more likely to resist locating pathology automatically in the client but rather to consider the racial climate surrounding the incident. From this perspective, a treatment goal might be to validate the client’s reactions to such situations and to help the client determine per- sonally optimal ways to respond to such provocations. The capac- ity to evaluate behavioral data against a context of contemporary racism has important consequences for assessment and treatment planning. Working alliance. The findings we have reported also suggest that denial of racism may influence practitioners’ ability to form both interracial and intraracial working alliances with clients. The

Table 2

Implications for Practice and Training





Clinical assessment Working alliance Interpretations and interventions Mental health services operation and policy Trainee self-reflection Racial/cultural contextual material throughout curriculum Training with diverse client populations

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results indicate that White psychologists’ awareness of the racial context in which treatment takes place is related to their own racial identity, which, in turn, has important implications for their inter- actions with clients (Helms, 1984, 1995). For instance, the data show that failure to recognize situations reflecting blatant racism was positively related to racial identity attitudes associated with denigration and hostility toward people of color and negatively related to attitudes of racial openness and positive White racial attitudes. Because racial identity attitudes reflect distinct types of worldviews and values, a mismatch between therapist and client (of different races or of the same race) may lead to conflict, impasses, and early termination of treatment (Helms, 1984, 1995). Conversely, formation of a working alliance is facilitated when the therapist and client have similar worldviews or when the therapist has a more integrated and flexible racial identity than the client. To the extent that race is a recognized and valued aspect of a client’s identity, a psychologist who is cognizant of both the racial context and the impact of race on his or her own identity will have a better chance of creating a therapeutic alliance in which clients feel that their experiences are validated. For instance, a White therapist who minimizes societal racism may take pride in “treating everybody the same.” Yet this perspective can have disastrous consequences when therapist and client have very different culturally based expectations about both the process and the goals for treatment (see Sue & Sue, 2003). In this case, treating everybody the same likely means treating everybody as though they were White. A therapist working from a racially color-blind stance may feel that, compared with people’s’ shared humanity, race is simply unim- portant. Yet it is hard to imagine how he or she might form a successful working alliance with clients of color, who receive constant reminders that race has very important consequences for their lives. Interpretations and interventions. There are also implications for how race might be addressed in interpretations and interven- tions in treatment. One possible reason for premature termination of treatment is clients’ perceptions that they may not be able to address certain cultural issues with their therapist (Wallace & Constantine, 2005). Certainly, clients and therapists may collude in avoiding discussion of any number of difficult or emotionally laden subjects, particularly racial or ethnic issues. It is quite possible that unacknowledged tensions related to racial differences in the therapeutic relationship may be manifested in the transfer- ence or countertransference. To work therapeutically with racial issues, practitioners must be aware of the potential racial meanings derived from social context and be comfortable with their own racial identity. For instance, a White therapist who minimizes racism may be less likely to entertain the possibility that the re-creation of racial social power inequities in the counselor– client dyad might be influencing treatment. Practitioners who endorse a greater awareness of racism and have more personally integrated racial identities may show a greater capacity to acknowledge racial dynamics in a client’s life or in the treatment relationship. Mental health services operation and policy. In addition, min- imization of institutional racism may have an important impact on the delivery of mental heath services. Many clinics or hospital settings are managed and run by White providers and, although they are not overtly racist, may reflect White cultural values in their operation and policies (e.g., Gushue, Greenan, & Brazaitis, 2005). For instance, a waiting room that White clients may see as

simply “well ordered” or “clinical” may be perceived as distancing and unreceptive by clients with a different worldview. The effi- cient approach of clinicians and staff under pressure to log a certain number of client contacts a month may be less off-putting to clients from cultures that value low-context (i.e., direct, verbal) communication than to those from cultures that value high-context (i.e., implicit, nonverbal) communication. A White practitioner who minimizes institutional racism may not appreciate the impact that the clinic setting itself may have on his or her clients, attrib- uting frequent missed sessions to either resistance or lack of motivation. The preceding paragraphs highlight the potential effects of practitioners’ awareness of the racial context in which therapy takes place. This is not only because unawareness of racism may be related to more racist forms of White racial identity integration, as results of this study suggest, but also because both White therapists and clients and therapists and clients of color are influ- enced by the larger social systems in which they live. For instance, many practitioners instinctively will inquire about clients’ family and interpersonal relationships as a way of establishing a context for clients’ behavior and concerns. The results of this study suggest that psychologists also should routinely attend to the ways the larger racial context may or may not inform the issues that clients present. In the United States, an essential part of that racial context includes a history of racism as well as its contemporary expres- sions. This is not to say that all issues can or should be reduced to race but rather that, like family systems or gender socialization, racial context should be considered with every client. Only a psychologist who is cognizant of contemporary forms of racism will be able to do so.


Trainee self-reflection. The results also have implications for training. Training for multicultural competence has become an increasingly important aspect of psychology training programs (American Psychological Association, 2003). The findings we present offer support for approaches that facilitate White trainees’ self-reflection and growth in awareness of White privilege and the varied ways racism continues to exist in the United States. This suggests that the goal of multicultural training should not be to

help trainees to “see beyond” color or simply to “treat people as people” regardless of their race. On the contrary, it may be that the goal of multicultural training should be to help trainees to “see race,” that is, to make it explicit. To adequately assess and work with their clients, therapists in training need to attend to the meaning of race for themselves, for their clients, and for the therapeutic relationship.

Racial and cultural contextual material throughout the curric-

ulum. To accomplish this, training programs need to infuse con- sideration of racial and cultural context throughout the curriculum. Thus, rather than include one course that focuses on “multicultural issues,” a more fruitful approach (consistent with the recent Amer- ican Psychological Association [APA] guidelines) would be to consider the contextual dimensions of each course. For instance, a class in theories of treatment might examine the underlying cul-

tural assumptions of the various theoretical approaches to therapy. A skills-based course might consider which common helping skills or therapeutic interventions are more culturally congruent with

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which cultural groups. An assessment class might examine how psychological presentation may differ across cultures and the consequences for accurate diagnosis. Students should be familiar with the potential for cultural bias in particular assessment instru- ments or research measures. Systemically, the goal of consistent integration of culture throughout required coursework needs to be reflected in APA accreditation criteria and enforcement. Training with diverse client populations. Finally, to help fu- ture practitioners to be aware of racial and cultural context in therapy, training programs need to provide them opportunities for training with diverse client populations. Future clinicians need the opportunity in training to work with clients who are both racially similar to and dissimilar from themselves. However, this will be beneficial only if supervisors are also comfortable considering the implications of racial context in their work. This is true for both cross-racial and same-race trainee– client dyads and supervisor– trainee dyads. Unless supervisors are aware of the potential impli- cations of racial context for students’ work with clients and with themselves in supervision, they are unlikely to address this issue. To paraphrase Helms’s (1984) observation, supervisors cannot help trainees to be aware of the racial and cultural dimensions of their work beyond the awareness that the supervisors themselves have attained. Thus, one part of incorporating an awareness of racial context in training may be the ongoing education and re- flection on the part of faculty and supervisors. Although training experiences with diverse client populations and supervisors of color are critical, the findings we report also suggest that racially aware White practitioners may play an important role in the multicultural training of White supervisees. Training for multicultural competence can only be effective to the degree that the complex web of relationships among the racial attitudes of practitioners and trainees is known and understood. The findings we present suggest that the goal for trainers is not to help students “look beyond skin color” but rather to help them acknowledge color by becoming more aware of the impact of race and racism on their own lives and on the mental health of their future clients. Clients ultimately will be helped to the extent that practitioners can see clearly who the clients are and are aware of the larger contexts that influence therapists and clients alike.


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Received November 15, 2005 Revision received May 17, 2006 Accepted May 31, 2006

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