Multicultural Counseling TherapyBy: Andrea Hartman

Traditional counseling theories may not always be appropriate when working with multiracial individuals because they were developed for and by white, middle to upper class men. As such, these therapies often times alienate clients who do not have the same values as Western society (Pedrotti, Edwards, & Lopez, 2008). A multicultural theory, such as Multicultural Counseling and Therapy (MCT) may be more beneficial and appropriate. Multicultural Counseling and Therapy is a broad theory which includes many different theories and approaches to counseling (Hays & Erford, 2010). These theories and approaches are integrated under MCT because they all take into consideration the cultural context of counseling relationships and how influential those may be to the application of counseling theory.

MCT proposes that clients of different racial and ethnic minority groups may respond more favorably to culture-specific counseling approaches (Pedrotti, Edwards, & Lopez, 2008). When working with multiracial clients, a counselor may want to examine the client’s identity development to ascertain which racial or ethnic group they most identify with, if any. With this information, the counselor may be able to identify various culture-specific techniques which may help their client.

In working with multiracial clients, it’s important to learn about their various backgrounds to determine how they’re affecting their current situation. Early models of biracial and multiracial identity development were based mainly on skin color and identity adjustment, focusing on negative aspects of being multiracial (Pedrotti, Edwards, & Lopez, 2008). Current models, such as the ecological model of multiracial identity development, focus on the multiracial individual as part of a culture and environment (Pedrotti, Edwards, & Lopez, 2008; Root, 1998). Root (2003) has created an ecological model of multiracial identity development, with the use of research from Bronfenbrenner (1979), which states there are five positive outcomes for multiracial identity development (Pedrotti, Edwards, & Lopez, 2008). First, an individual will become comfortable identifying as the race that others ascribe to them. Second, individuals will be able to identify with all racial groups that they belong to, or thirdly, they can identify with just one group, if they choose. Next, they can identify with a new group, such as, “I’m multiracial”. Finally, they may take pride in their racial identity, but may not have a strong attachment to it, and thus, adopt a symbolic race or ethnicity. The group in which an individual decides to identify with depends on factors such as environment, family, personal history, gender, and social class. There is more to multiracial identity development than just the individual. Also, these statuses may not occur in the same order or at the same time for all individuals.
This model shows us that it’s important to pay attention to an individual’s environment in counseling (Pedrotti, Edwards, & Lopez, 2008). Ignoring a client’s diverse cultural background can be exceptionally harmful. To gain insight about the environment a client lives in and how it’s affecting them and their racial identity development, a counselor should ask questions regarding where the client garners support, where they are lacking support, and what environmental stressors they face, including prejudice and socioeconomic status. At this point, the counselor can make assessments about the client’s development and talk to the client about where they think they are in terms of their multiracial identity development.

As counselors, it’s important to remember that multiracial identity development is not a linear process (Pedrotti, Edwards, & Lopez, 2008). While some individuals may develop through the stages in order and come to an acceptance of all aspects of their culture, it’s not the same for everyone. It’s due to the unique experiences of each client that they may differ in their journey to acceptance. Clients may also cycle through stages based on their environment and if they feel more comfortable identifying as a specific race in one geographical area versus another. While possibly challenging, cycling through stages is normal.

Narrative therapy is shown to be particularly beneficial when working with multiracial clients (Pedrotti, Edwards, & Lopez, 2008). This technique allows clients to tell their own story, while including the context and environmental factors which helped shape who they became. The client can tell their story through a variety of places and times and through this process develop insight to their racial identity development. The process of writing may also help bring to light struggles the client is facing which they may have not been able to vocalize.

Also important to developing a multiracial identity is the fact that the identity an individual holds may not be the same as what others ascribe to them (Pedrotti, Edwards, & Lopez, 2008). Clients may struggle with the incongruence. If others are telling a client they are wrong for identifying a certain way, they will lack validation for their choices, which could lead to lowered self-worth. Counselors should talk to their clients about their identity, how it may change over time or situations, and offer validation.

Finally, it’s important for counselors to note that not all multiracial individuals struggle with identity development and that having multiple racial identities is seen as a positive for many people (Pedrotti, Edwards, & Lopez, 2008). Counselors should work with their clients to acknowledge their personal strengths, and through doing so, their clients may feel empowered. For instance, multiracial individuals may be able to relate to people of many different backgrounds more easily than monoracial individuals. This could help multiracial clients have a sense of belonging, when they may feel out of place a lot of times. As counselors, we should help our clients to see how their personal strengths can be used in a myriad of circumstances. While our clients may still struggle with confusion and self-hatred, noting and applying their strengths can help them to achieve a healthy outcome regardless of the identity they choose.

Ecological Model.gif
Ecological Model of Racial Identity
Hays, D. G., & Erford, B. T., (2010). Developing multicultural counseling competence: A systems approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
Pedrotti, J. T., Edwards, L., & Lopez, S. J. (2008). Working with multiracial clients in therapy: Bridging theory, research, and practice. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 39(2), 1-23. Doi: 10.1037/0735-7028.39.2.192
Root, M. P. P. (1998). Experiences and processes affecting racial identity development: Prelimnary results from the biracial sibling project. Cultural Diversity and Mental Health, 4(3), 237-247. doi: 10.1037/1099-9809.4.3.237
Root, M. P. P. (2003). Multiracial families and children. In J. A. Banks & C. A. McGee Banks(Eds.), Handbook of research on multicultural education (pp. 110–124). San Francisco:Jossey-Bass.

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