Thursday, June 21, 2012

One White Racial Identity Model

Helms White Racial Identity Development Model

Racial identity development as it pertains to White people was one psychological constructs of personal interest. Although there are several aspects of this construct, the one that seems most detrimental to society is the intrinsic sense of entitlement and superiority. According to Sue and Sue (2008), the Helms White racial identity development model "assumes that racism is an intimate and central part of being a White American" (p. 269). This model describes six statuses: contact, disintegration, reintegration, pseudo-independence, immersion/emersion, and autonomy.

Implications in Practice

These statuses have powerful implications in practice. For example, if counselors work from a pseudo-independence status, he or she may still relate from a psychological state of racial superiority. When helping others who are not White, they might unconsciously (or consciously) try to help the client become more like them (Sue & Sue, 2008). Without realizing intrinsic differences, they may defer to the default fundamental assumptions Whites can make. In such cases, although the White person may see their association as philanthropic or helpful, their help continues to be laced with superiority. In counseling, working from this status may include using measures, expectations, and norms inappropriate for the client of color (Sue & Sue, 2008). If measurements, expectation, and norms are used in a therapeutic alliance, they must certainly relate to something of consequence to the client's culture (Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 1991). Measuring everyone against the White male seems ridiculous, at best. Furthermore, such misappropriation of norms and expectations (even unconsciously) defeats any movement toward ending systemic racial bias.

Working from a pseudo-independence status, the counselor may recognize the unfair treatment of a different race, but still work from a relatively linear understanding of racial differences. Without clearly identifying racial differences as well as self-identifying White privilege, counselors will still be working from a sense of privilege, and they may unknowingly disempower the person of color, excusing them for their inability to be better, work harder, engage in self-reflection, and self-awareness (all measured by White males' standards.) Alternatively, if counselors remain transfixed with a nebulous idea that racial blending will solve all racial problems, they may unconsciously believe the client can never be who they want to be. This will, without a doubt, alter the therapeutic relationship and affects the counselor's effectiveness. It would be similar if I went to a male therapist and his attitude was that I could never really fulfill any genuine sense of satisfaction because I am a woman and not capable of the goals to which I strive.

Dermer, Smith, and Barto (2010) suggest minority populations cope with "the constant bombardment of negative attitudes from society" (p. 329). Rather than contribute to the systemic racial bias that promotes these negative attitudes, counselors must become aware of racial bias within themselves. "As counselors, we do not have the option of ignoring cultural influences" (Hays, 2008, p. 218). Sue and Sue (2008) determined the level to which individuals identify their White identity is directly correlated to their levels of racism - in other words, the less aware of their Whiteness, the more they exhibited racism. As models of development convey, Whites must thoroughly become aware of their identity before they can cease to contribute to systemic racism.


Dermer, S. B., Smith, S. D., & Barto, K. K. (2010). Identifying and correctly labeling sexual prejudice, discrimination, and oppression. Journal of Counseling & Development, 88(3), 325–331. doi: 10.1080/13594320902847927

Hays, P. A. (2008). Addressing cultural complexities in practice: Assessment, diagnosis, and therapy. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., & Pyszczynski, T. (1991). Advances in experimental social psychology. San Diego: Academic Press.

Sue, D. W., & Sue, D. (2008). Counseling the culturally diverse: Theory and practice. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

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