Racial Microaggressions Against African American Clients in Cross-Racial Counseling Relationships

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Journal of Counseling Psychology 2007, Vol. 54, No. 1, 1–16

Copyright 2007 by the American Psychological Association 0022-0167/07/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0022-0167.54.1.1

Racial Microaggressions Against African American Clients in Cross-Racial Counseling Relationships Madonna G. Constantine
Teachers College, Columbia University
This study examined the relationships among African American clients’ perceptions of their White counselors with respect to (a) perceived racial microaggressions in cross-racial counseling relationships, (b) the counseling working alliance, (c) their counselors’ general and multicultural counseling competence, and (d) their counseling satisfaction. Findings revealed that greater perceived racial microaggressions by African American clients were predictive of a weaker therapeutic alliance with White therapists, which, in turn, predicted lower ratings of general and multicultural counseling competence. Greater perceived racial microaggressions also were predictive of lower counseling satisfaction ratings. In addition, African American clients’ perceptions of racial microaggressions had a significant indirect effect on these clients’ ratings of White counselors’ general and multicultural counseling competence through the therapeutic working alliance. Keywords: racial microaggressions, African Americans, working alliance, multicultural counseling competence, counseling satisfaction

For many decades, researchers and practitioners concerned about cultural issues in counseling have worked to identify factors that both hinder and promote treatment in cross-racial counseling contexts (Kim, Ng, & Ahn, 2005; Ponterotto, Fuertes, & Chen, 2000; Zane et al., 2005). Although some attention has been paid to multicultural counseling treatment outcomes with clients of color generally (e.g., Constantine, 2002), comparatively fewer studies have examined the processes associated with the treatment outcomes of specific groups of clients of color (e.g., Li & Kim, 2004; C. E. Thompson & Jenal, 1994). In particular, there is a dearth of empirically based writings focused on the therapeutic experiences of African Americans who seek counseling services. Although African Americans compose nearly 13% of the U.S. population, they tend to be underrepresented in many mental health settings (Constantine, Chen, & Ceesay, 1997; June, Curry, & Gear, 1990). Some factors cited for the underutilization of mental health services by African Americans have included economic constraints (Snowden, 2001), service access barriers (e.g., transportation, inflexible work schedules, and lack of knowledge regarding mental health resources; Snowden, 1998; V. L. S. Thompson, Bazile, & Akbar, 2004), and cultural mistrust attitudes toward White therapists (Terrell & Terrell, 1984). In light of the historical second-rate treatment provided to many African Americans in mental health care environments (Toldson & Toldson, 2001) and their ensuing distrust of mental health therapists and systems (Rollock & Gordon, 2000; Terrell & Terrell, 1984; Whaley, 2001),

I am especially grateful to the clients and clinic personnel who participated in this project. I also thank Meifen Wei for her advice and assistance in the preparation of this article. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Madonna G. Constantine, Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, Teachers College, Columbia University, 525 West 120th Street, Box 92, New York, NY 10027. E-mail: mc816@columbia.edu 1

African Americans who actually access treatment might be viewed as making clear statements about how serious they perceive their presenting concerns to be (Mays, Caldwell, & Jackson, 1996; Wallace & Constantine, 2005). Nonetheless, the majority of mental health professionals in the United States are White, and issues of racial or cultural mistrust might lead some African Americans to have negative views of and expectations about the counseling process and about...
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