For culturally different people who are ethnic and racial minorities in this country, the experience of racism and discrimination has a powerful impact on identity development. These experiences remind people of color that many individuals and institutions in society view them as perpetually different and oftentimes inferior. Over time, the experiences become incorporated into one's perceptions about oneself in the form of ethnic and racial identities. Ethnic and racial identities specifically refer to social identities based on experiences as a member of an ethnic or racial group (Atkinson et al., 1998; Cross, 1978; Helms, 1990). An important feature of ethnic or racial identification relevant to psychotherapy is the stage-like process that people invariably move through depending on their life circumstances. Helms (1990), for example, posits that racial minorities move through at least five stages of racial identification: pre-encounter, encounter, immersion/emersion, internalization, and internalization/commitment. Similarly, Euro-Americans also move through various stages of racial identification: contact, disintegration, reintegration, pseudo-independence, and autonomy (Helms, 1990). For all groups of people, these stages differentially affect people's attitudes and beliefs about themselves as ethnic/racial minorities, other people of the same ethnic/racial heritage, and people of the dominant ethnic/ racial group vacillate over time (Atkinson, Poston, Furlong, & Mercado, 1989). It is usually an ethnic or racial incident directed toward the individual or instigated by the individual that moves a person to another ethnic/racial identity stage. Sometimes these experiences can produce a significant amount of psychological and interpersonal distress that can impair one's ability to lead a productive life.
The focus of ethnic and racial identity models of psychotherapy, therefore, is helping people become conscious of their ethnic/racial identity and understand its origin, development, and impact on their lives. In this regard, it is a specialized version of culture matching and acculturation and adaptation models of multicultural psychotherapy. One important feature is the emphasis on the identity status of both the client and the therapist (Helms, 1984; Sabnani, Ponterotto, & Borodovsky, 1991). Both Comas-Diaz and Jacobsen (1991) and Yi (1995), for example, describe cases in which cultural transference and coun-tertransference developed because of the interaction of client and therapist racial identities. The interpersonal dynamics of the client-therapist racial relationship consequently can be used as a therapeutic intervention. For this reason, Helms and Cook (1999) strongly recommend that therapists carefully examine their own racial and cultural assumptions and biases. They further recommend that therapists directly address the sociopolitical and personal meaning of race and culture with clients. This open and honest discussion can ameliorate cultural mistrust of psychotherapy and establish therapist credibility.
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