Psychology Is Irrelevant To Minorities

Some social scientists interested in multicultural issues assert that, because much of psychology's notions about human behavior were developed based on the behavior of White Americans and Europeans, psychology's principles are irrelevant and nonapplicable to non-White minorities (Bell, 1971; Graham, 1992; Gunnings, 1971; Guthrie, 1976; Hall, 1997; Katz, 1985; Mitchell, 1971; Sue & Sue, 1990). More specific to therapy, "Minority intellectuals have criticized contemporary counseling approaches which they contend have been developed by and for the White, middle-class person" (Atkinson, Morten, & Sue, 1989; p. 16). In addition to the charges of irrelevance, Sue and Sue (1990) state that "traditional counseling theory and practice have done great harm to the culturally different" (p. v). Hall (1997) offers the grim warning that if the practice of psychology does not respond to the changing ethnic demographics occurring in the United States, the field will "lose its relevance as a profession" (p. 649).

The question of whether or not psychological principles and therapeutic techniques are effective with culturally diverse populations is an important question that needs to be examined extensively. In fact, cross-validation studies perhaps are in order to determine the effectiveness of specific therapies with minority group members just as cross-validation studies have been conducted using intelligence and other psychological tests with non-White populations. Amid the clamor over psycho therapy's utility and appropriateness with diverse clients, one might conclude that psychology—and by implication psychotherapy—are irrelevant and ineffective for minority populations. Are behavior management techniques less effective for Hispanic children than for White children? Do African American couples benefit from marital therapy as much as White couples? Regarding diagnostic conceptualizations, is the array of life problems encountered by minority clients and presented in therapy vastly different than the problems presented by White clients? Ordinarily, one might consult with the empirical literature to answer such questions, yet, the available data on these topics are somewhat limited (S. Sue, 1988). Nonetheless, various reviews have been made on research comparing treatment outcomes between mostly, although not exclusively, African American and White clients (e.g., Abramowitz & Murray, 1983; Atkinson, 1985; Sattler, 1977). The general consensus among the reviewers is that minority clients appear to benefit equally from traditional forms of therapy as do White clients. In fact, S. Sue (1988) reviewed the research findings and cautiously concluded that "Despite the strongly held opinions over the problems ethnic clients encounter in receiving effective services, empirical evidence has failed to consistently demonstrate differential outcomes for ethnic and White clients" (p. 301). S. Sue also stated that "many ethnic psychotherapists have strongly endorsed the value of psychotherapy with ethnic individuals" (p. 305). Sue quoted Evans, an African American, as having stated "many more black and poor people are helped by the psychotherapies than is acknowledged" (Evans, 1985, p. 457).

In essence, the assertion that psychological principles and therapeutic techniques apply to White Americans but not to ethnic minorities appears to be unsubstantiated. To the contrary, the data that exist tend to support the view that psychology has much to offer diverse ethnic clients, especially when psychotherapists take clients' cultural experiences and commitment to their ethnic heritage into consideration.

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