Date of Award

5-1-2014

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Fischer, Ann

Abstract

There is currently a paucity of literature in the field to provide clinicians guidance regarding best practices when clients make racist comments during individual therapy. As of this writing, very little theoretical literature and no empirical literature had been published on the topic. To address this gap in the literature, the current study used a mixed-methods design to investigate the topics. The investigation queried clinicians trained in Clinical and Counseling Psychology who had had at least three years of experience working with adult clients in individual therapy. As a starting point, the investigation focused on participants' experiences when White clients made racist comments, as White individuals have historically held more social power than People of Color. As the first of its kind, this exploratory study asked participants what they do when their White clients make racist comments in session and what factors (i.e., motivators, barriers, and other influencing factors) influence their decision-making in these situations. Data analysis was also done to identify some characteristics of the clinician that relate to the behaviors in which the clinician engages when clients make racist comments in therapy. Participants reported engaging in a range of behaviors from ignoring the comment or changing the subject to directly confronting the client's comment, labeling it racist and processing this with the client. In general, participants reported wanting to intervene with the comments more than they actually did. They indicated that the factors that influenced their behaviors included their own values regarding eradicating racism, their theoretical orientations, a desire to keep the focus on the client's presenting concern, and concerns about negative consequences that might result from confronting the comments. The information gleaned from the current study can be useful in beginning the conversation about what to do in these situations so that psychology's value of multiculturalism is upheld while also respecting clients' individual beliefs and values as well as their autonomy in therapy. It is hoped that this information will prompt additional process research in this area to establish best practices for therapeutically addressing racism and other forms of prejudice as they arise in therapy.

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