- Ilka I. Bryant
The term “African American” is used to refer to Americans descendants of the African tribes mainly from the sub-Sahara who came to America as slaves in the 17th and 18th centuries. As it is common with all unique cultural groups there are bound to be different core values, attitudes and beliefs even within the same group. Despite this, there are attitudes, beliefs and values that are very common and which bind the group or in this case the African Americans together. Some of these include; they have very strong kinship bonds, they strongly believe on the importance of strong religious ties or orientation, recognition of the importance of women and family in general is widespread. Children and how they are reared is viewed as the responsibility of every member of the community (Norment, 2005). The respect for the elderly is highly encouraged and practiced.
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Because of the historical injustices committed on the African American they have developed a sense of distrust of the government. They feel that the government neglected them and that it does not care. This has led many of them to become deeply religious, fatalistic and others have developed deviant behaviors. Most African Americans who have chosen the path of religion identify with the protestant movement and especially the Baptist denomination.
On the aspect of group self-perceptions and issues related to stereotyping the African Americans have always felt discriminated upon because of their skin color (Norment, 2005). This feeling has not been helped by the various cases of injustices committed upon them from the first time they came to America as slaves, down the revolution times, during the times of the Black Power movements up to now.
To the majority of African Americans the government neglected them a long time ago and this has had negative impacts on their socio-economic life. They argue that the government’s neglect has been the main cause of poverty among them (Norment, 2005). That they had very little opportunity for success because many of them did not go to school and therefore their chances of success both in the U.S and internationally was and is diminished. Some of them cite the slow government intervention during the hurricane Katrina as an example of how the government has neglected them.
As noted in the opening statement, the African Americans share may common beliefs, practices and attitudes. But like any other cultural group they also have several differences. These differences might be due to the geographical location, the level of education and even the economic class. Most of the elite African Americans for example do not have that strong attachment to religion that is common with other African Americans. Those African Americans who are doing very well economically are not likely to be bound by the beliefs, attitudes and practices that bind those below them economically. For instance, the kinship ties among the wealthy African Americans are not as pronounced as compared to the poor African Americans in the ghettos. Another major difference is between those African Americans from the South states such as Alabama which had a history of treating African American badly because of their skin color. The behavior and beliefs of the African Americans descended from these regions is very different from those who or their parents were raised in much liberal states such as New York which from the times of Abraham Lincoln was more lenient and tolerant.
Different members of the African American group have different group self-perceptions mainly because of the different upbringing, education level, religious beliefs, and the economic status. To those who are endowed materially, they have very little time for groups but those African American who are economically disadvantaged identify very much with groups.
There are three theoretical approaches to counseling that are very important especially when dealing with this kind of cultural group namely; the psychodynamic approach, the humanistic-existential approach and the cognitive-behavioral approach. In the psychodynamic approach, the focus is on how the person internal world is organized (Anderson, 1985). It looks at the person childhood experiences, relationships and how the person deals with self esteem issues. This is very important to understand when it comes to the African American group because some of them react differently especially in situations where they are the n minority or when abused because of their skin color. The counselor needs to work on the self esteem issues of this group more deeply than other groups.
The humanistic-existential approach deals mostly with the person view of the world coupled with his experiences. It majors on the current life and state of affairs. The cognitive-behavior approach on the other hand looks at the person’s behavior and beliefs. The kind of belief one has a direct impact on his or her behavior, for instance, negative belief is known to lead or result to maladaptive behaviors.
Psychodynamic approach tries to get the person to bring to the surface their true feelings in order to experience them and understand them. This approach assumes that everybody has a subconscious mind and that feelings held in the unconscious mind, and that feelings held in the unconscious mind are often too painful to be faced (Anderson, 1985). People come up with defenses to protect this painful feeling. The therapist them seeks to make the person to keep in touch with their own reality, makes them aware of the feelings they are not aware of and makes them tolerate the painful feeling they are experiencing.
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Since the African-Americans distrust the government, the counselor will try to make them aware that the problems they are facing are not caused by the government in power. The African-Americans will be resistant to law and thus they will engage in illegal activities such as abusing drugs. The counselor should therefore try to convince them that they need to change their attitudes towards the government and abide by law.
The counselors will need to pay attention to the rights of the African Americans and should not in any way get involved in any form discrimination. The counselors will need to treat them fairly regardless of their personal feelings that they may have against them. They should not stereotype on them and hence this will ensure that there is no biasness during the counseling period (Avashi & Grover, 2008). The counselors should also know the culture of the African Americans well before commencing with the counseling. This will enable him know the particular attitudes and values of the group and therefore avoid prejudice while counseling them.
Another ethical and legal aspect that the counselors should have is competency. The counselors should have knowledge about the particular group they are dealing with (Avashi & Grover, 2008). The competency should enable him come up with the best decisions in treating the clients and also estimate costs and consequences of choosing the best method of treating the African American client. The counselors should keep the information acquired from the client as confidential so as to avoid conflicts with the clients
Developing multicultural sensitivity awareness is an ongoing process. As counselors, it is important to view all clients as one individual, and comprehend that their beliefs, experiences, language and values affect the way they interact with others in a community. Also, we need to be aware that there are always differences within cultures. It is inappropriate to assume that a common culture is accepted by all members of a linguistic, racial or religious group.
Anderson, W. (1985). Journal of Counseling and development. Psychotherapy & Counseling , 588–589.
Avashi, A., & Grover, S. (2008). Ethical and Legal Issues in Psychotherapy. Journal of Counseling and Development , 148-163.
Norment, N. (2005). Readings in African American Language: Aspects, Features, and Perspectives. Bern: Peter Lang.
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