Clinician's Digest


Clinician's Digest

By Garry Cooper

May/June 2007


Last February, presidential candidate Senator Joseph Biden touched off a national debate about unconscious racism when he referred to fellow candidate Barack Obama as clean and articulate. Many African Americans took offense, insisting that Biden never would have praised a white candidate for those qualities. Others insisted that Biden's comments didn't reveal unconscious racism, but showed that some blacks are hypersensitive.

Now psychotherapy researchers have found that racism exists in therapy sessions between white therapists and minority clients, revealing itself in unconsciously demeaning or patronizing messages, termed "racial microaggressions." A study in January's Journal of Counseling Psychology by psychologist Madonna Constantine of New York's Columbia University Teachers College identifies 12 microaggressions directed toward black students who were getting counseling. Offensive remarks included such statements as, "I don't see you as black, just as another person." Some therapists offered help that the students felt they wouldn't have offered to white clients: "I don't usually do this, but I can waive your fees if you can't afford counseling." Others made stereotypic assumptions, like "I know black people are very religious."

Constantine believes that racial microaggressions are an inevitable byproduct of a society in which there's an inherent, pervasive, and enduring power imbalance at the same time that those who benefit from that…

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