Relational-Cultural Therapy

– Explore your reactions to the readings and to what you have learned about Relational-Cultural Therapy (RCT). Discuss in what ways the readings have changed your ideas about the therapeutic relationship. Explain how RCT can be applied to your own life.

* (This is a relational-type therapy and the goal is to have growth fostering relationships. It’s about the connections that we make. It embraces social justice and aligns with the feminist movement.)*

– Write one independent paragraph, explaining how Relational-Cultural Therapy (RCT) can be used by a psychiatric nurse practitioner to help patients.

Responses will be checked by Turnitin for originality. It should be a minimum of 350 words, scholarly written, APA formatted, and referenced. A minimum of 2 references are required (other than your text). *Information about the therapy is attached.

Journal of Counseling & Development  ■  Summer 2008  ■  Volume 86 279 © 2008 by the American Counseling Association. All rights reserved.

Relational-cultural  theory  (RCT)  was  conceived  after  the  publication  of  Jean  Baker  Miller’s  (1976)  Toward a New Psychology of Women, a groundbreaking book that has been  translated into more than 20 languages. The ideas in Miller’s  book emerged from her clinical practice with women in which  she noted that the centrality of relationships in her clients’ lives  was inconsistent with the traditional theories of counseling and  human development she had been taught in medical school.  According to Miller and other feminist theorists of the time,  these traditional theoretical models emphasize individuation,  separation, and autonomy as markers of emotional maturity  and psychological health.

Miller (1976), like other multicultural and feminist theo- rists, suggested that a lack of understanding of the contextual  and  relational  experiences  of  women,  people  of  color,  and  marginalized  men  led  many  mental  health  professionals  to  pathologize these individuals by misunderstanding and devalu- ing how these important factors contribute to the psychologi- cal well-being of all people (Robb, 2006). Consequently, RCT  complements  the  multicultural/social  justice  movement  by  (a) identifying how contextual and sociocultural challenges  impede individuals’ ability to create, sustain, and participate  in growth-fostering relationships in therapy and life and (b)  illuminating the complexities of human development by offer- ing an expansive examination of the development of relational  competencies  over  the  life  span.  Challenges  to  developing  such relational competencies in today’s socially stratified and  oppressive culture are highlighted throughout this article.

Over the past 3.5 decades, Miller (1976) and other multi- cultural, feminist, and social justice advocates and theorists  (Daniels, 2007; Ivey, D’Andrea, Ivey, & Simek-Morgan, 2007)  have noted how traditional theories of counseling and develop- ment are built on the ideology of Western individualism that  includes “hyper-competitiveness and deterministic control”

(Walker, 2003, p. 1). Such an ideology is based, in part, on  the myths of “mastery,” “self-sufficiency,” and the idea “that  people assume their places in the existing societal hierarchy  by virtue of merit” (Jordan, 1999, p. 3).

RCT further complements the multicultural/social justice  movement by serving as an alternative theoretical framework  from  which  mental  health  professionals  can  explore  how  issues  related  to  sex  role  socialization,  power,  dominance,  marginalization, and subordination affect the mental health  and  relational  development  of  all  people.  The  goal  of  this  article is to demonstrate how RCT complements the process  of multicultural/social justice counseling competency devel- opment by providing an additional theoretical framework that  supports the fourth force in counseling and psychology.

Core Tenets and Assumptions of RCT RCT is a comprehensive theory of counseling and develop- ment  that  emerged  from  the  notion  that  traditional  models  of human development and psychotherapy do not accurately  address the relational experiences of women and persons in  other devalued cultural groups. To fill this gap, RCT provides  an alternative and inclusive model of relational development  across the life span. The RCT approach to helping and heal- ing  is  grounded  in  the  idea  that  healing  takes  place  in  the  context of mutually empathic, growth-fostering relationships.  In an effort to create such relationships, the RCT approach to  counseling involves identifying and deconstructing obstacles  to mutuality that individuals encounter in diverse relational  contexts and networks (Comstock, 2005; Comstock, Daniels,  & D’Andrea, 2006).

Core RCT tenets that explicate the process of psychological  growth and relational development, as summarized by Jordan  (2000), include the following notions:

Dana L. Comstock, Tonya R. Hammer, Julie Strentzsch, Kristi Cannon, Jacqueline Parsons, and Gustavo Salazar II, Depart- ment of Counseling and Human Services, St. Mary’s University. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Dana L. Comstock, St. Mary’s University, Department of Counseling and Human Services, One Camino Santa Maria, San Antonio, TX 78228-8527 (e-mail:

Relational-Cultural Theory: A Framework for Bridging Relational, Multicultural, and Social Justice Competencies Dana L. Comstock, Tonya R. Hammer, Julie Strentzsch,   Kristi Cannon, Jacqueline Parsons, and Gustavo Salazar II

Relational-cultural theory (RCT) theorists advocate expanding the multicultural/social justice counseling competencies beyond the domains of self-awareness, cultural knowledge, and culturally responsive helping skills. This article pro- vides an overview of RCT and discusses how creating and participating in growth-fostering relationships are essential dimensions of human development and psychological well-being. Implications of this theoretical model for counseling practice are also addressed.

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Comstock et al.

1.  People grow through and toward relationship through- out the life span.

2.  Movement  toward  mutuality  rather  than  separation  characterizes mature functioning.

3.  The ability to participate in increasingly complex and  diversified relational networks characterizes psycho- logical growth.

4.  Mutual empathy and mutual empowerment are at the  core of growth-fostering relationships.

5.  Authenticity  is  necessary  for  real  engagement  in  growth-fostering relationships.

6.  When people contribute to the development of growth- fostering relationships, they grow as a result of their  participation in such relationships.

7.  The goal of development is the realization of increased  relational competence over the life span.

Consistent  with  feminist  and  multicultural/social  justice  theorists, RCT scholar Walker (2002) made the point that move- ment toward connection over the course of individuals’ lives is  made in relational contexts that have been “raced, engendered,  sexualized,  and  situated  along  dimensions  of  class,  physical  ability,  religion  or  whatever  constructions  carry  ontological  significance in the culture” (p. 2). Walker also pointed out that  the way individuals respond to “disconnections in relationship  is in large measure a function of the multiple social identities  operating in that particular relationship and in the relational sur- round at any given moment” (p. 2). In other words, the context  of relational development across the life span is inextricably  linked to individuals’ racial/cultural/social identities. As such,  examining culture-based relational disconnections is one way to  promote counselors’ relational, multicultural, and social justice  counseling competencies. These competencies are grounded in  an awareness and knowledge of the ways in which cultural op- pression, marginalization, and various forms of social injustice  lead  to  feelings  of  isolation,  shame,  and  humiliation  among  persons from devalued groups.

RCT  is  based  on  the  assumption  that  the  experiences  of  isolation,  shame,  humiliation,  oppression,  marginalization,  and microaggressions are relational violations and traumas that  are at the core of human suffering and threaten the survival of  humankind (Birrell & Freyd, 2006; Gilligan, 2001; Hartling,  Rosen, Walker, & Jordan, 2000; Miller & Stiver, 1997). Cultural  oppression, social exclusion, and other forms of social injustices  underlie the pain and trauma that individuals in marginalized  and devalued groups routinely experience in their lives (Birrell  & Freyd, 2006). It is important to point out that this theoretical  assumption has been supported by numerous empirically based  neurobiological studies that examine the antecedents and nega- tive psychological and physical outcomes of such experiences  (Eisenberger, Lieberman, & Williams, 2003; Genero, Miller, &  Surrey, 1992; Hartling & Ly, 2000; Liang et al., 1998; Schore,  2003; Spencer, 2000; Taylor, 2002).

RCT supports the multicultural/social justice movement by  asserting that (a) “although oppression is often institutional-

ized at societal levels, it is necessarily enacted in the context  of interpersonal relationships” (Birrell & Freyd, 2006, p. 52),  and (b) “the fragmentation caused by the violation of human  bonds can only be healed by new and healing human bonds”  (p. 57). In essence, counseling relationships that are not guided  by relational, multicultural, or social justice ideology purport- edly have the potential to further perpetuate the silencing and  oppression  that  marginalized  individuals  experience  in  the  larger culture (Day-Vines et al., 2007; Walker, 2003).

Many persons in the fields of counseling and psychology  have  resisted  mainstreaming  RCT  in  professional  training  programs and clinical practices. This resistance is similar to  that encountered by the multicultural/social justice counseling  advocates. Birrell and Freyd (2006) discussed the underpin- nings of such resistance by stating,

It is unfashionable, in this age of managed care and risk man- agement, to advocate for a treatment that not only takes time,  but also involves the possibility, on the part of the therapist,  of coming to new understandings of that forgotten realm of  what Buber (1975) calls the “interhuman.” A treatment that  does not address this level of experiencing risks objectifying  the already wounded and creating a superficial adjustment to  society which involves the risk of further abuse. (p. 54)

RCT’s  further  support  of  the  multicultural/social  justice  movement is reflected in the manner in which it encourages  counselors to think beyond symptom reduction and remedial  helping interventions (Birrell & Freyd, 2006). RCT theorists  emphasize  that  a  more  contextual  approach  to  the  helping  process aimed at ameliorating the adverse impact of various  forms of cultural oppression, marginalization, and social in- justice has many positive implications for individual clients  and “the wider context of community and the social world”  (Birrell & Freyd, 2006, p. 50). These positive implications are  tied to the important role RCT counselors place on helping  clients examine new ways to develop and maintain growth- producing connections in their lives.

RCT Complements Contemporary and Traditional Approaches to Counseling and Development

The notion of “connectedness,” an essential consideration in  RCT, is embedded in traditional and contemporary counsel- ing  scholarship  (Coy  &  Kovacs-Long,  2005;  Townsend  &  McWhirter, 2005). Historically speaking, the importance of  connectedness  in  fostering  psychological  development  and  emotional  well-being  is  reflected  in  the  writings  of Alfred  Adler and other individual psychology theorists. These theo- rists  described  the  need  for  mental  health  professionals  to  foster a sense of community and belonging to social groups in  their work with clients. Adler took particular time to illuminate  the importance of love and belonging as central to a person’s  mental health (Ivey et al., 2007).

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Relational-Cultural Theory: A Framework

Erik Erikson is another widely respected theorist who discussed  a related concept referred to as “homonomy” (Coy & Kovacs-Long,  2005, p. 139). According to Erikson, the term homonomy refers to  children’s ability to rearrange and expand their relational circles  based on their individual and developmental needs. This Eriksonian  construct represents another indicator of the ways that traditional  theorists  acknowledged  the  importance  of  relational  factors  in  fostering people’s sense of psychological well-being.

RCT provides a theoretical basis from which mental health  professionals can reconsider the importance of the aforemen- tioned relational concepts for the practice of counseling. Over  time,  such  concepts  have  consistently  been  muted  by  many  other counseling theorists who overemphasized therapeutic and  developmental goals that are culturally and gender biased. This  includes efforts to promote clients’ “autonomy,” “self-realization,”  “self-actualization,” and “personal mastery” in counseling (Coy  & Kovacs-Long, 2005; Ivey et al., 2007). Despite this trend, Coy  and Kovacs-Long advocated for the use of RCT concepts by  recognizing that mental health professionals should include the  ability to affiliate and connect with others in mutually empathic  and empowering ways as an indicator of emotional maturity  and psychological well-being.

Expanding the Rogerian Notion of Empathy

Carl  Rogers  is  another  prominent  counseling  theorist  whose  advocacy for relational concepts received sharp criticism by his  psychoanalytic peers. Similar to criticisms that were directed at  Adler and others, the criticism Rogers received was for focusing  on the client–therapist relationship as a primary source of heal- ing in counseling. Such criticism targeted the emphasis Rogers  consistently  placed  on  the  counselor’s  ability  to  communicate  a  genuine  sense  of  empathy  with  clients  as  a  key  component  in  promoting  positive  counseling  outcomes  (Comstock  et  al.,  2006; Ivey et al., 2007). Although Rogers’s theoretical contri- butions extended counselors’ thinking about the important role  empathy plays in the healing process, RCT expands Rogerian  theory even further by

1.  extending the one-way concept of empathy espoused  in  Rogers’s  counseling  theory  to  a  two-way  process  referred to as mutual empathy;

2.  describing  relational  movement  that  occurs  in  all  relationships,  including  the  counseling  relationship,  which involves inevitable periods of connection and  disconnection;

3.  resisting  and  eradicating  sociopolitical  factors  that  operate  as  the  source  of  relational  disconnections  among  many  individuals  in  diverse  and  marginal- ized racial/cultural groups who are discouraged from  naming their own reality and authentically expressing  many of their thoughts and feelings;

4.  serving as a theoretical framework from which to pro- mote the concept of mutual empathy as key to healing

and  relational  transformation  in  therapy,  as  well  as  in  other relational/professional contexts, including the work  counselors do as multicultural/social justice advocates,  consultants, and organizational development agents.

Unlike Rogers’s one-way notion of empathy (e.g., empathy  communicated by the counselor to the client), the RCT concept  of mutual empathy is cocreated in counseling relationships  and is viewed as an important source of healing and transfor- mation in the counseling process (Jordan, 2001). This occurs  not only when the counselor effectively expresses her or his  connection with clients’ expressed thoughts and feelings, but  also when clients acknowledge being affected by the impact  they have had in generating this sort of empathic response in  the counselor.

In a mutually empathic encounter, everyone’s experience is  broadened and deepened because people are “empathically at- tuned, emotionally responsive, authentically present, and open  to change” (Miller, Jordan, Kaplan, Stiver, & Surrey, 1991,  p. 11). It is important to point out that this sort of empathy  requires a degree of vulnerability on the part of counselors  that results from an ability to be authentically present with the  client during times of connections and disconnections.

Mutually  empathic  encounters  provide  opportunities  for  counselors  to  become  more  culturally  competent.  This  is  possible  because  counselors  engaged  in  mutually  empathic  exchanges  with  their  clients  can  learn  about  their  own  and  their  clients’  worldviews  and  beliefs  in  new  and  different  ways. This can be accomplished by exploring the relational  confluence of the similarities and differences between their  respective life experiences. Such self and cultural learnings  enable counselors and clients to more freely and respectfully  come to a mutual agreement about the intervention strategies  that are likely to promote the sort of counseling outcomes that  are  consonant  with  culturally  different  clients’  worldviews,  beliefs, and values (Day-Vines et al., 2007; Ivey et al., 2007).  Developing mutual empathy in multicultural counseling situa- tions also results in a deepened understanding of and compas- sion for all people, which the Dalai Lama has suggested leads  individuals to be more “genuinely ethical” (as cited in Birrell  & Freyd, 2006, p. 59) in all the work that they do.

The type of relational responsiveness that is espoused by  RCT involves a thoughtful process of anticipatory empathy  (i.e.,  giving  some  forethought  as  to  how  the  client  will  be  affected  by  the  way  the  counselor  chooses  to  respond)  that  ideally guides the counseling relationship into a deeper mutual  connection. Rogers referred to this as the practice of accurate empathy. In extending this Rogerian concept, RCT scholars  (e.g., Jordan, 1995; Walker, 1999, 2002) have pointed out that  even the best attempts to understand clients sometimes result  in empathic failures and relational disconnections.

Although Rogers is generally silent in discussing empathic  failures and relational disconnections in the counseling process,  RCT scholars understand that these relational dynamics are inevi- table in all relationships. These empathic failures and relational

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disconnections are particularly painful for the more vulnerable  person in the relationship (e.g., clients) and particularly for those  clients who come from marginalized and devalued racial/cultural  groups in contemporary society (Comstock et al., 2006).

Relational Movement: Connections and Disconnections

The key concepts of RCT are perhaps best understood in the  context of relational movement, which is the process of mov- ing through connections; through disconnections; and back  into  new,  transformative,  and  enhanced  connections  with  others.  Being  aware  of  how  all  relationships  move  through  these different phases is referred to as relational awareness.  Acquiring this relational awareness is the first step in devel- oping  more  sophisticated  relational  capacities  that  enable  one  to  identify,  deconstruct,  and  resist  disconnections  and  obstacles to mutual empathy in counseling relationships and  in the broader culture.

Connections and Disconnections

Miller (1986) identified specific experiential outcomes of being  in connection, which she referred to as the “five good things”  (p. 3). In a relational connection, Miller (1986) stated that

1.  Each  person  feels  a  greater  sense  of  zest  (vitality,  energy)

2.  Each person feels more able to act and does act in the  world

3.  Each person has a more accurate picture of her/himself  and the other person(s)

4.  Each person feels a greater sense of worth  5.  Each  person  feels  more  connected  to  other  persons

and exhibits a greater motivation to connect with other  people  beyond  those  in  one’s  primary  relationships  (p. 2)

Collectively, these qualities are characteristic of mutually empathic,  growth-fostering relationships (Jordan & Dooley, 2000).

Jordan  and  Dooley  (2000)  described  the  experience  of  disconnection as simply the opposite of the five good things.  Consequently, in disconnection, people experience a general  decreased sense of energy. One feels unable to act construc- tively in many aspects of one’s life. Instead of a sense of clarity,  one experiences confusion regarding self and others. Finally,  a decreased sense of worth often prompts one to turn away  from relationships in general.

Depending  on  the  nature,  frequency,  and  the  relational  context  of  the  disconnections  a  person  experiences  with  significant  others  in  her  or  his  life,  and  within  the  larger  culture, these experiences can be accompanied by feelings of  shame, fear, frustration, humiliation, and self-blame. Jordan  (1997)  stated  that  “shame  is  most  importantly  a  felt  sense  of unworthiness to be in connection, a deep sense of unlov- ability,  with  the  ongoing  awareness  of  how  very  much  one

wants to connect with others” (p. 147). Disconnections that  cannot be transformed have the potential to lead to feelings  of condemned isolation.

Condemned Isolation

While experiencing a sense of condemned isolation, individu- als are at high risk of manifesting emotional and psychological  difficulties. In addition to condemned isolation resulting from  relational  disconnections,  power  differentials,  gender  role  socialization,  racism,  cultural  oppression,  health  disparities,  heterosexism, and other social injustices foster a sense of con- demned isolation among persons in marginalized and devalued  cultural groups. Miller and Stiver (1997) pointed out that these  chronic  experiences  of  disconnections  lead  not  only  to  con- demned isolation but also to the ongoing disempowerment of  many persons in oppressed groups in contemporary society.

The sense of disconnection, condemned isolation, and disem- powerment many marginalized people experience is exacerbated  when counselors fail to acknowledge the contextual factors and  social injustices that contribute to their stressors and problems  (Hartling et al., 2000; Miller et al., 1999; Walker, 1999, 2001).  As a psychological phenomenon, condemned isolation can re- sult from chronic relational and/or cultural disconnections that  promote the feeling of being “locked out of the possibility of  human connection” (Miller & Stiver, 1997, p. 72).

In this isolation experience, individuals carry a deep sense  of shame and the belief that they are defective as human beings.  Feelings  of  condemned  isolation  are  reinforced  when  indi- viduals from marginalized and devalued groups, who routinely  encounter the myth of meritocracy, end up primarily blaming  themselves for personal failures that are often linked to factors  in the broader cultural context (Hartling et al., 2000; Jordan,  1999; Miller & Stiver, 1997). Hiding or denying large parts of  their life experiences, and relating inauthentically with others in  an effort to reconnect in nonmutual relationships, often becomes  a strategy for surviving the emotional distress associated with  feelings of condemned isolation (Miller & Stiver, 1997). This  phenomenon represents what RCT theorists referred to as the  central relational paradox (Miller & Stiver, 1997).

The Central Relational Paradox

As  emphasized  throughout  this  article,  RCT  theorists  have  asserted  that  all individuals  have  yearnings  for  connection,  belonging, and social inclusion. Despite these yearnings, RCT  posits  that  people  commonly  demonstrate  a  paradox  in  the  way they address relational issues in their lives. This paradox  is enacted when, in the face of their yearning for connection,  which inevitably produces a heightened sense of vulnerability,  individuals use strategies that result in further disconnection  and  isolation.  Such  strategies  are  commonly  used  to  avoid  perceived or real risks of hurt, rejection, and other forms of  relational disconnection, social exclusion, and marginalization  (Miller & Stiver, 1997).

Although it is noted that all individuals yearn to connect  with  other  people  in  authentic,  mutually  empathic  ways,

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feelings of vulnerability, fear, shame, suspicion, and mistrust  make  movement  into  connection  difficult.  Understanding  how these relational dynamics are reinforced by social injus- tices and various forms of cultural oppression complements  the  culturally  competent  counselor’s  knowledge  of  such  issues. Counselors’ level of cultural competence is further  enhanced when they acquire the types of relational compe- tencies that enable them to effectively deal with interpersonal  and contextual dynamics that underlie the relational para- doxes that clients commonly experience in their lives. These  relational/cultural  competencies  are  necessary  to  acquire  when  counselors  strive  to  help  all  clients  (and  especially  clients from marginalized and devalued groups) move past  shame-based  and  mistrustful  interpersonal  impasses  and  disconnections  and  back  into  transformative  connections  characterized by new empathic and contextual possibilities  (Hartling et al., 2000; Jordan, 1997).

Challenges to Transforming Disconnections

The ability for people to realize new empathic possibilities  through transformative relational reconnections is hampered  by the escalating fearful times in which they live. The pres- ent war on terrorism that has been declared by governmental  officials  has  created  an  atmosphere  of  heightened  anxiety  and fear that is “counter-relational” because of a perceived  need by many persons to live in an increasing sense of “self- protective isolation” (Jordan, 2005, p. 1). Furthermore, from  a multicultural/social justice perspective, it is also noted that  many persons in marginalized and devalued groups are sub- jected to various forms of structural violence (as manifested  in  the  complex  problems  of  racism,  sexism,  heterosexism,  classism,  etc.)  that  perpetuate  additional  forms  of  fear  and  psychological  disconnections  with  others.  It  is  critical  that  counselors understand why and how individuals implement  self-protective strategies that enhance a sense of disconnection  in response to these societal conditions. It is equally important  that counselors become more knowledgeable of the ways that  such  disconnecting  strategies  paradoxically  represent  the  source of so much pain in many people’s lives.

When people acknowledge their relational fears, anxieties,  and concerns about their disconnections, they need others to  empathically resonate with their expressed vulnerabilities. Al- though such empathy is essential in helping clients learn new  and more effective ways to work through the central relational  paradox, it is particularly important that counselors promote the  sort of mutual empathy described earlier when working with  individuals who are chronically subjected to various forms of  social injustice and cultural oppression (Walker, 2003).

When using an RCT approach in multicultural situations,  one should be mindful that disconnections are an inevitable part  of all relationships, including the relationships counselors have  with culturally different clients (Jordan & Dooley, 2000). It is  also important for counselors to keep in mind that developing

new relational competencies involves working to stay in con- nection with others who are different from them, even when  practitioners are drawn to exercise strategies for disconnection  in multicultural counseling situations.

The  process  of  resisting  disconnecting  strategies,  by  moving into a creative place that is designed to enlarge one’s  capacity to realize mutual empathy with others, is essential for  developing relational resilience and necessary in becoming a  culturally competent counselor (Jordan, 1992, 1995, 2000).  This is so because developing relational resilience and working  through disconnections with clients from diverse groups and  backgrounds enhance the awareness, knowledge, and skills  counselors need to acquire in becoming culturally competent  practitioners (Sue, Arredondo, & McDavis, 1992).

Using  RCT  strategies  to  deal  with  the  disconnections  that commonly occur in multicultural counseling situations  can increase counselors’ propensity for culturally competent  professional  practice  in  other  specific  ways.  In  this  regard,  counselors  commonly  encounter  subtle  and  overt  forms  of  mistrust  from  culturally  different  clients  in  multicultural  counseling situations. Such mistrust is routinely manifested  when there is not much relational history, when the relation- ship is relatively new, or when significant cultural differences  exist between counselors and clients that may interfere with  the development of a more positive connection in the helping  endeavor (Comstock, Duffey, & St. George, 2002).

With  respect  to  the  aforementioned  complexities,  Day- Vines  et  al.  (2007)  emphasized  that  these  disconnections  can  either  be  prevented  or  transformed  if  counselors  feel  relationally prepared to “broach” (p. 402) the subject of dif- ference with their clients. In order to appropriately broach the  subject in the most effective and respectful way, Day-Vines et  al. emphasized that it is essential that counselors first under- stand their own and then their clients’ level of racial identity  development and second understand that it is the counselors’  responsibility  to  broach  the  subject.  Consistent  with  RCT  theorists, multicultural/social justice advocates emphasize that  culturally competent counselors understand the complexities  of broaching issues of difference with their clients and feel  prepared to hear the honest responses from their clients.

Although most counselors will work hard to establish trust in  the relational process in multicultural counseling situations, many  culturally different clients will inevitably adhere to distorted expec- tations of how others respond to them. According to RCT, these  expectations are often not irrational, unfounded, and unreasonable.  In many situations, such expectations are based on clients’ past  experiences with chronic and abusive disconnections with others,  various forms of cultural oppression and social injustices, internal- ized oppression, or any combination of these factors.

RCT  advocates  offer  a  number  of  suggestions  that  are  helpful in overcoming some of the mistrust that is predictably  manifested in multicultural counseling settings. One sugges- tion  involves  helping  marginalized  clients  recognize  where  mutual  engagement  is  possible  in  multicultural  counseling  situations, despite what individuals have been taught to expect

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by the larger culture. It is equally important for counselors who  are privileged and/or are members of the dominant group to  understand what they have been taught to expect from margin- alized members of society. These relational expectations are  what Miller and Stiver (1995) referred to as relational images,  which is discussed in detail in the next section.

Last, in addressing disconnections related to the central rela- tional paradox, we emphasize the importance for culturally compe- tent counselors to understand that both the counselor and the client  are mutually challenged to collectively work through the results  of historical mistrust that have been engendered between persons  in different racial/cultural groups. In attempting to address these  important issues, we encourage counselors to do the following:

1.  Acknowledge  to  culturally  different  clients  that  all  individuals experience a yearning to connect but that  feelings of fear, shame, suspicion, and mistrust some- times make movement into connection difficult.

2.  State how the disconnections that emerge from such  experiences are fueled by the broader societal/cultural  context in which all individuals are situated.

3.  Explain how the counseling process can address clients’  intrapsychic concerns as well as the contextual chal- lenges clients encounter that undermine their sense of  authenticity, mutuality, and connection with others.

Using these RCT strategies in multicultural counseling situa- tions can be useful in addressing obstacles to building mutuality  between the counselor and client that may occur because of the  perpetuation of negative relational and controlling images that  counselors and clients hold about themselves and others.

Relational and Controlling Images: Obstacles of Mutuality

According to Miller and Stiver (1995), relational images are  expressions  of  individuals’  expectations  and  fears  of  how  others  will  respond  to  them.  In  essence,  these  images  are  reflected in individuals’ expectations of the outcomes of their  relationships with others when they make personal strides to  establish meaningful and respectful connections with others.  If a person is repeatedly denied empathic possibilities with  other people in the contextual settings where she or he is situ- ated, the person’s expectations of relationships in general may  become  negative  and  distrustful.  For  example,  a  child  who  is  chronically  neglected  by  caregivers  may  come  to  expect  that she or he will not receive love, care, or attention in any  relationship  in  the  future.  Because  these  relational  images  are “fixed and difficult to alter” (Miller & Stiver, 1995, p. 3),  realizing empathic possibilities in other relationships becomes  quite  challenging;  thus,  altering  these  images  becomes  a  central challenge in the therapeutic process.

Consistent with multicultural/social justice theories, RCT  suggests  that  counselors  need  to  understand  that  “chronic  exposure to disaffirming stimuli” (Walker, 2005, p. 52), such

as negative race-, gender-, and class-based stereotypes, stimu- lates many people’s sense of self-doubt and ongoing feelings  of their unworthiness to be in a mutually empathic connection  with  others.  From  an  RCT  perspective,  internalized  racism  (as one example) interferes with a person’s ability to “name  and interpret” her or his “experience in self-affirming ways”  (Walker, 2005, p. 52), particularly in relation to members of  the dominant culture. As a result of this and other forms of  social injustice, RCT suggests that marginalized individuals  are  less  likely  to  seek  out  relationships,  such  as  counsel- ing  relationships,  that  have  the  potential  to  be  a  “growing  medium  for  healthy  psychological  development”  (Walker,  2005, p. 52).

From  an  RCT  perspective,  relational  and  multicultural  counseling competencies include one’s ability to increasingly  relate to others more authentically and empathically. In do- ing  so,  individuals  are  able  to  gain  a  clearer  understanding  of themselves, others, and the relational challenges they face  within the unique cultural contexts in which they are situated.  The process of addressing various relational challenges occurs  throughout  everyone’s  life  span.  From  a  multicultural  per- spective, such challenges often take place in environmental- cultural contexts that many marginalized persons experience  as  being  unjust,  oppressive,  and  violent. These  perceptions  are supported by RCT theorists and researchers who explain  how and why negative relational and controlling images that  are  fostered  in  a  nonrelational  world  that  is  dominated  by  separate-self ideology need to be constructively addressed in  counseling (Hartling, 2003; Hartling & Sparks, 2002).

Many  feminist  scholars  and  multicultural/social  justice  advocates, such as Peggy McIntosh (1988), bell hooks (1984),  Janie Ward (2000), Janet Helms (1992), and Patricia Hill Collins  (2000), have explored the previously stated and related issues in  greater detail. In her book Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, Hill Collins  (2000) wrote about the types of controlling images that many  people develop about African American women and the ways  in which these images have an adverse impact on Black women  in society. According to Hill Collins, the types of controlling  images that many persons formulate about Black women are  used “to make racism, sexism, poverty and other forms of social  injustices appear to be natural, normal and inevitable parts of  everyday life” (p. 69). The dynamic of “normalizing” these and  other social injustices is an important factor that contributes  to much of the resistance that continues to be directed at the  multicultural/social justice counseling movement and the source  of helplessness that is experienced by potential allies.

Jordan (2002) used an RCT perspective to explain how members  of the dominant culture promote negative relational and controlling  images by normalizing the process of systematic oppression.  This perspective is partly reflected in the following observations:

People at the margin are defined as “objects:” They are seen as be- ing at the margin because of some essential failure of character or  effort.  The myth of meritocracy and the myth of the level playing

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field support this distorted understanding of privilege. That is,  people who have not “made it” deserve the place they occupy.  . . . If you are from a marginalized group and are successful  in terms of the center’s definition, you are the exception to the  rule; if you are not successful, it proves you are the problem  and are inferior in some core way. In fact, people at the margin  are actively socialized to believe that they have failed. . . . The  group at the center makes the rules and names the situations  and conditions of privilege and disadvantage. The prevailing at- titude toward those who do not enjoy the privilege and power in  a given system is one of denigration. In mental health parlance  we pathologize the experiences of people at the margin. This is  obvious in blatant sexism, racism, or heterosexism, where broad  strokes of negative stereotypes are aimed at individuals with  various characteristics who are deemed inferior by the naming  group. (Jordan, 2002, p. 2)

Walker (1999) posited that in this process of marginaliza- tion,  “the  dominant  culture  distorts  images  of  self,  images  of  other,  and  images  of  relational  possibilities”  (p.  3).  For  members of the dominant culture, these controlling images  confirm  and  promote  the  experience  of  internalized  domi- nance, White supremacy, and presumed superiority (Walker,  2005).  As  a  result,  these  images  limit  our  individual  and  collective relational possibilities and our perceptions of (a)  who, how, and what we as individuals can be in the world and  (b)  how  and  with  whom  we  can  mutually  relate  to  persons  different from ourselves. Learning to expand and resist the  constricting nature of such relational and controlling images  represent additional challenges that can foster an increased  level  of  multicultural/social  justice  counseling  competence  when effectively addressed by counselors in the field.

RCT and Multicultural Counseling Within a Culture of Fear and Violence

The fourth force in counseling and psychology is emerging within  a culture that is increasingly traumatized and overwhelmed with  fear and conflict stemming from homeland and international vio- lence (Walker, 2002). As noted earlier, the fear and conflict that  are pervasive in the United States are also fueled by various forms  of structural violence that adversely affect the lives of millions of  persons from marginalized and devalued racial/cultural groups.  This includes, but is not limited to, the adverse impact people expe- rience when subjected to structural violence that accompanies the  various forms of racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ageism,  and ableism that continue to be perpetuated in this nation.

Shaw (as cited in Jordan, 2005) suggested that the fourth  force in counseling and psychology is emerging from what  is perhaps the “most anxious, frightened society in history”  (p. 1). Commenting on the nature of contemporary society in  this regard, Jordan (2005) suggested that

today we are witnessing the way the dominant-ruling group  fuels people’s fears about weapons of mass destruction, about

Iraq, about our personal safety in the face of anthrax, about  the dangers of gay marriage and gay families. . . . Terrorism,  a horrible disruptive process whose real aim is the creation  of destabilizing, unremitting fear, can send us not just to our  places of vulnerability, but to a defensive preoccupation with  being invulnerable, or safe in armed isolation. (pp. 1–2)

RCT  advocates  that  mental  health  professionals  need  to  explore how the exploitation of fear serves as a social divide,  operates  as  a  chronic  cultural  disconnection,  impedes  the  formation of communities of resistance, and could potentially  affect the future course of the fourth force in counseling and  psychology. In light of these fear-based challenges, Hartling  and Sparks (2002) emphasized that above all else, multicultural/ social  justice  advocates  should  strive  to  create  and  work  within diverse “communities of allies” (p. 11), where they can  most effectively resist and eradicate nonrelational oppressive  practices in counseling and in the broader culture.

In a paper titled “Strengthening Resilience in a Risky World:  It’s All About  Relationships,”  Hartling  (2003)  made  the  point  that counselors working from an RCT perspective demonstrate  relational, multicultural, and social justice competencies by be- ing attuned to disconnections on interpersonal and sociopolitical  levels. By being aware of the psychological impact of oppressive  cultural contexts, counselors can more effectively help clients  identify, establish, and expand their potential to realize growth- fostering relationships that promote resilience. This can be ac- complished by (a) being responsive to clients’ social identities  (i.e.,  race,  sexual  orientation,  gender  identity);  (b)  taking  a  relational-contextual view of clients’ mental health; and (c) assist- ing clients to source, name, navigate, and deconstruct obstacles to  mutuality that are often grounded in negative controlling images  and relationships. Finally, Hartling supported the efforts of many  multicultural/social justice advocates who have recommended  that  counselors  themselves  need  to  incorporate  intervention  strategies that help create communities of resistance in which  they can participate with their clients rather than working strictly  for their clients in individual counseling settings.

Conclusion This article discussed the many ways that RCT complements  and expands traditional models of counseling and development.  It also illuminated what counselors can do to address the ways  in which the broader culture promotes individualism, cultural  stratification,  fear,  and  ultimately  relational  disconnection.  Birrell and Freyd (2006) stressed that in order for mental health  professionals to continue to guide the future of the fourth force  in counseling and psychology, they need to increasingly

question  a  system  that  pathologizes  suffering  individuals  while refusing to look beyond, to the system that sees noth- ing wrong with objectifying others in the name of help, that  rewards  power  dynamics  that,  if  not  properly  recognized,  have the power to cause great harm (Walker, 2002), and that

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Comstock et al.

privileges individualism and rights over the bonds of human  communities. (p. 60)

Clearly, more work needs to be done to outline concrete  intervention strategies that counselors can use to promote the  sort of positive outcomes that RCT and multicultural/social  justice counseling advocates assert are vital in fostering the  health  and  well-being  of  individual  clients  and  the  broader  society  in  which  they  live.  However,  it  is  important  to  be  cognizant of the suggestions that many RCT and multicultural/ social justice advocates have already outlined to realize such  outcomes as well.

In this regard, Jordan (2002) indicated  that the best way  to strategically confront and challenge crippling stereotypes,  various  forms  of  internalized  dominance  and  oppression,  negative relational and controlling images, and other disem- powering forces in society is to unite with allies in building  diverse communities of resistance in different environmental  settings  (e.g.,  in  schools,  universities,  workplaces,  commu- nities). It is also important for RCT advocates to work more  closely with professional multicultural/social justice counsel- ing  organizations  such  as  the Association  for  Multicultural  Counseling and Development (AMCD), Counselors for Social  Justice, and the National Institute for Multicultural Compe- tence to achieve shared goals (Constantine, Hage, Kindaichi,  & Bryant, 2007; Sue et al., 1992).

In addition to developing and implementing intervention  strategies that are aimed at achieving the shared goals of RCT  and  the  multicultural/social  justice  movement,  counseling  professionals and students-in-training are encouraged to ex- plore the following questions. These questions were initially  presented by Comstock et al. (2002) and have been modified  to help counselors develop new relational and multicultural/ social justice counseling competencies.

1.  What are your strategies for disconnection, and how  are they exercised in relationships with others who are  culturally different from yourself?

2.  What  do  these  strategies  look  like  in  your  personal  and counseling relationships?

3.  What are some of your relational and controlling im- ages, and what experiences have helped to shape these  images?

4.  How have these images affected your capacity to cre- ate and maintain mutually empathic, growth-fostering  relationships with others who are culturally different  from yourself?

5.  What parts of your authentic experiences do you leave  out of relationships?

6.  In terms of authentic relationships, how do you name  and deconstruct obstacles to mutuality in your personal  and counseling relationships?

7.  What are some sociocultural influences that have af- fected your capacity/ability to develop and maintain  mutuality in your relationships?

8.  In  response  to  sociocultural  influences,  what  strate- gies have you used for survival? For resistance? For  managing shame?

9.  How does the sociocultural makeup of various rela- tional contexts affect your sense of safety regarding  authentic relating and mutual engagement?

10. What  relational  strengths  do  you  possess  that  complement the multicultural counseling competen- cies  that  were  developed  by AMCD  and  formally  endorsed by the American Counseling Association  (Sue et al., 1992)?

By authentically examining their responses to the aforemen- tioned  questions,  and  perhaps  by  sharing  and  exploring  their  responses with other allies, counselors and mental health pro- fessionals could all work more effectively as change agents and  multicultural/social justice advocates. We hope that the fourth  force will continue to transform the mental health professions by  continuing to examine “culture-bound notions of mind and person  as autonomous, self-contained, socially isolated, and disconnected  from history” (Birrell & Freyd, 2006, p. 60).

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