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Section 4
Distortions, Projection, Exclusion and Social Microcosm

Question 4 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed transference and countertransference as they relate to cross-cultural counseling. Regarding transference, we discussed the traditional analytical framework of the primary caretaker as used in traditional counseling experiences, and compared it to the more appropriate cultural framework that may be necessary in cross-cultural counseling experiences. Regarding countertransference, we discussed the importance of the therapist’s ability to recognize countertransference as well as the importance of admitting one’s own racist attitudes and ethnic stereotypes.

In this section, we will discuss topics that relate to multicultural group counseling. Obviously one of the components of effective group counseling is the creation of a social microcosm. Thus culturally diverse counseling groups are typically more reflective of today’s reality. I have found that for this reason alone, ethically the therapist may have a higher interest in forming culturally diverse groups. However, the success of the group will depend largely upon the leader’s facility in dealing with such diversity. Make sense?

In the rest of this section, we will discuss three important issues in multicultural group counseling. The three issues that we will discuss are, 1. Heterogeneous Versus Homogeneous Groups, 2. Projective Identification in Multicultural Groups, and 3. Racial/Cultural Identity Development in Groups. Have you started a multicultural group or are you considering starting one? Have you considered these issues and the ethical implications they may have on your group’s effectiveness?

Ethics - Three Important Issues in Multicultural Group Counseling

#1 Heterogeneous Versus Homogeneous Groups

The first issue to consider in multicultural group counseling is Heterogeneous Versus Homogeneous Groups. As you probably know, the key debate is that one type of group may be more productive than the other. For example, there is the belief that group members who are similar will behave more cohesively and productively, thus forming the basis for an argument in favor of Homogeneous groups. However, on the other hand, some believe that members who are different will produce the greatest amount of change in each other, and create support for the use of Heterogeneous groups.

I have found that these two attitudes oversimplify the problem, though. As such, heterogeneity and homogeneity may be considered in light of the group’s purpose and along different dimensions. According to Yalom, therapists forming groups should strive for heterogeneity in conflict areas and homogeneity in ego strength. Group members with a lot of disparity in their ability to handle conflict, obviously, may find it extremely difficult to achieve cohesiveness.

#2 Projective Identification
The second issue to consider in multicultural group counseling is Projective Identification in Multicultural Groups. Obviously in groups made up of members of different racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds, distortions, projections, and transferences among those members are likely to take the form of biases and stereotypes of certain groups. I have found that projective identifications are, in fact, more immediate and appear more quickly and strongly in multicultural groups because many of these projective identifications are based on physical appearance. If you as the therapist are comfortable dealing with issues of racial and cultural differences, the underlying dynamics of projective identification may be exposed.

In my experience, when working with a racially diverse group, it is generally appropriate for the leader of the group to facilitate a discussion of the group’s racial composition in the early stages. Surprised? While the group may at first resist dealing with such hot topics as race, the leader’s comfort and ease with these issues will often largely determine the comfort level of the group. Even if the group resists, the fact that you have externalized racial issues in such a manner will usually have communicated to the group that discussion of such issues will also be permitted in the future.

If this attitude seems difficult, Sciarra states it is helpful to keep in mind a fundamental principle of human interaction, which is, "If it’s mentionable, then it’s manageable and anything human is mentionable." In other words, conflicts based on race are conflicts based on an aspect of humanity, and your group members may manage that conflict by discussing the racial issues. Hence if conflictual issues in a group are not mentioned, they will usually be acted out in ways that are injurious to the group’s effectiveness.

#3 Racial and Cultural Identity Development in Groups
Finally, following Heterogeneous Versus Homogeneous Groups and Projective Identification in Multicultural Groups, the third issue to consider in multicultural group counseling is Racial and Cultural Identity Development in Groups. According to Helms, race itself is not always what determines the quality and effectiveness of a culturally diverse group. Instead, the quality and effectiveness may be more dependent on the racial identity development stages of the group members. I have found that in multicultural groups, one must think more in terms of majority versus minority when it comes to the establishment of norms.

Clearly if a counseling group is indeed a social microcosm, then reflected in the group will usually be the more influential majority and the less influential minority of the larger society. Racial and cultural identity development levels may also be responsible for subgroupings and coalitions. In my experience, coalitions and subgroups are one way that members deal with their anxiety and fear of being isolated and alone in the group. Does this agree with your experiences in leading multicultural counseling groups? I have found that coalitions tend to form around those sharing the same or near the same racial or cultural identity development level.

In addition, as you may have noticed, coalitions themselves will usually enjoy either majority or minority status. Thus the role of the leader in facilitating the development of racial identity within the group setting is crucial. Obviously, knowledge of such issues and a distinct feel for one’s own level of racial identity are essential for the therapist leading multicultural groups. I have found that a therapist leading the group is not immune to being seduced into joining one of the coalitions formed around racial identity.

Obviously, the ethical implication of the therapist joining one of the coalitions is that it can harm the group’s overall effectiveness. This is because the coalition that includes the leader tends to receive a higher status within the group and then exercises stronger influence within the group. To summarize, your group’s ability to promote the racial and cultural identity development of its members is largely dependent upon your facility, as a leader, in dealing with such controversial and provocative issues of social interaction.

In this section, we have discussed three important issues to consider in starting a multicultural group. The three important issues to consider were Heterogeneous Versus Homogeneous Groups, Projective Identification in Multicultural Groups, and Racial and Cultural Identity Development in Groups.
- Helms, J.E. (1990). Generalizing racial identity interaction theory to groups. In Black and White racial identity (pp. 187-204). Westport, CT: Greenwood.
Reviewed 2023

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
AhnAllen, J. M., Suyemoto, K. L., & Carter, A. S. (2006). Relationship between physical appearance, sense of belonging and exclusion, and racial/ethnic self-identification among multiracial Japanese European Americans. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 12(4), 673–686. 

Kivlighan, D. M., Jr., Gullo, S., Giordano, C., Di Blasi, M., Giannone, F., & Lo Coco, G. (2020). Group as a social microcosm: The reciprocal relationship between intersession intimate behaviors and in-session intimate behaviors. Journal of Counseling Psychology. Advance online publication. 

Levin, D. T., & Banaji, M. R. (2006). Distortions in the perceived lightness of faces: The role of race categories. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 135(4), 501–512. 

Lu, J. G., Liu, X. L., Liao, H., & Wang, L. (2020). Disentangling stereotypes from social reality: Astrological stereotypes and discrimination in China. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication.

Nightingale, A., Muldoon, O., & Quayle, M. (2021). The transnational patriot: Celebrating cultural diversity between nation-states while promoting hostility toward diversity within nation-states. European Psychologist, 26(1), 45–54.

Wright, G. O. (1954). Projection and displacement: a cross-cultural study of folk-tale aggression. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 49(4, Pt.1), 523–528. 

What are three important issues to consider in starting a multicultural group? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 5
Table of Contents