Once clients decide to seek help, the profession has a responsibility to make sure that they are provided with culturally sensitive care. As such, another focus of my research has been to extend the professions’ understanding of counselors’ biases and stereotypes. Counselors just like the general public are brought up in a society where stereotypes about different groups are present and these perceptions need to be addressed. My longest line of research in this area has been examining gender stereotypes. Colleagues and I discovered that the societal stereotype of women and men often reflects an over-estimation of the differences between the sexes. For example, while the stereotypical image of a ‘emotional female’ and ‘stoic male’ may be implicit to the European-American definition of femininity and masculinity, we consistently found few significant sex differences in the observed emotional expression of women and men during discussions with an intimate partner or for female and male clients during actual therapy sessions. We also found that counselor trainees reported exaggerated sex differences in women’s and men’s willingness to talk about emotions in intimate relationships as well as in counseling sessions. In fact, across multiple samples, we found that counselor trainees tend to over-estimate sex differences in emotional expression 50-67% of the time. In all, this line of research has suggested that reliance on exaggerated sex-stereotypes of emotion can lead to counselors unintentionally reinforcing gender consistent emotional expression and thus limit, rather than expand, the range of emotional behavior available to their clients.
Recently, we have expanded this work on stereotyping to explore counselors’ beliefs about other stereotyped groups, in particular, gay men and individuals of color. For example, work colleagues and I have examined mental health stereotypes about gay men among counselor trainees. We found that counselor trainees were just as likely as college students to endorse exaggerated stereotypes of the mental health of gay men. We have also been one of the first researchers to apply aspects of social and cognitive psychology to the study of this issue by measuring reaction times to stereotype-consistent and stereotype-inconsistent stimuli in counselor and college student populations. The speed at which an individual processes a stimulus is thought to be faster if it is consistent with the individual’s underlying or implicit schema for the stimuli. These types of assessments may be better indicators of stereotypical assumptions, as they are harder to fake than self-reports. Based on this work, we have found that counselor trainees and college students hold negative implicit schemas of gay men and African Americans. We have also recently published an article examining the degree to which multicultural training can alter these underlying or implicit attitudes. This research has shown that current training efforts may influence self-reported or explicit attitudes but have little effect on implicit attitudes. As such, we are currently examining the effectiveness of a new intervention to better challenge these implicit beliefs. In all, these research topics are important for psychologists and educators wishing to understand how to end prejudice and increase respect for diversity.
Not only can societal stereotypes be problematic when held by others, but also individuals who self-endorse a societal stereotype may feel increased pressure to live up this internalized role. This pressure may lead to increased distress and loss of self-esteem. This experience for men has been termed gender role conflict (GRC). GRC results from socialized views how men should behave, and produces strain in a individual’s life when he does not or is not able to conform to the socialized gender role. Research colleagues and I have published in this area has focused on providing the field with a fuller understanding of the complex ways that gender role conflicts impact mental health. For example, I have shown links between men’s endorsement of gender stereotypical roles (e.g., men should be emotionally in control) and increased devaluing of themselves if they have an interpersonal or psychological problem they cannot solve on their own. In turn, we have found that social support acts as a mediator between male GRC and psychological distress, and contradicted the stereotype that men do not gain the same benefits from increased friendships and social support as women. A related goal in this line of research has been to advance clinicians’ understanding of how men of color, gay men, bisexual men, and transgendered individuals experience GRC. For example, much of the literature on counseling gay men has focused on their supposed violations of the assigned male gender role. However, we discovered that while gay men do experience the effects of GRC, these conflicts do not necessarily play a role on their relationship satisfaction. This work challenges the stereotypical presentation of gay male relationships and provides counselors working with gay men a healthier model for understanding their clients’ difficulties. In all, these efforts assist counselors in designing gender and culturally sensitive therapeutic interventions.