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Sociopolitical Factors and Diversity


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Sociopolitical Factors and Diversity
Angie Kauffman
Psych 535
September 7, 2013

Sociopolitical Factors and Diversity
As society continues to diversify, both psychologists and therapists need to develop awareness for each client’s perspective, beliefs, and values. An individual’s perspective may differ from the perspective of his or her therapist. Thus, psychologists and therapists alike must develop an understanding of cultural diversity. Pederson and Locke (1999) stress the need for training in the culture-centered approach to gain, “accurate assessment, meaningful understanding, and appropriate intervention” (p. 11). A variety of factors can affect the understanding of a culturally diverse individual, such as homelessness, sexual harassment, and racism. Through an understanding of those three sociopolitical factors, psychologists and therapists can see the impact of these factors on psychological development, behavior, and distress. As a result, practices may be put in place to help minimize potentially harmful consequences.
Approximately two and a half million people are homeless and 30-50% of this group consists of families with children (Pedersen & Locke, 1999). According to Pederson and Locke (1999), homeless is defined if an individual meets one of the following criteria:
• Inability to secure regular and stable housing
• Primary residence is a public or private shelter
• Occupying a place not designated for housing (p. 90).
The homeless population accounts for 50% African American, 35% White, 12% Hispanic, 2% Native American, and 1% Asian (Almanac of Policy Issues, 2000). Reasons for homelessness can include poverty, unemployment, and the lack of job skills (Pederson & Locke, 1999).
Homelessness creates the inability to develop a secure environment in which an individual may return to at the end of each day. Individuals will experience feelings such as rejection, confusion, or isolation (Vivero & Jenkins, 1999). These feelings are a sign of the culturally diverse individual not gaining acceptance within the dominant culture (Vivero & Jenkins, 1999). Thus, these individuals are forced to create a quality of life similar to the dominant culture (Miller, Griffore, Steinberg, Elam, Sproles, & Hakoyama, 2007). Meeting one’s basic needs is a difficult struggle each day (Miller, Griffore, Steinberg, Elam, Sproles, & Hakoyama, 2007). Vivero and Jenkins (1999) state, “Identifying oneself as culturally homeless does not mean lack of or confused self-identity, it means that one’s self-identity is that of not belonging to any one particular culture, being a perpetual outsider in the more negative sense of alterity” (p. 14). Ultimately, the diverse individual is forced with the decision to continue his or her struggle for acceptance to the dominant culture. Friendships are necessary for support through life’s daily struggles. Maslow created his well-known Hierarchy of Needs. Homeless individuals are stuck on the most bottom level of the basic psychological needs. During this time, individuals struggle for survival. Thus, individuals are willing to do what it takes to survive, while attempting to gain acceptance. Individuals could be willing to steal from others to eat. On the other hand, individuals could be actively seeking work. These culturally diverse individuals lack a support system, so he or she is more likely to do what is needed to gain acceptance into a group. Additionally, these individuals lack the necessary resources and must fight to obtain the resources to survive. Ultimately, homelessness presents a struggle for identity and acceptance among the culturally diverse. This struggle can lead to the development of depression within these individuals. Approximately 66% of the homeless have problems with drug abuse, alcohol abuse, or mental illness (Almanac of Policy Issues, 2000). Vivero and Jenkins (1999) suggest, “Culturally homeless clients may need help to give up the ideal of striving to fit in and come to terms with who they are” (p. 20). Therapists and psychologists should focus on the differences among these individuals and provide strategies for overcoming the obstacles (Vivero & Jenkins, 1999). The individual must feel secure in knowing that he or she is not the only homeless individual. Vivero and Jenkins (1999) reinforced, “these experiences are not unique to them, that there are other people with similar experiences, feelings, and difficulties” (p. 22). Ultimately, one hopes the individual will be motivated to obtain his or her psychological needs and move to the next level of safety.
Sexual Harassment Incidents of sexual harassment can be experienced at any place an individual may go. Buchanan and Fitzgerald (2008) define sexual harassment as, “unwanted sex-based behavior that is used as a condition of employment or creates a hostile work environment for targets” (p. 138). Examples of sexual harassment can include:
• Unwanted sexual attention
• Gender-based comments
• Sexual Coercion (Buchanan & Fitzgerald, 2008).
Buchanan and Fitzgerald (2008) reported at least half of all women in a particular workplace have experienced some form of unwanted sex-based behavior. Sexual harassment can influence an individual’s psychological well-being, physical health, and the individual’s job satisfaction (Buchanan & Fitzgerald, 2008).
When individuals are subjected to a form of sexual harassment, the particular individual will activate a coping mechanism. Five coping mechanisms are:
• Denial – Attempting to forget the incidence occurred.
• Avoidance
• Negotiation – Discussion about the dislike of the behavior or advances.
• Social Coping – Discussing the incident with trusted friends.
• Advocacy Seeking
The extent to which an individual feels such emotions as shame, guilt, anger, or fear depends upon the chosen mechanism (Buchanan & Fitzgerald, 2008). In extreme cases, the individual could harbor such feelings to the extreme she feels it necessary to attempt suicide. How the individual develops personality can be an indicator to the severity of the feelings. A recent study was conducted involving 91 African American women involved in a sexual harassment lawsuit against their employer (Buchanan & Fitzgerald, 2008). The women ranged in age from 21-66 (Buchanan & Fitzgerald, 2008). A majority of the women were employed with the company as sales associates (Buchanan & Fitzgerald, 2008). The study used surveys to measure the frequency of harassment, general job stress, organizational withdrawal, organizational tolerance, and life satisfaction (Buchanan & Fitzgerald, 2008). Because African American women are a minority status, these women are more likely to be susceptible to both sexual and racial harassment (Buchanan & Fitzgerald, 2008). Buchanan and Fitzgerald (2008) stated, “Repeated trauma, indicated by higher rates of SH, was associated with worsened occupational and psychological well-being (generalized job stress, supervisor and coworker satisfaction, work withdrawal, OTSH, PTS symptoms, and life satisfaction)” (p. 145). According to University of Minnesota (n.d.), “90 to 95% of sexually harassed women suffer from some debilitating stress reaction, including anxiety, depression, headaches, sleep disorders, weight loss or gain, nausea, lowered self-esteem and sexual dysfunction” (para. 3). Subsequently, psychologists and therapists should be aware of these symptoms to help prevent tragic consequences, such as suicide. Therapy should address with the specific sexual harassment incident and the strategy to deal with the incident.
As populations continue to grow and diversify, racism will continue to exist among individuals. Berliner and Hull (2013) define racism as, “the notion that one's race determines one's identity. It is the belief that one's convictions, values and character are determined not by the judgment of one's mind but by one's anatomy or blood” (para. 2). Some examples of racism are based upon an individual’s identity, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Many situational incidents of racism appear with the notion of one race is superior to another. Even though racism helps to promote diversity within society, racism also creates tension and has psychological effects on individuals.
The effects of racism can be seen in early childhood. Kenneth and Mamie Clark developed the doll test (Perez, 2013). Young pre-school black girls were to pick between two dolls – one white and the other black (Perez, 2013). The young black girls preferred to play with the white dolls (Perez, 2013). Perez (2013) illustrates another example in which the black Barbie was on sale, but the white Barbie was at the retail price. At such young ages, brains are still forming and children are impacted with these effects of racism. They are taught to devalue themselves and develop insecurities (Perez, 2013).
The method the individual decides to handle racism determines how much distress he or she may experience. San Francisco State University (2010) found, “denying or ignoring racial discrimination leads to greater psychological distress, including anxiety and depression, and lowers self-esteem” (para. 1). San Francisco State University (2010) conducted a study of everyday, subtle forms of racism that seem to be small. 199 Filipino-Americans were surveyed and 99% of these surveyed admitted to experiencing one incident of everyday racism at least once (San Francisco State University, 2010). Men experienced decreased distress and higher self esteem when reporting incidents to authorities or challenging the person instigating the situation (San Francisco State University, 2010). When these men confided in friends and family, psychological distress increased and a lower self esteem resulted (San Francisco State University, 2010). Therapists and psychologists should be aware of the effects of racism. Discussing the event will provide the proper suggestion on how to cope with the incidence of racism (San Francisco State University, 2010). Unfortunately, racism is a part of everyday life even in its most subtle form. Limiting one’s psychological distress can help prevent an individual from taking drastic measures, such as taking his or her life.
Homelessness, sexual harassment, and racism are important issues that will continue to affect individuals for the years to come. Psychologists and therapists should be knowledgeable in each of these areas. Knowledge will allow individuals to receive proper treatment to help the individual overcome distress and be successful in handling future incidents. The media and one’s parents play a role in how homelessness, sexual harassment, and racism are perceived. America is a melting pot, and everyone needs to come together and overcome these issues as one. Diversity will continue throughout the next century, and people need to develop awareness of these sociopolitical factors affecting culturally diverse individuals today.

Almanac of Policy Issues. (2000). Homelessness. Retrieved from
Berliner, M. S., & Hull, G. (2013). Diversity and Multiculturalism: The New Racism. Retrieved from
Buchanan, N. T., & Fitzgerald, L. F. (2008, April). Effects of racial and sexual harassment on work and the psychological well-being of African American women. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 13(2), 137-151. doi:
Miller, J. R., Griffore, R. J., Steinberg, C., Elam, P., Sproles, C., & Hakoyama, M. (2007, September). University and Community Partnerships: Working Together to Solve Problems Related to Homelessness. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, 99(3), 8-14. Retrieved from
Pedersen, P. B., & Locke, D. C. (1999). Cultural and Diversity Issues in Counseling. Greensboro, North Carolina: ERIC/CASS Publications.
Perez, A. (2013). How Racism Affects Children: The Doll Test. Retrieved from
San Francisco State University (2010, April 2). In the face of racism, distress depends on one's coping method. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 8, 2013, from¬ /releases/2010/04
University of Minnesota. (n.d.). Stop violence against women. Retrieved from
Vivero, Veronica N., & Jenkins, S. R. (1999, February). Existential hazards of the multicultural individual: Defining and understanding cultural homelessness. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 5(1), 6-26. doi:

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