Claiming your connections: a psychosocial group intervention study of black college women.

Author:Jones, Lani V.

The emergent psychosocial competence practice model in mental health represents an innovative strengths-based paradigm with potential relevance and applicability to black college women struggling with problems of psychological and social adjustment. Using an experimental design, with pre- and posttest measures, this study investigated the effectiveness of a culturally congruent group intervention program called "Claiming Your Connections," involving 76 undergraduate black college women, aimed at enhancing psychosocial competence (that is, locus of control, active coping, and stress reduction). Counseling implications and directions for the development of future culturally relevant practice interventions with this population are discussed.

KEY WORDS: black college women; group work; practice research; psychosocial competence


For many students, attending college involves a period of adjustment and adaptation that requires them to navigate developmental tasks, focusing on emotional adjustment, interpersonal relationships, and academic concerns (Adan & Felner, 1995; Solberg & Villarreal, 1997; Tomlinson-Clarke, 1998). Black college students at predominately white institutions typically encounter similar developmental tasks; they also may experience additional stressful events in their daily lives, such as racial discrimination and feelings of isolation caused by racial exclusion (Jay & D'Augelli, 1991; Jenkins, 2002). Black women in particular report feelings of alienation, questions of racial and gender identity, concern for interpersonal relationships, and stress (Brown, 2000). These distinct challenges add a layer of complexity to the psychological and social adjustment of black female college students. Unfortunately, traditional college mental health approaches have overlooked the psychosocial realities of black women in the United States (Rhodes & Johnson, 1997; Wingo, 2001). The field of college mental health is faced with the critical task of providing culturally congruent programs that meet the complex psychological needs of black women (Clairborn, LaFromboise, & Pomales, 1986; Shonfeld-Ringel, 2000).

The current literature suggests that to enhance mental health treatment outcomes for black college women, programs must be culturally congruent and include ancillary services that are more helpful than standard college counseling programs. The "Claiming Your Connections: Life Affirming Strategies for Women of Color" (CYC) culturally congruent group intervention serves this need (Jones, 2004). The culturally congruent nature of the intervention protocol is based on treatment techniques that both directly and indirectly address specific aspects of black women's psychosocial experiences in the United States (Belgrave, Chase-Vaughn, Gray, Addison, & Cherry, 2000; McNair, 1996; Miranda et al., 2003; Randall, 1994). For instance, cultural congruence in this study refers to the integration of cultural attitudes, beliefs, and values of black women into the intervention and the continuous promotion of skills, practices, and interactions throughout the group process to ensure that sessions are culturally responsive and competent.

The CYC group intervention includes the strengths perspective of psychosocial competence that calls attention to the positive resources (that is, skills, abilities, and knowledge) that help people cope with stressful events, as well as those that contribute to goal achievement and psychological well-being. This framework is offered as an alternative to traditional views of human functioning that identify psychological and social deficiencies as the cause for adjustment issues among black women in college. Although psychosocial competence is at the forefront, an Africentric paradigm provides a contextual framework for understanding and addressing the psychological and social adjustment difficulties of black college students. The Africentric paradigm centers on the uniqueness of the black experience in the United States and provides a framework for interpreting psychological and social functioning (Akbar, 1991; Asante, 1987; Baldwin, 1986; Nobles, 1986).Both the emergent psychosocial competence practice model and the Africentric paradigm may provide an ideal framework for understanding and interpreting the psychological functioning of black college students struggling with psychological and social adjustment.

The purpose of this investigation was to examine the efficacy of the CYC intervention for black college women who self-identified as having psychological and social adjustment issues in college and having difficulty managing stressors of daily life. This study was aimed at reducing perceived stress and enhancing the self and behavioral attribute dimensions of psychosocial competence (that is, locus of control and active coping) among black college women.


Black college women face personal, social, academic, and vocational concerns unique to them as students on predominately white campuses (McPhee, 1990). Much of the research on black students on predominately white campuses indicates that black students often encounter difficulty in social, academic, and psychological adjustment (Davis, 1995; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). Most often these difficulties are accompanied by the pressure of intense scrutiny, discriminatory standards of accountability, and the conflict of a comforting but demanding subculture that inevitably generates stress (Constantine, Wilton, & Caldwell, 2003). For example, Bell and Nkomo (2001) examined the educational experiences of black women and found that they often had their intelligence questioned and their ideas discounted while at predominately white colleges and universities. The study also showed that black women report believing that they were held to different standards than their white peers and that they had to outperform their white peers to receive the same grades. Sedlacek (1989) found that a key social adjustment for many black students on predominately white campuses is developing the ability to recognize and deal effectively with their oppressive realities as they occur. Fleming (1983) asserted that stressors associated with "perceived racism" act to depress feelings of competence in black college women; for instance, they fear asserting themselves in social situations, set lower goals, experience more anxiety during competition, and express more dissatisfaction with their performance. Students who experience high levels of psychological distress may pursue college mental health services as a viable means of addressing their concerns (for example, Bonner, 1997; Constantine & Arorash, 2001; Gloria, Hird, & Navarro, 2001). However, the literature indicates that black college students may avoid accessing formal mental health resources, such as college or university counseling centers (Anderson & Cranston-Gingers, 1991). Factors that often contribute to this avoidance of services for many black college students may include the following: a general mistrust of mental health professionals, cultural barriers, socioeconomic factors, and primary reliance on family and the religious community during times of distress (Lawson, Helper, Holladay, & Cuffel, 1994; Neighbors, 1997).

One consistently highlighted shortcoming is that counseling frameworks are culturally inappropriate or inadequate to meet the specific needs of black female college students (Atkinson, Morten, & Sue, 1998; Chiang, Hunter, & Yeh, 2004; Thorn & Sarata, 1998). Psychosocial competence (that is, locus of control, coping, self-efficacy, and trust) has garnered significant attention in college mental health as a construct central to improved models for understanding and enhancing the psychological well-being of black women (Jones, 2004; Tyler, Brome, & Williams, 1991; Zea & Jarama, 1995). Psychosocial competence has been identified as an individual's belief in his or her ability to control outcomes, belief in the world as a predictable place, and corresponding behavioral tendency to engage in active coping (Maluccio, Washitz, & Libassi, 1999; Tyler et al., 1991).

Tyler's Psychosocial Competence Model

Tyler (1978) has developed a model of psychosocial competence that builds on earlier definitions of this construct (see Sundberg, Snowden, & Reynolds, 1978). Tyler's (1978) psychosocial competence model focuses on an individual's self-attitudes and behavioral attributes of human functioning. These are personal characteristics that, in a coordinated fashion, underlie more or less competent functioning. Tyler (1978) further posited that patterns of psychosocial competence may differ depending on varying ecological characteristics (for example, a person's gender, race, culture, ethnicity). The variable locus of control of the self-attitudes dimension, combined with the behavioral attribute of active coping, constitutes the psychosocial competence construct used in this study.

Locus of control is a self-attitude attribute that can be conceptualized as the extent to which people believe they are causally important in their own lives. It is based on and measured in terms of the degree of expectancy that one's efforts to shape life's outcomes will be reinforced (Rotter, 1975).According to expectancy theory, people engage in the kinds of behaviors they believe are most likely to produce desired and highly valued outcomes (Rotter, 1975). The locus of control construct is assumed to be a continuous variable ranging from an internal to an external stance. According to Rotter's (1975) internal locus of control construct, this refers to the belief in personal control and responsibility for one's own life and a generalized expectancy that one's actions will be positively reinforced. An external locus of control refers to the belief that the responsibility for and control over one's life resides largely with fate, luck, chance, or powerful others and that, therefore, it...

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