Yanhong Liu, Richard J. Hazler
International adoption provides U.S. families with parenting opportunities as well as with challenges accompanying adoptees’ post-adoption adjustment. The literature indicates differences in adjustment outcomes between Chinese and other international adoptees. Differences are found in behavioral adjustment, attachment formation and social-emotional development. Pre-adoption circumstances, including the political and cultural reasons for adoption, institutionalization experiences, and family stress, are relevant factors for adoptees’ post-adoption adjustment. A closer look at Chinese adoptees offers insights on components that may prohibit or contribute to post-adoption adjustment outcomes. Each component provides implications for professional counselors and the adoptive families they serve for nurturing the growth of international adoptees.
Keywords: international adoption, international adoptees, Chinese adoptees, post-adoption adjustment, professional counselors, adoptive families
International adoption, involving transferring children from a country of origin to a host country, creates a unique set of circumstances where adoptive parents and adopted children meet across lines of differences in biology, race, cultural heritage, nationality, socioeconomic status and more (Bartholet, 2006). World circumstances of war, poverty and lack of social welfare have created multiple scenarios in which countries now provide U.S. couples with additional parenting opportunities, while increasing infertility rates and other difficulties have reduced U.S. domestic adoption opportunities. These increases in international adoptions have both global significance and local importance for related countries, societies and communities (Hoshman, Gere, & Wong, 2006). Many advantages and challenges accompany the adoption process that counselors increasingly need to face in their schools, communities and private practices.
International adoption provides many opportunities for the countries involved, for the individuals wanting to adopt and for the children needing adoption; however, the post-adoption process is accompanied by multiple challenges for adoptive parents, professional counselors and human service agencies. A meta-analysis by Juffer and van IJzendoorn (2005) showed that internationally adopted children exhibit more behavioral problems and receive more mental health services than non-adopted children. Higher rates of attachment and social-emotional problems also were found among internationally adopted children when compared to non-adopted and domestically adopted peers. As such, this group needs to be considered an at-risk population deserving of specific attention (Barcons et al., 2011; van den Dries, Juffer, IJzendoorn, & Bakermans-Kranenburg, 2010).
Professional counseling journals currently provide little help to their readers about international adoptees and the resources needed to work effectively with them. Journal articles from psychology, social work, children and youth services, adoption, and sociology (e.g., Bruder, Dunst, Mogro-Wilson, & Tan, 2010; Cohen & Farnia, 2011; Pugliese, Cohen, Farnia, & Lojkasek, 2010) provide more information on these issues, and their findings can be utilized to meet the needs of professional counselors. This article will utilize the findings from related disciplines to demonstrate how professional counselors can more effectively support children and parents among this population.
International adoptees from China have been shown to have better adjustment outcomes in comparison with international adoptees as a whole, making them an important subgroup to examine (Cohen & Farnia, 2011; Tan, Camras, Deng, Zhang, & Lu, 2012; Tan & Marfo, 2006). China also is the largest country of origin of children for international adoption, accounting for over one fourth of the 242,602 U.S. international adoptions between 1999 and 2012 (U.S. Department of State, 2012). The post-adoption adjustment of international adoptees from China and the wealth of literature regarding them provide important sources of information on what influences an international adoption. Consequently, this article gives significant focus to Chinese adoptees and, where possible, compares that information to studies of adoptees from other countries. This article transforms the information into practical implications for counselors and parents with international adoptees and those who are considering an international adoption.
A Closer Look at Chinese Adoptees
Chinese adoptees deserve particular research attention because they show more positive post-adoption outcomes in areas such as personal-social development, problem-solving skills, behavioral adjustment, child–parent attachment patterns and academic achievement (Cohen & Farnia, 2010; Tan, Marfo, & Dedrick, 2010; Welsh & Viana, 2012). Cohen and Farnia (2010, 2011) found a common trend in that Chinese adoptees display rapid growth in overall development within the first 6 months after adoption and increased attachment 2 years later. Their preschool years contain fewer behavioral problems compared even to U.S. preschool-age non-adopted girls from the normative sample (Tan et al., 2012). Behaviors exhibited by Chinese adoptees are comparable to those of U.S. non-adopted peers, which means Chinese adoptees demonstrate no more internalizing (directed toward oneself), externalizing (directed toward the environment) or total problem behaviors than all children in a similar age range (Tan et al., 2012). Internalizing problems, externalizing problems and overall behavior problems are the three subscales of the Child Behavior Checklist that Tan et al. (2012) used to measure preschool-age Chinese girls’ behaviors.
A study from another Western culture compared the academic achievement of 77 Chinese adoptees with those of 77 Norwegian-born children of similar age and found no significant difference between the two samples (Dalen & Rygvold, 2006). These results differ from results of studies on international adoptees from other countries, in which these adoptees have been shown to exhibit lower academic performance than non-adoptees (e.g., Miller, Chan, Tirella, & Perrin, 2009; van IJzendoorn, Juffer, & Poelhuis, 2005). The combined results consistently indicated better post-adoption results for Chinese children. These results raise the following question: What is it about Chinese children and the process of their adoptions that might account for such differences?
Politics and Culture
More than 90% of Chinese adoptees are female infants, a fact influenced by China’s political and cultural characteristics. Adoption from China to the United States was greatly affected by China’s one-child policy, first implemented in 1979. The policy was designed to control population growth by only allowing one child per couple. This policy, along with China’s cultural emphasis on sons over daughters, has caused the abandonment of many infant girls (Johnson, 2004). This abandonment practice is one way for a family to have a second child but still be a one-child family. Most of the abandonments happen in rural areas of China where households without a son are likely to experience discrimination for potentially losing their family name in following generations (Chen & Li, 2009). Family name has great cultural importance throughout China, but rural populations are the most concerned about these issues, making female children most vulnerable and more likely to be put up for international adoption.
The one-child policy impacts more than the number and gender of adoptees. It is believed that this policy is an indirect factor in Chinese adoptees’ better physical and experiential conditions when adopted (Kreider & Cohen, 2009). The one-child policy, along with the cultural preference for male infants, indicates that healthy parents abandon the majority of Chinese children put up for adoption for poverty-related, political or cultural reasons, and not for health or disability reasons, as is often the case in other countries. Adoptees from Eastern Europe and Russia, for example, consistently experience pre-adoption adversities such as poverty and birth mothers’ alcohol and substance use during pregnancy (Kreider & Cohen, 2009; Welsh &Viana, 2012). The physical and emotional pre-adoption environments for non-Chinese children understandably make a significant difference for their potential to successfully develop as they meet the multiple demands of the adoption process.
Pre-Adoption Institutionalization Experience
Approximately 85% of international adoptees have some level of institutionalization experience in their birth countries (Gunnar, van Dulmen, & the International Adoption Project Team, 2007). Along with pre-adoption parental quality and biological factors, the institutionalization experiences were found to be a significant factor in predicting post-adoption behavioral problems (Hawk & McCall, 2010; van den Dries et al., 2010). The quality of institutional care received by adoptees varies from country to country. The psychological aspect of institutional care is better in China because of the family-like atmosphere within institutions (Neimetz, 2010; Shang, 2002). A case study by Neimetz (2010) found that the director, codirector and other caregivers were called father, mother and siblings, respectively. This family-style psychological emphasis demonstrates recognition of a quasi-family environment aimed at counterbalancing the effects of the large number of children in an institution, which does not seem to appear in many other countries.
Risk Factors for Adoptee Adjustment
The status of adoptees’ cognitive development at the time of adoption has been noted as predictive of attachment outcome and social-emotional reactivity. Recent literature has indicated a positive relationship between international adoptees’ post-adoption adjustment and their cognitive level when they arrived in the host country (Cohen & Farnia, 2010). Cohen and Farnia (2011) found that mental development index scores are significant predictors of Chinese adoptees’ later social-emotional activities and attachment outcomes, which in turn affect cognitive development. After 6 months, adoptees with higher mental development index scores were associated with better social-emotional adjustment and faster rates of forming attachment relationships with their adoptive mothers. Cohen and Farnia (2010) speculated that a lack of cognitive resources is associated with adoptees’ difficulty in post-adoption adjustment.
Behaviors at Time of Adoption
Positive relationships have been found between rejection behaviors at the time of adoption and both internalizing and externalizing behavioral problems of preschool-age and school-age Chinese adoptees (Tan & Marfo, 2006). Rejection behaviors are adoptees’ resistant behaviors toward adoptive parents during the initial period after adoption (Tan & Marfo, 2006). Tan and Marfo (2006) found that the behaviors present at the time of adoption were better predictors of later adjustment outcomes than adoptees’ age on arrival. Therefore, initial behaviors are more influential for adoption outcomes than the maturity that comes with age (Tan et al., 2010).
Tan et al. (2012) studied the post-adoption adjustment of 133 preschool-age Chinese adoptees and found that the level of stress in the adoptive family positively correlated with the child’s presenting behavioral problems. The higher the level of stress that a family encounters, the more behavioral problems are identified in the child. Maternal depression prior to adoption, as well as high parental expectations of problems (i.e., expecting a high rate of occurrence of the child’s behavioral problems), were significant predictors for post-adoption family stress (Viana & Welsh, 2010). Familial stress is a significant factor in child–parent relationships and a risk factor for overall child psychopathology (Deater-Deckard, 1998).
Parental Sensitivity and Authoritative Parenting
Parental sensitivity refers to parents’ ability to sense various cues that an infant exhibits and to respond to those cues consistently (Karl, 1995). Sensitive parenting provided by adoptive parents is related to better developmental growth following adoption (Palacios & Brodzinsky, 2010). Parents who are consistently sensitive in caregiving develop more secure attachment with adoptees, and changing from insensitive to sensitive caregiving results in a transition from insecure to secure attachment (Beijersbergen, Juffer, Bakermans-Kranenburg, & van IJzendoorn, 2012).
Parental sensitivity in the literature refers generally to parents’ responsiveness to infants, but the concept of parenting styles takes on greater significance when it concerns young children. Baumrind (1978) proposed three primary parenting approaches: authoritative parenting, authoritarian parenting and permissive parenting. Authoritative parenting was highlighted positively for its emphasis on parents’ setting up reasonably high expectations while showing support for children’s interests. Tan et al. (2012) studied the role of authoritative parenting in adoptive families with Chinese children and found that authoritative parenting was associated with fewer behavioral problems in Chinese adoptees in the study.
A closer look at Chinese adoptees’ pre-adoption circumstances and post-adoption protective factors offers insights about the critical components that may prohibit or contribute to positive adjustment outcomes. Political and cultural influences, institutionalization experiences prior to adoption, adoptees’ cognitive development level, and parents’ sensitive care and authoritative parenting in post-adoption all appear to be important factors in post-adoption adjustment. Each component provides implications for professional counselors and the adoptive families they serve in facilitating adoptees’ development.
Implications for Parents and Counselors
Post-adoption protective factors such as parental sensitivity and appropriate parenting approaches can mitigate adoptees’ adverse experiences and promote resilience (Barcons et al., 2011; Scroggs & Heitfield, 2001; van den Dries et al., 2010). The impact of pre-adoption conditions diminishes as the inﬂuence of the adoptive family becomes more salient (Gagnon-Oosterwaal et al., 2012). Studies showing significantly better results for Chinese adoptees’ adjustment provide insights related to key issues deserving attention from professional counselors and their parent clients. Examining pre-adoption conditions and experiences of international adoptees can be a challenging issue due to the distance from countries of origin and confidential nature of the information.
Awareness of Gender Differences and Health Status
The availability of more female than male infants for adoption, created by China’s one-child policy and cultural emphasis on males over females, is related to a healthier status of most adopted Chinese children (Kreider & Cohen, 2009). These gender and health differences provide insights into caregiving by adoptive parents and the counseling services offered to adoptive families. Designing and implementing preventative and intervening approaches should be carefully examined and adapted based on considerations of male versus female adoptees, and of healthy children versus children with special needs.
Implications for parents. Parents need to understand the context of countries from which they wish to adopt a child. Families differ in their reasons for adoption, the countries they choose from which to adopt and characteristics of the child whom they wish to adopt. These differences make it important for parents to conduct a self-analysis and rationalize the adoption choice by specifying characteristics of an adopted child such as gender, age, race and health conditions prior to the international adoption process (Gunnar, Bruce, & Grotevant, 2000). Becoming familiar with the context of countries of origin facilitates the family’s matching process with a potential child. For example, parents may choose to adopt from a country with more female infants on the waiting list, such as China, if they prefer adopting a female child and have no specific restrictions on other characteristics.
Parents also need to be aware of potential relationships between abandonment and the gender or health of the child so as to provide appropriate post-adoption care. Obtaining pre-adoption information about the child and the country of origin is an important step (Gunnar et al., 2000). Additionally, adoptive parents should understand that health and medical information, including family and prenatal history, is probably more comprehensive for a child from some countries than others. Families may follow up with the adoption agency by making specific requests for information that is more detailed than the standard information provided (Bledsoe & Johnston, 2004).
Implications for counselors. When considering the gender and health of the adoptee, two main types of services are suggested for professional counselors working with internationally adoptive parents and adopted children—information interpretation (Gunnar et al., 2000) and pre- and post-adoption counseling services (Welsh, Viana, Petrill, & Mathias, 2007). The connection between the adoption process and the individual characteristics of the child to each country’s policy and culture make it necessary for counselors to take into consideration the context of the country of origin and to help families interpret adoption-related information (Gunnar et al., 2000). Quality interpretation increases the likelihood of the child’s positive post-adoption development. At the same time, the interpretation of information also has the potential to prevent a child from being adopted due to possible physical and mental health concerns of the child, expenses involved, and additional requirements about parents’ age, income or sexual orientation regulated by specific countries of origin (Gunnar et al., 2000).
Counselors may utilize pre-adoption information (e.g., health and behavioral information, diagnosis) in designing interventions for adopted children. Most counselors do not receive professional training in adoption or working with adoptive families and children, so establishing a professional network with adoption agencies, social workers and psychologists becomes essential. This network will provide more accurate information and ensure necessary referrals, access to available medical and health data, appropriate consultation, and professional collaboration that will best serve adoptees and families.
Recognizing Adoption-Point Behaviors
Tan et al. (2010) reported in a longitudinal study of preschool-age Chinese adoptees that behaviors exhibited at the time of adoption predict adjustment outcomes regardless of the age at adoption. Risk indicators were identified as refusal/avoidance and crying/clinging behaviors, and more internalizing and externalizing behavioral problems were found in children exhibiting more physical risk indicators at the time of adoption (Tan et al., 2012).
Implications for parents. International adoptive parents should be aware of the behaviors exhibited at the time of adoption by adoptees, which can be particularly helpful for recognizing potential adjustment issues. To deal with noncompliance and clinging related to problem behaviors and social-emotional learning, it is suggested that parents provide timely comfort and be attuned to the child’s needs (Brennan, 2013). Parents also are encouraged to recognize changes from the environment of the adoptee’s origin to a U.S. environment and consider preparing resources to help with children’s transitions. These can include music or stories in languages of birth countries along with toys and other sources of origin environment comfort.
Implications for counselors. Professional consultation with adoption agencies can provide the basis for understanding specific behaviors that the child presents and how the behaviors can affect development. Some behaviors displayed by an adoptee may be related to his or her developmental stage, and frequently avoidance and clinging behaviors are identified as major symptoms of separation anxiety disorder in children (Ehrenreich, Santucci, & Weiner, 2009). Counselors may work with parents to track the frequency of the behaviors during the initial period after adoption. Appropriate interventions can then be designed and implemented according to the presentation of behaviors and/or specific diagnosis made by qualified professionals.
Facilitating Secure Attachment Development
Understanding the mutually influential factors of social-emotional reactivity and attachment security of adopted children are of practical significance (Cohen & Farnia, 2010). According to attachment theory, children with secure attachment are more likely to develop strong internal working models with salient self-efficacy, enabling them to be empathic and more capable of maintaining relationships, whereas children with insecure attachment may develop weak internal working models that lack social competency in relationships (Bowlby, 1969). Internationally adopted children experience a variety of transitions in culture, language and living environment, which present as separation and loss, adding difficulty to the development of attachment to new caregivers (Bowlby, 1969).
Implications for parents. Parental sensitivity, or providing appropriate, timely and consistent responses, is a major contributor to secure child–parent attachment. It is a protective factor for international adoptees and can counteract otherwise problematic pre-adoption risk factors. Parents can increase their sensitivity by utilizing a form of mind-mindedness as an effective strategy for helping infants form secure attachments (Meins, Fernyhough, Fradley, & Tuckey, 2001). The technique involves naming children’s feelings, wishes, intentions and thoughts in situationally appropriate ways. The act of naming encourages active recognition of the need to respond to the child and the time to do so, thereby building a pattern of productive, sensitive, parental behaviors.
Implications for counselors. Counselors may emphasize adoptee–parent relationships in which trust is a fundamental element (Barcons et al., 2011; Tan & Camras, 2011). Parent training and psychoeducation based on individual family needs can help establish the necessary parental desire and skills required. Trust-Based Relational Intervention is one sample of a program developed for adoptive families of children with social-emotional needs (Purvis, Cross, & Pennings, 2009). This program emphasizes the following two main principles in developing a family-based program: (a) awareness (i.e., understanding adoptees’ responses and feelings) and (b) engagement (i.e., interacting with adoptees in a way that makes them feel safe). Modeling eye contact and imitating the child’s body position are recommended for working with internationally adopted children for whom extreme changes in culture, environment and other factors can make developing trust more difficult. Counselors should be cautious when using these strategies before getting to know the child and parents in-depth. Active eye contact and body gestures may intimidate children due to cultural reasons or previous traumatic experiences (Becker-Weidman, 2006).
Coping With Family Stress
Numerous studies have demonstrated a positive correlation between family stress and child psychopathology (Grant, Compas, Thurm, McMahon, & Gipson, 2004; Tan et al., 2012), and have shown that a significant sign of parental stress is maternal depression prior to adoption (Viana & Welsh, 2010). Parents must consider the parenting role differences in balancing family stress because parenting is not just the responsibility of a single parent.
Implications for parents. Parents must evaluate the impact of family stress that can inhibit family function, thereby increasing children’s behavioral problems, and the family’s ability to deal with those problems. In two-parent households, parents are encouraged to participate in a parenting process in which one parent provides more emotional support to children by encouraging them to be independent and to explore unknown things (i.e., proactive approach), while the other provides emotional support through sensitive caring and responding to the child’s distress (i.e., reactive approach; Grossmann, Grossmann, Winter, & Zimmermann, 2002). Adoptive parents must consider a self-check on overall mental health as individuals, as a couple and as a family. Seeking support from a pre-adoptive preparation program focusing on evaluating self-wellness and promoting family resilience is an extremely valuable step (Viana & Welsh, 2010).
Implications for counselors. Meeting the needs of adoptive families often requires implementing techniques to help recognize and deal with the sources of family stress. Parents must have an understanding of the family stress issues before they can effectively move on to developing and implementing interventions for adoptees’ behavioral problems, which can be exacerbated or even created by the stress. Counseling services for parental depression, anxiety, and other relevant feelings and symptoms are critical (Viana & Welsh, 2010).
Conflict within a couple’s relationship is a key factor that predicts family stress because low-conflict couples are positively associated with satisfying parent–child interactions (Krishnakumar & Buehler, 2000). A variety of psychoeducational programs focus specifically on improving couple relationships for new parents (Halford & Petch, 2010). Counselors must consider the importance of parents’ focusing on conflict management and pre-parental anxieties of internationally adopting prior to the child’s arrival.
Cultivating Authoritative Parenting
Parenting and attachment are two parallel behavioral systems that facilitate effective caregiving and attachment relationships in adopted children (Roberson, 2006). Results of hierarchical multiple regression analyses by Kriebel and Wentzel (2011) indicated that adoptees’ cumulative risk from pre-adoption circumstances is a negative predictor for later adaptive behaviors, whereas authoritative parenting is a positive predictor of children’s adaptability. Authoritative parenting also was found to be associated with fewer behavioral problems in Chinese adoptees, whereas authoritarian and permissive parenting styles were correlated with more behavioral problems exhibited by the children (Tan et al., 2012).
Implications for parents. Cultivating authoritative parenting refers to promoting parents’ supportive role accompanied by consistent rather than harsh discipline. Parents with an authoritative parenting style tend to show warmth, affection and responsiveness and support children’s interests, but they also set up reasonably high demands and expectations for children (Baumrind, 1978). Inconsistent, overly harsh or emotionally vacant parenting has deleterious effects on children’s development. A lack of parental control or consistency in discipline is associated with greater behavioral problems at all child developmental stages.
The concept of parenting styles is the same in all cultures, but its application may vary by race, culture or socioeconomic status. For example, Kisilevsky et al. (1998) maintained that parenting methods of Chinese parents differ substantially from those of U.S. parents, so adopted children from China experience different parenting before and after they are adopted. Parents with internationally adopted children are encouraged to take all social and cultural variables of parenting into consideration (Kotchick & Forehand, 2002), while using an authoritative parenting style as the principal guideline.
Implications for counselors. Psychoeducational programs can be intervention strategies for counselors to better serve adoptive families’ parenting needs. Programs may include a miniature of Baumrind’s (1978) work with emphasis on how current parent themes align with the parenting typologies (i.e., authoritative, authoritarian and permissive). Counselors also may consider providing parenting examples; specifically, as suggested by Morris, Cui, and Steinberg (2013), they may provide examples related to intercultural parenting. Group counseling is another option that counselors can consider for families. Parental networks of families with children adopted from the same country of origin were found to be an effective intervention for post-adoption adjustment of families (Welsh et al., 2007), as international adoptive parents tend to listen to and seek help from informal networks whose participants have experienced similar challenges. Focus can be on feedback or experiences that families can gain from each other, while lessening the facilitating role of the counselor.
A close review of the unique international circumstances related to adoption from China draws attention to risk and protective factors of post-adoption adjustment. Parents of all international adoptees and counselors working with adopted children and adoptive families may want to take the multicultural characteristics of each child into consideration. There are vast differences within international adoptees as a group. Children’s health, attachment and adjustment patterns vary based on their countries of birth, and each individual differs from others in the post-adoption adjustment process due to personal reasons other than cultural factors.
Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure
The authors reported no conflict of
interest or funding contributions for
the development of this manuscript.
Barcons, N., Abrines, N., Brun, C., Sartini, C., Fumadó, V., & Marre, D. (2011). Social relationships in children from intercountry adoption. Children and Youth Services Review, 34, 955–961. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2012.01.028.
Bartholet, E. (2006). International adoption. In L. Askeland (Ed.), Children and youth in adoption, orphanages, and foster care: A historical handbook and guide (pp. 63–78). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Baumrind, D. (1978). Parental disciplinary patterns and social competence in children. Youth & Society, 9, 239–276. doi:10.1177/0044118X7800900302
Becker-Weidman, A. (2006). Treatment for children with trauma-attachment disorders: Dyadic developmental psychotherapy. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 23, 147–171. doi:10.1007/s10560-005-0039-0
Beijersbergen, M. D., Juffer, F., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J., & van IJzendoorn, M. H. (2012). Remaining or becoming secure: Parental sensitive support predicts attachment continuity from infancy to adolescence in a longitudinal adoption study. Developmental Psychology, 48, 1277–1282. doi:10.1037/a0027442
Bledsoe, J. M., & Johnston, B. D. (2004). Preparing families for international adoption. Pediatrics in Review, 25, 242–249.
Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss, Volume. I: Attachment. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Brennan, C. (2013). Challenging behaviors in infant and toddler non-parental care: An exploration of caregiver beliefs and response strategies (Doctoral dissertation, University of Washington). Retrieved from https://digital.lib.washington.edu/researchworks/bitstream/handle/1773/23615/Brennan_washington_0250E_11914.pdf?sequence=1
Bruder, M. B., Dunst, C. J., Mogro-Wilson, C., & Tan, T. X. (2010). Continuity of parental behavioral ratings of children adopted from China and parenting competence, confidence and enjoyment. Adoption and Fostering, 34(4), 3–16. doi:10.1177/030857591003400402
Chen, Y., & Li, H. (2009). Mother’s education and child health: Is there a nurturing effect? Journal of Health Economics, 28, 413–426. doi:10.1016/j.jhealeco.2008.10.005
Cohen, N. J., & Farnia, F. (2010). Social-emotional adjustment and attachment in children adopted from China: Processes and predictors of change. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 35, 66–67. doi:10.1177/0165025410371602
Cohen, N. J., & Farnia, F. (2011). Children adopted from China: Attachment security two years later. Children and Youth Services Review, 33, 2342–2346. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2011.08.006
Dalen, M., & Rygvold, A. L. (2006). Educational achievement in adopted children from China. Adoption Quarterly, 9(4), 45–58. doi:10.1300/J145v09n04_03
Deater-Deckard, K. (1998). Parenting stress and child adjustment: Some old hypotheses and new questions. Clinical Psychological Science and Practice, 5, 314–332. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2850.1998.tb00152.x
Ehrenreich, J. T., Santucci, L. C., & Weiner, C. L. (2009). Trastorno de ansiedad por separación en jóvenes: fenomenología, evaluación y tratamiento [Separation anxiety disorder in youth: Phenomenology, assessment, and treatment]. Psicol Conductual, 16, 389–412.
Gagnon-Oosterwaal, N., Cossette, L., Smolla, N., Pomerleau, A. Malcuit, G., Chicoine, J. F., . . . Séguin, R. (2012). Pre-adoption adversity, maternal stress, and behavior problems at school-age in international adoptees. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 33, 236–242. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2012.04.002.
Grant, K. E., Compas, B. E., Thurm, A. E., McMahon, S. D., & Gipson, P. Y. (2004). Stressors and child and adolescent psychopathology: Measurement issues and prospective effects. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 33, 412–425. doi:10.1207/s15374424jccp3302_23
Grossmann, K. E., Grossmann, K., Winter, M., & Zimmermann, P. (2002). Attachment relationships and appraisal of partnership: From early experience of sensitive support to later relationship representation. In L. Pulkkinen & A. Caspi (Eds.), Paths to successful development (pp. 73–105). Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
Gunnar, M. R., Bruce, J., & Grotevant, H. D. (2000). International adoption of institutionally reared children: Research and policy. Development and Psychopathology, 12, 677–693.
Gunnar, M. R., van Dulmen, M. H. M., & the International Adoption Project Team. (2007). Behavior problems in postinstitutionalized internationally adopted children. Development and Psychopathology, 1, 129–148. doi:10.1017/S0954579407070071
Halford, W. K., & Petch, J. (2010). Couple psychoeducation for new parents: Observed and potential effects on parenting. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 13, 164–180. doi:10.1007/s10567-010-0066-z
Hawk, B., & McCall, R. B. (2010). CBCL behavior problems of post-institutionalized international adoptees. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 13, 199–211. doi:10.1007/s10567-010-0068-x
Hoshmand, L. T., Gere, S., & Wong, Y.-S. (2006). International adoption and the case of China: Implications of policy, theory, and research for psychoeducation and counseling. Asian Journal of Counselling, 13, 5–50.
Johnson, K. A. (2004). Wanting a daughter, needing a son: Abandonment, adoption, and orphanage care in China. St. Paul, MN: Yeong & Yeong Book.
Juffer, F., & van IJzendoorn, H. M. (2005). Behavior problems and mental health referrals of international adoptees: A meta-analysis. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 20, 2501–2515. doi:10.1001/jama.293.20.2501
Karl, D. (1995). Maternal responsiveness of socially high-risk mothers to the elicitation cues of their 7-month-old infants. Journal of Pediatric Nursing, 10, 254–263. doi:10.1016/S0882-5963(05)80022-3
Kisilevsky, B. S., Hains, S. M. J., Lee, K., Muir, D. W., Xu, F., Fu, G., …Yang, R. L. (1998). The still-face effect in Chinese and Canadian 3- to 6-month-old infants. Developmental Psychology, 34, 629–639.
Kotchick, B. A., & Forehand, R. (2002). Putting parenting in perspective: A discussion of the contextual factors that shape parenting practices. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 11, 255–269.
Kreider, R. M., & Cohen, P. N. (2009). Disability among internationally adopted children in the United States. Pediatrics, 124, 1311–1318. doi:10.1542/peds.2008-3206
Kriebel, D. K., & Wentzel, K. (2011). Parenting as a moderator of cumulative risk for behavioral competence in adopted children. Adoption Quarterly, 14, 37–60. doi:10.1080/10926755.2011.557945
Krishnakumar, A., & Buehler, C. (2000). Interparental conﬂict and parenting behaviors: A meta-analytic review. Family Relations, 49, 25–44.
Meins, E., Fernyhough, C., Fradley, E., & Tuckey, M. (2001). Rethinking maternal sensitivity: Mothers’ comments on infants’ mental processes predict security of attachment at 12 months. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 42, 637–648.
Miller, L., Chan, W., Tirella, L., & Perrin, E. (2009). Outcomes of children adopted from Eastern Europe.International Journal of Behavioral Development, 33, 289–298. doi:10.1177/0165025408098026
Morris, A. S., Cui, L., & Steinberg, L. (2013). Parenting research and themes: What we have learned and where to go next. In R. E. Larzelere, A. S. Morris, & A. W. Harrist (Eds.), Authoritative parenting: Synthesizing nurturance and discipline for optimal child development (pp. 35–58). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Neimetz, C. (2011). Navigating family roles within an institutional framework: An exploratory study in one private Chinese orphanage. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 20, 585–595. doi:10.1007/s10826-010-9431-2
Palacios, J., & Brodzinsky, D. (2010). Review: Adoption research: Trends, topics, outcomes. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 34, 270–284. doi:10.1177/0165025410362837
Pugliese, M., Cohen, N. J., Farnia, F., & Lojkasek, M. (2010). The emerging attachment relationship between adopted Chinese infants and their mothers. Children and Youth Services Review, 32, 1719–1728.
Purvis, K. B., Cross, D. R., & Pennings, J. S. (2009). Trust-Based relational intervention™: Interactive principles for adopted children with special social-emotional needs. Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development, 48, 3–22. doi:10.1002/j.2161-1939.2009.tb00064.x
Roberson, K. C. (2006). Attachment and caregiving behavioral systems in intercountry adoption: A literature review. Children and Youth Services Review, 28, 727–740. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2005.07.008
Scroggs, P. H., & Heitfield, H. (2001). International adopters and their children: Birth culture ties. Gender Issues, 19, 3–30.
Shang, X. (2002). Looking for a better way to care for children: Cooperation between the state and civil society in China. Social Service Review, 76, 203–228. doi:10.1086/339671
Tan, T. X., & Camras, L. A. (2011). Social skills of adopted Chinese girls at home and in school: Parent and teacher ratings. Children and Youth Services Review, 33, 1813–1821. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2011.05.006
Tan, T. X., Camras, L. A., Deng, H., Zhang, M., & Lu, Z. (2012). Family stress, parenting styles, and behavioral adjustment in preschool-age adopted Chinese girls. Early Children Research Quarterly, 27, 128–136. doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2011.04.002
Tan, T. X., & Marfo, K. (2006). Parental ratings of behavioral adjustment in two samples of adopted Chinese girls: Age-related versus socio-emotional correlates and predictors. Applied Developmental Psychology, 27, 14–30. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2005.12.004
Tan, T. X., Marfo, K., & Dedrick, R. F. (2010). Early developmental and psychosocial risks and longitudinal behavioral adjustment outcomes for preschool-age girls adopted from China. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 31, 306–314. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2010.04.002
U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs. (2012). Intercountry adoption statistics. Retrieved from
van den Dries, L., Juffer, F., van IJzendoorn, M. H., & Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J. (2010). Infants’ physical and cognitive development after international adoption from foster care or institutions in China. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 31, 144–150. doi:10.1097/DBP.0b013e3181cdaa3a
van IJzendoorn, M. H., Juffer, F., & Poelhuis, C. W. K. (2005). Adoption and cognitive development: A meta-analytic comparison of adopted and nonadopted children’s IQ and school performance. Psychological Bulletin, 131, 301–316. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.131.2.301
Viana, A. G., & Welsh, J. A. (2010). Correlates and predictors of parenting stress among internationally adopting mothers: A longitudinal investigation. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 34, 363–373. doi:10.1177/0165025409339403
Welsh, J. A., & Viana, A. G. (2012). Developmental outcomes of internationally adopted children. Adoption Quarterly, 15, 241–264. doi:10.1080/10926755.2012.731029
Welsh, J. A., Viana, A. G., Petrill, S. A., & Mathias, M. D. (2007). Interventions for internationally adopted children and families: A review of the literature. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 24, 285–311.
Yahnong Liu, NCC, is a doctoral student at the Pennsylvania State University. Richard J. Hazler, NCC, is a Professor and the Program Coordinator of Counselor Education at the Pennsylvania State University. Correspondence may be addressed to Yahnong Liu, 317 Cedar Building, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, email@example.com.
Stephen V. Flynn, Linda L. Black
The quality of the therapeutic relationship and the personal characteristics of professional counselors are key determinants of positive counseling outcomes and decision making, and they are believed to be influenced by conscious and unconscious processes. Beliefs about the unconscious nature of altruism and self-interest among 25 mental health professionals were examined through a paradigmatic narrative analysis. Data from 19 semi-structured individual interviews, one focus group, 19 artifacts and participant member checks were subjected to a secondary qualitative analysis. The results of the analysis generated three salient archetypes representative of the altruism–self-interest dynamic: exocentric altruist, endocentric altruist, and psychological egoist.
Keywords: professional counselors, altruism, self-interest, archetype, qualitative, paradigmatic narrative analysis
The constructs altruism and self-interest have long been described in dichotomous terms and as the sole motivators of human behavior (Holmes, Miller, & Lerner, 2002; Simpson, Irwin, & Lawrence, 2006). In 1851, Comte defined the term altruism as “self-sacrifice for the benefit of others” (1875/2001, p. 565). More than a century later, Sober (1993) defined self-interest as “the sole fixation on gaining pleasure and avoiding pain.” Because these two constructs typically have been associated with individuals’ actions and viewed through a polarized lens, there is a dearth of research examining the unified and unconscious nature of both altruism and self-interest (Bishop, 2000). The heretofore dichotomous and superficial understanding of these constructs has enabled individuals to maintain an inaccurate view of altruistic and self-interest oriented behaviors (Flynn & Black, 2011; Holmes, Miller, & Lerner, 2002), resulting in a value-based perspective that perpetuates under-informed over-generalizations of the phenomenon (e.g., people who give to others are “good” and those who take for themselves are “bad”).
Professional literature presents mixed messages regarding altruism and self-interest. To date, the concept of self-interest has seldom been explicitly examined within the counseling profession. Current literature largely describes professional counselors’ self-interest in terms of personal wellness, self-advocacy, positive beliefs, self-care and the development of self-regulatory systems (Hendricks, 2008; Hermon & Hazler, 1999; Myers & Sweeney, 2008; Myers, Sweeney, & White, 2002; Osborn, 2004). A smaller body of literature encourages professional counselors to maintain effective professional boundaries and to seek compensation commensurate with their level of training (Bernard, 2006; Myers et al., 2002). The literature on wellness, boundaries and monetary compensation sometimes conflicts with professional counseling’s altruistic foundation and has garnered less attention than professional literature that focuses almost exclusively on meeting the needs of clients. Although recent efforts have been made to address counselor impairment and burnout (e.g., Ohrt & Cunningham, 2012; Parker & Henfield, 2012), very little attention has centered on understanding counselor self-interest. For example, professional counselors are called to advocate for the underserved, to provide a percentage of their services pro bono, and to secure referrals for clients unable to pay the professional counselor’s rate (American Counseling Association, 2005; Osborn, West, Bubenzer, Duba, & Olson, 2003). Professional counseling is a service-oriented profession, yet the almost exclusive focus on altruistic acts (e.g., giving of oneself) without a concomitant discussion of professional counselor self-interest potentially creates a culture of professional self-sacrifice and martyrdom that places counselors at risk for burnout and clients at risk for negative outcomes.
Although the negative consequences of an exclusive focus on altruism in professional counseling are evident, there has been limited scholarly dialogue on the unconscious nature of altruism and self-interest. Classic literature postulates that acts of altruism are disguised expressions of greed, with self-interest seen as a form of greed that may be exhibited as acts of displacement or sublimation (Freud, 1974). Contemporary literature encourages professional counselors to recognize how their own unconscious material may be projected onto their clientele and thereby affect the therapeutic relationship (Hackney & Cormier, 2009). We, the authors, assert that professional counselors and their clients may benefit from a more transparent discussion and consideration of counselors’ altruism and self-interest. The purpose of the present study was to investigate the unconscious nature of the construct altruism–self-interest through a secondary supplemental analysis (Heaton, 2008), following the tenets of paradigmatic narrative analysis. Flynn’s (2009) existing data set was utilized to explore the emergence of unconscious phenomena within the various participants’ narratives. This analysis revealed three archetypal representations of the altruism–self-interest phenomenon expressed within the lived experiences of professional counselors. A brief review of archetypes is provided to set the context for the reader.
Carl Gustav Jung’s (1875–1961) heuristic insights into the collective unconscious and primordial archetypal images have implications for altruism–self-interest and the present research. According to Jung (1969), the collective unconscious could encompass certain inherited aspects of mental life. Jung viewed two aspects of the collective unconscious as essential: the non-dichotomous interconnectedness of mind and body and the principle of natural selection through which various patterns evolved over time (i.e., archetypes).
Jung (1969) defined archetype as “an unconscious representation from the collective unconscious.” Archetypes can be recognized only through situations in which they occur, thus making their existence ambiguous and non-dichotomous. Jung also recognized the confounding nature of this construct, as evidenced in this quotation from 1953: “I admit at once that [the concept of archetypes] is a controversial idea and more than a little perplexing” (p. 15). He asserted that the process of exploring archetypes was parallel to the examination of humankind’s inherited motifs regarding thoughts, feelings, dreams and religion. In other words, an archetype was and is a human universal that continues to emerge throughout history.
Jung (1969) described countless archetypes that he believed humans were compelled to act upon throughout their lives. In addition, he relied on interpreting symbols and dreams to access a client’s archetypes. Some of the most commonly referenced archetypes include the trickster, the lover, the divine child, the shadow, the magical animal, the nurturing mother, the witch, the law-giving father, the devil, mandalas, trinities, judgment, heaven, hell and atonement. Mother and father serve as basic archetypes that have governed humankind from the beginning of time and history (Jung, 1986). The mother archetype (also referred to as goddess and great mother) symbolically represents ruler of Earth, bearer of fertility, giver of life, exhibitor of tolerance and acceptance of strangers, nurturer of family, and dispenser of compassion or mercy in human relations. The father archetype (also referred to as son of the great mother and wise old man) symbolizes the bringer of discipline and order, and represents honor, glory, fame, social hierarchy, secret knowledge, and wisdom.
Jung never specifically addressed altruism and self-interest in relation to archetypes, yet the descriptive elements of the mother and father archetypes seem to be reflected in the altruism–self-interest concept described by Flynn and Black (2011). We, the authors, acknowledge the risk of reinforcing gender-role stereotypes (i.e., mothers as self-sacrificing nurturers [altruism] and males as self-focused loners [self-interest]), yet we believe these images persist because archetypes represent collectively inherited unconscious ideas, patterns of thought, and images universally present in individual psyches.
Recent research has provided an initial exploration of the depth and breadth of the constructs of altruism and self-interest in the daily lives of professional counselors (Flynn & Black, 2011). The results of Flynn & Black’s qualitative study provided initial evidence that altruism and self-interest could more accurately be viewed as a unified, self-sustaining construct entitled altruism–self-interest. Additionally, Flynn and Black found initial evidence consistent with unconscious aspects of the initiation, process, and sustainability of altruism–self-interest. They postulated that the altruism–self-interest construct promoted an unconscious view of oneself (archetype) as helpful to others (altruism) while simultaneously experiencing or seeking positive or beneficial feelings for oneself (self-interest). The existence and relevance of these archetypes, although noted in the original study, were not subjected to analysis, as they were beyond the scope of the original guiding research questions.
The authors hypothesized that the altruism–self-interest phenomenon described in Flynn’s (2009) original study potentially represented archetypal images for the participants. A secondary analysis of the original data was conducted through a paradigmatic narrative lens. In the paragraphs that follow, the authors briefly describe secondary supplemental analysis and paradigmatic narrative inquiry. For a more detailed depiction of each aspect, please see Heaton (2004) and Bruner (1985), respectively.
Secondary Supplemental Analysis
Beginning in the mid-1980s, secondary analysis of qualitative data has been conducted in the social sciences. Numerous authors (Corti, Witzel, & Bishop, 2005; Gladstone & Volpe, 2008; Hakim, 1982; Hays & Singh, 2012; Heaton, 2004; 2008) have documented sound rationale, procedures and protocols for the use of secondary analysis. For the purposes of the present study, the authors carefully considered the questions posed by Van den Berg (2005) and assessed and confirmed (a) our ethical responsibilities to the original participants, (b) our access to rich and abundant amounts of contextualized data (e.g., complete interview transcripts, focus group transcripts, artifacts, field notes, journals, and audit trails), and (c) the relevance, utility, and feasibility of the study. The authors opted to engage in a supplementary secondary analysis, as defined by Heaton (2008), in which we sought “a more in-depth analysis of an emergent issue or aspect of the data that was not addressed or was only partially addressed in the primary study” (p. 39).
Paradigmatic narrative analysis is a qualitative method that identifies instances of information and groups them into general concepts that share a common attribute (e.g., archetype) (Polkinghorne, 1995). Paradigmatic reasoning, which is similar to inductive reasoning, constitutes people’s experiences as consistent and ordered, producing cognitive networks of concepts that permit people to create experiences by putting emphasis on the repeating elements (Bruner, 1985; Lai, 2010). Our rationale for conducting this investigation centered on four points: (a) participants’ narratives collected in the original study were so dense and rich that they could not adequately be represented in one published work, so it was imperative that the participants’ voices be heard and honored with respect to this personal and value-ridden topic; (b) because participants provided recursive messages throughout the original interviews, the use of a paradigmatic structure allowed us to construct participants’ experiences in an organized manner; (c) the use of narrative inquiry allowed for the unconscious nature of altruism–self-interest to be reported in a comprehensible literary structure; and (d) the present study could potentially yield insights into latent categorical concepts.
Original Research Study
Flynn’s (2009) study provided a grounded theory that described the promotion, initiation, and maintenance of altruism–self-interest for professional counselors. The term professional counselor, as it is used here, describes individuals who engage in an active clinical practice and possess (or are seeking) at least a master’s degree in counseling or psychology. Participants in Flynn’s (2009) study were asked how they defined and experienced altruism; how they defined and experienced self-interest; and what, if any, synergy, tension, or conflict they experienced relative to these two constructs in their practice and the profession. Six data sources were utilized to address these questions: a measure of altruism, individual interviews, a focus group, participant artifacts, member-checking, and a topical analysis of subject matter published during the last decade in several major professional counseling journals.
Participants. Participants held or were seeking a graduate degree (master’s or doctorate) in counseling, psychology, or counselor education, and they were providing counseling services or were a recognized but retired scholar in counselor education. A total of 25 individuals participated without compensation.
The sample comprised 10 women (40%) and 15 men (60%) who ranged in age from 25 to 79 years (M = 49.76). The self-reported ethnicities of participants were Caucasian (80%), Hispanic (4%), Asian (4%), Native American (4%), Arabian (4%), and Jewish (4%). The professional identity of the sample of 25 participants included (a) seven professional counselors (28%), (b) 14 counselor educators (84%), (c) three marriage and family therapists (12%), (d) and one psychologist (4%) (Flynn & Black, 2011).
Narrative Analysis of Original Data
According to Weglowska-Rzepa, Kowal, Park, and Lee (2008), archetypes can be discovered when an individual processes certain information and stimuli. The authors utilized a combination of qualitative data sources to further distill participants’ experiences. By employing multiple qualitative data sources, the authors triangulated data to create a confluence of evidence that was designed to increase credibility (Denzin, 1970; Eisner, 1991) and to explore the latent experiences of the participants. Through paradigmatic narrative inquiry, the participants’ experiences were analyzed to uncover the unconscious nature of altruism–self-interest. Initially, a paradigmatic cross-analysis of the participants’ narratives and artifacts was conducted. The authors examined 19 individual interviews and the conversation of seven focus group members (25 total participants; one member participated in an interview and the focus group), which resulted in an initial group of emergent narratives/statements that were later grouped into 23 categories. A second level of analysis examined all non-dichotomous narratives and resulted in 12 categories. Next, an independent examination of the 37 artifacts was conducted to examine their relevance in light of the emerging narrative. This combined cross-analysis revealed three emergent archetypes involving altruism–self-interest: the exocentric altruist, the endocentric altruist, and the psychological egoist. The credibility and confirmation of the secondary supplemental analysis were explored through a participant member check. Specifically, the first author submitted the original transcript, descriptions of the three emergent archetypes, and samples of relevant quotations to each of the 19 individual interview participants for member-checking. Fourteen of the 19 individual interview participants confirmed the accuracy and relevance of archetypes, specific quotations, and the associated archetype.
To control for bias and group think, the results of the secondary and paradigmatic analyses were submitted to two independent auditors, unrelated to either original or secondary analysis. Each auditor, experienced in qualitative methodology, reviewed the interview transcript, initial codes, codes related to the emergent categories, and description of the archetypes with related quotations. The auditors confirmed the initial findings and sought clarification related to the description of three emergent archetypes. Subsequent to the completion of external auditing, the literature related to the intersections of altruism and self-interest was examined to determine whether the emergent categories had previously been described. The general descriptions did in fact exist (Bond, 1996; Karylowski, 1982); however, there was a dearth of research relating these categories to the unconscious.
The authors returned to Carl Jung’s (1969) theory that unconscious structures underlie human behavior and experiences, and can be represented by various archetypes. Jung described these archetypes as universal psychic structures and postulated that they were the representations of innate unconscious experience. Salient to Jung’s theory of archetypes are their fluidness throughout an individual’s life. For example, a person may demonstrate the shadow archetype one moment, and later the same person may demonstrate the trickster archetype. The authors noticed a similar fluidness in the participants’ demonstration and reporting of the three archetypes. Specifically, during a particular dialogue or interview, participants would demonstrate a particular archetype and then demonstrate another archetype within the same dialogue or interview.
Three categories of unconscious archetypes emerged from the paradigmatic analysis: exocentric altruist, endocentric altruist, and psychological egoist. The archetypes describe the unconscious nature of the emergent theory of altruism–self-interest. These categories were revised until they provided the best possible fit with a categorical scheme for the data set seeking to locate common categorization among the stories participants presented (Polkinghorne, 1995; Sexton, 2007). The process of data analysis yielded descriptions of each archetype.
According to Jung (1968), “A word or an image is symbolic when it implies something more than its obvious and immediate meaning. It has a wider ‘unconscious’ aspect…” (p. 4). The data demonstrate the introspection and dynamic conversation participants shared in relation to the constructs of altruism and self-interest. To preserve confidentiality, all participants’ quotations used in support of each archetype are represented by an unassociated letter. Additionally, quotations were organized around the various data collection methods to aid in a structured presentation.
Exocentric Altruist Archetype
The exocentric altruist archetype describes an individual who receives internal gratification from the act of giving, yet does not deliberately take part in charitable acts with the intention of receiving internal gratification. Participants who demonstrated the exocentric altruist archetype reported the desire to assist others personally or financially because of a personal belief in giving, with no preconceived expectation for self, for recognition or for personal gain.
Individual interviews. Fifteen of 19 participants related stories of professionally oriented tasks that were completed for the good of humanity. Participant J reported on her personal and professional ethics regarding clients who could not continue paying for professional services:
I’ve had clients who have had insurance and then their benefits run out, so I’ve kept them as clients until we can figure out another…financial arrangement or I can make referrals to them to community resources.
Within this quotation, participant J demonstrated the exocentric altruist archetype by continuing to provide services for clients who could not pay. Exocentric altruists put the needs of others before self to achieve a higher moral principle consistent with their values. The content of this quotation represents the participant’s motivation to care for clients despite the client’s inability to immediately reciprocate in an equitable fashion (pay for services rendered); thus, this participant is willing to delay or even forgo equity in the professional relationship.
Ten of the 19 participants provided narratives involving natural disasters in which they volunteered to help those who had suffered. Participant B explained his process in responding to Hurricane Katrina:
And I think that was the case with Katrina. I think there it was just, you know, just ’cause you saw the sheer devastation. I don’t think it was a matter of self-interest, but to help keep you engaged. I think it was the altruism and knowing that…it was just…where I should be at the moment.
The content of this quotation demonstrates that participant B may have engaged in exocentric altruism because of a personal calling to aid victims of indescribable suffering and devastation associated with a natural disaster. The exocentric altruist describes feeling internally compelled to assist others while simultaneously limiting his or her focus on self.
Focus group. All members of the focus group described incidents when they chose to give altruistically to the profession at a cost to their personal or professional life. Within the focus group setting, participants demonstrated a profound openness when discussing their altruistic acts and achievements. A counselor educator described exocentric altruism in his daily interactions with students. Participant B stated:
I’m thinking as a professor working with students. I do it because I care about them and I want to do it and if somebody’s overwhelmed and has some personal stuff going on and they’re taking three classes, and it’s just too much for them and they talk to me after class I could just say, ‘well you know I gotta get going. Shoot me an email.’ But I almost always say, ‘well let’s go up to my office and talk a little bit’ and then they vent, and we talk. Then I call my wife and say I’m late. Because, I had a student who had some difficulties and we tried to iron it out…
Exocentric altruists aid others because it appears to be something they must do. There does not seem to be any evaluation of mutuality or equity on the part of the participants.
Endocentric Altruist Archetype
The essence of the endocentric altruist archetype is centered on helping a person in need while concurrently feeling good about the self. Participants who demonstrated the endocentric altruist archetype reported a desire to assist others, with a preconceived or reported concern for self and some expectation of mutual benefit from the behavior.
Individual interviews. Seventeen of the 19 participants noted the mutual reinforcement that both the giver and receiver of an altruistic act received. Participant K extended the mutual benefit of an altruistic act a step further when he acknowledged the benefit a witness received from an altruistic act:
People who perform an altruistic act[s] get…big benefits, persons receiving get a benefit …with a little less, and people watching the altruistic act benefit, so I think it’s good for us…and it’s very good for others.
Within this quotation, participant K described the endocentric altruist perceptions of the benefits of giving. Whether a person is attempting to give or is on the receiving end of an altruistic act, that person is attending to self-interest. The participant closes his statement by acknowledging that the benefits extend beyond the one-to-one interaction to encompass observers.
Eight participants focused on how the monetary compensation for services rendered encouraged excellence in client care. Participant L described how being paid well helps support the counselor’s personal happiness and promotes excellence in client care:
I think to value ourselves…treat ourselves well is also to treat it [counseling] as a business. I mean if you look at my three, the three core [business collaborators]…; we really treat it as a business…; we really make a good living and we really help a lot of people. And we really do a lot of good in the world. And I like that model.
Participant J demonstrated the endocentric altruist archetype by acknowledging the reciprocity of treating oneself well while effectively treating one’s clientele. In the words commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin, Participant J was “doing well by doing good.”
Focus group. Six focus group participants described incidents representing the interplay of altruism and self-interest within human behavior. During the focus group in the original study, participants were asked to consider altruism and self-interest in the accomplishments of Mother Teresa. Participants identified Mother Teresa’s behavior as a blend of altruism and self-interest. The following discussion exemplifies participants’ perceptions of endocentric altruism in the spiritual leadership of Mother Teresa:
Participant C: When you said that [altruism does not exist], Mother Teresa popped into my mind. I mean did she give, get, give, get, give, get? [indicating a transactional approach]
Participant E (in response): I think she got tons. That may not have been her explicit reason for her, but I don’t think she would have continued if she wasn’t getting something…
Participant G: For me that question was a really good one. ’Cause when you think of the opposite to not do something, the contrast if you can’t live with that code right, then it just seems like it would be a natural part of your value system. Mother Teresa’s value system was…How could she not do what she did? Or accomplish all the things she chose and hoped to accomplish.
As evident within the above discussion, the endocentric altruist aids others and understands mutual interests of the giver (Mother Teresa) and receiver (those she touched).
Psychological Egoist Archetype
The psychological egoist archetype describes individuals who give solely to fulfill their own self-interest. Participants who demonstrated the psychological egoist archetype reported giving with the aim of meeting personal needs, wants or desires.
Individual interviews. Ten of the 19 participants portrayed all human behavior as rooted in self-interest. Descriptions of this core self-interest perception included the words self-interest, greed, capitalist, and opportunist. Participant K noted humanity’s core self-interest value:
…you have needs and wants, and there are rewards and punishments. Let’s not fool ourselves. Human beings at our basis are…opportunists. We’re going to look for the best opportunity to fulfill what we think is fulfilling…and even when we have an ideal, our self-interest will kick in all the time, whether we think it’s there or not.
Within this quotation, participant K demonstrates the psychological egoist archetype by describing self-interest as the sole motivation of all human behavior. Participant K described altruism as an ideal and self-interest as inextricably intertwined with altruistic behavior.
Six of the 19 participants provided detailed information on their experiences of witnessing fellow professional counselors who exhibited psychological egoism in negative and inappropriate ways. Participant I provided the following narrative:
Oh…and, who’s that guy? [mental health professional who wrote a ‘pop’ psychology book for couples] Uh…they are just to me like used car salesmen. They just found a niche to describe themselves, you know, they’re just good at publishing and…I went to his workshop in Oregon as a therapy counselor when I was on internship and, um, he was introduced as the Moses of family therapy (laughter).
Within this quotation, participant I demonstrated the psychological egoist archetype through her belief in the overriding self-interest of a counselor who authored “pop” psychology books. Participant I went so far as to describe this author as “grandiose in his self-promotion.”
Focus group. Four of the seven focus group participants described incidents in which the sole motivation of human behavior was self-interest. The following excerpt is a dialogue among several members of the focus group. The focus group members dismiss the existence of altruism and cite self-interest as the sole motivation of human behavior. This discussion exemplifies participants’ perceptions of psychological egoism as the motivation to help clients within the counseling relationship:
Participant A: I’ve been thinking this from the very beginning…is there such a thing as charity? I’ve been thinking about it for the past hour. For me, that’s what this one comes down to because are we not taking care of ourselves through taking care of others. Because we would feel like shit about ourselves if we didn’t and I hate to be cynical, because there is something to be said for [the fact that] I do feel good if I do help this person…
Participant F: So, does true altruism actually exist?
Participant C: I actually don’t think it does.
The psychological egoist gives to others mainly for self-benefit. Participants did not report much, if any, recognition of mutuality, but they did describe humanitarian actions motivated by self-interest.
All 19 individual interview participants were asked to provide two artifacts: one that represented their professional (versus personal) altruism, and a second that represented their professional self-interest. Eighteen of the 19 participants provided photographs of artifacts that represented their altruism and self-interest (Flynn & Black, 2011).
The aforementioned artifacts were reanalyzed and reconsidered in conjunction with the participant descriptions and the emerging descriptions of the three archetypes. Every participant’s altruistic artifact description demonstrated both endocentric and exocentric altruist archetypes; however, none of the descriptions included overt aspects of the psychological egoist archetype. For example, participant K elaborated on a heart-shaped business card holder:
…it’s a business card holder, but it’s really cool. It’s a set of hands, and then, so the hands look like they’re looking out and then there’s kind of like a heart shape in the middle…To me it was, I feel like the symbolism of hands, and reaching out, being able to hold someone up, being needed to give,…I will hold you, I will support you.
Participant K revealed the endocentric archetype with her comment, “being needed to give.” There is a mutual benefit to being needed and giving. The exocentric archetype came with the comment, “I will hold you, I will support you.”
Every participant’s description of his or her self-interest artifact included aspects of the endocentric altruist archetype, and five included the psychological egoist archetype. Interestingly, none of the participants’ descriptions of self-interest artifacts included aspects of exocentric altruism. For example, participant J described his wizard figurine artifact:
My self-interest artifact is, weirdly enough, this little wizard. I got it…it’s a wizard…on one level, I want to know everything. I want power! And not power that hurts others because a wizard…this is a quote from Lord of the Rings… ‘A wizard always shows up when you need him and never when you don’t.’ The wizard is all-seeing, but doesn’t take credit for what happens, and catalyzes major transformative events. And so, the wizard is also status, because a wizard is very renowned and nobody messes with the wizard.
Participant J revealed the endocentric altruist archetype with his comment, “A wizard always shows up when you need him.” The mutual benefit is exposed with the self-interest of being needed and the altruism of showing up. The psychological egoist archetype is made obvious with the comment “I want power.”
Three distinct archetypes emerged from the secondary data analysis. Given that the three archetypes emerged in interviews throughout the focus group, were verified by 14 participants’ member checks, and were confirmed by two outside auditors, professional counselors are urged to begin a more in-depth dialogue as well as theoretical and empirical investigations around the dynamic and systemic nature of altruism–self-interest among professional counselors and those in training. These archetypes relate back to the established theory of altruism–self-interest (Flynn & Black, 2011) and create five discussion points.
First, professional counselors need to consider adopting a less dichotomous assessment of human behavior (e.g., “He is wrong because he charged a high fee for his service.”). Although certain acts and behaviors by professional counselors require clear and unambiguous consequences (e.g., egregious boundary violations with clientele, etc.), other behaviors are quite likely the function of something much more in-depth and commonplace than commonly considered. In other words, professional counselors who embody psychological egoism are not at fault or less “normal” than those who exude exocentric altruism because both are normal aspects of human development. Indeed, classic psychological research has depicted individuals as motivated by healthy selfish desires (Maslow, 1950). Maslow described selfishness, within his participants, as a behavior within individuals who have reached levels of self-actualization and have fully satisfied their lower needs, thus self-actualization can be viewed as an antecedent for selfishness. Further, society creates both overt and covert norms, rules, laws, and mores around human behavior. Professional counselors and educators of counselors would benefit from a more critical view of this value-based depiction of human behavior instead of simply accepting it without question. The potential benefits resulting from a systemic change in society’s perception of human behavior could include increased humanism, optimal wellness, less social stigma attached to mental health services, improvement in clinical boundaries, increased levels of intentionality in one’s life, and a system-wide decrease in both burnout and impairment.
A second point of discussion centers on the potential consequences associated with over- or under-activation of a particular archetype. The present research demonstrated the fluid nature of the emergent archetypes in a professional counselor’s everyday life; however, none of the participants described a personal over- or under-adherence to a particular archetype. This finding mirrors Osborn’s (2004) warning that professional counselors should monitor any use of absolutism and Jung’s (1981) perspective that the conscious and unconscious contain temporally connected experiences that are related, as each carries the germ of the other. Many of the participants (n = 17) described colleagues who did, in fact, display over- or under-activation of one of the emergent archetypes. Professional counselors could experience burnout and impairment as a result of an over- or under-reliance on one of the emergent archetypes. For example, professional counselors who display an over-reliance on the psychological egoist archetype could be at higher risk for violating others (e.g., sexual relationship with clientele, overcharging clients). Similarly, those who demonstrate an over-reliance on the exocentric altruist archetype may display unnecessary sacrifice for the sake of others that is unrewarded and unacknowledged (e.g., all pro bono client caseload, overly forthright communication with untrustworthy colleagues).
Third, the authors were intrigued by the content and processes by which professional counselors met their personal needs through the therapeutic relationship. Participant S described this experience:
I think they [counselors] are…people motivated more to help others because it makes us feel good and powerful and so then we start to muddy up the definition of altruism…we all know we can try to look really altruistic and inside we’re gloating away…
Ethically, professional counselors are mandated to model and mentor the highest possible level of ethical and moral behavior (American Counseling Association (ACA), 2005; Stevens, 2000). In addition, Rogers (1959) described authenticity as central to self-growth. Given the mandate of moral behavior and benefits of authenticity, professional counselors should explore their personal needs and understand how the counseling of other human beings meets those needs. This exploration could generate optimal levels of acceptance, empathy, and congruence within a professional counselor’s self and compassion for the suffering of others.
A fourth implication centers on counselor educators and supervisors developing curriculum, internship, and coursework that would enhance students’ understanding of how to achieve appropriate self-interest (e.g., fee structure, implications for consulting, and marketing). Most of the participants admitted that they received very little information within their training that would help them understand a basic business structure, counseling’s place in the economy, and how to market and advertise a service (Flynn & Black, 2011). Counselors working in the field who do not pay attention to their own self-interest (i.e., exclusive focus on altruism) are in jeopardy of burnout and impairment. The consequences of a lack of attention to appropriate self-interest (e.g., wellness) are: ignoring one’s own stress level, low salaries, frustration, job dissatisfaction, stress-related health problems, lowered work productivity, inability to cope with occupational stress, interpersonal conflict, apathy, and poor boundaries (Baker & Baker, 1999; Ben-Dror, 1994; Flynn & Black, 2011; Osborn, 2004). Counselor education curriculum should resemble the multi-role conception of the field that counselor educators advocate for in many of their scholarly pursuits, including preparation to effectively fulfill multiple roles (e.g., advanced clinician; organizational leader; supervisor; program manager; private practitioner; director; researcher; teacher; and consultant; Sears & Davis, 2003). This could be completed through the creation of a student-friendly internship manual offering experiences in traditional settings (e.g., hospitals, agencies, and school) and settings that offer alternative options (e.g., private practice, adventure-based counseling, and organizational consultation).
Lastly, due to the difficulty of quantitatively exploring unconscious structures (e.g., archetypes), researchers should consider alternative methods that are congruent in exploring unconscious states, traits, and types that are part of the human experience (e.g., in-depth semi-structured interview techniques). Developing a unique research identity among professional counselors appears to be essential for designing research that expands the profession’s understanding of covert phenomena that does not lend itself easily to examination by empirical methods (e.g., quantitative methodology, surveys). For example, if a participant endorses a Likert scale point indicating “I somewhat agree” to a statement about altruism, the underlying meaning of that answer could be very different from another participant’s “I somewhat agree” response to the very same question. A strength of qualitative research is that it allows participants to describe just what they mean and for their voice to be present in the reporting of results.
Two potential limitations should be considered when examining the findings of this research. First, examining participants’ reported experiences of particular behaviors (e.g., self-interest) was a subjective experience. Although the author’s subjective interpretations were validated through participant member checks, audits, and triangulation, archetypes are subjective in nature and are not meant to be generalized to particular populations. Instead, readers might reflect on their own experience in regard to the emergent archetypes and associated quotations.
The second limitation of this research is the potential for participants to present socially desirable profiles due to the controversial nature of archetypes around the constructs of altruism and self-interest. Jung (1953) was overt about the contentious implications of creating unconscious collectives that describe a common human experience. Describing human universals around the construct of altruism–self-interest had the potential for creating an atmosphere in which participants might present their motivations in a socially desirable manner.
Areas for Future Research
This investigation into the unconscious archetypes that underlie the construct altruism–self-interest begins to provide some understanding for a new query into the unconscious motivating factors of all human behavior. Although qualitatively these constructs appear to be stable, future research should quantify their occurrence in the human experience. This analysis could be conducted through an experiment, survey or creation of an instrument.
A second area that warrants further empirical support is the impact of a person’s multicultural background on the emergence of particular archetypes. An investigation of this nature could increase understanding of multicultural issues related to the clients that counselors serve. In addition, this research would help professional counselors examine their own personal experience with the presented archetypes. This personal awareness could create a greater capacity for acceptance of the archetypes in a client’s life.
A final area for future research includes a closer examination of the norms and mores governing the occurrence of the emergent archetypes. Participants described the influence of societal values on the occurrence of particular behaviors. These societal values were often described as originating within institutions (e.g., postsecondary institutions), religion, social media, and clinical diagnosis. Understanding the manner in which individuals are influenced to think and act in a certain way could increase awareness of behavior and cognition.
In conclusion, this research represents an attempt to develop an initial understanding of unconscious archetypes that underlie the phenomenon of altruism–self-interest (Flynn & Black, 2011). The results of all four data collection points revealed three emergent archetypes that symbolize common human collectives. The three collectives are the endocentric altruist, the exocentric altruist, and the psychological egoist. These archetypes are unconscious structures that symbolize the underlying behavior related to the phenomenon of altruism–self-interest. Our hope was to encourage professional counselors to understand that all humans possess unconscious collectives that encourage a range of behavior within a particular context. This understanding holds promise for inspiring greater ranges of acceptance, genuineness and congruence.
American Counseling Association (ACA). (2005). ACA Code of ethics. Alexandria, VA: Author.
Baker, J. G., & Baker, D. F. (1999). Perceived ideological, job satisfaction and organizational commitment among psychiatrists in a community mental health center. Community Mental Health Journal, 35, 85–95.
Bernard, J. M. (2006). Counselor education and counseling psychology: Where are the jobs? Counselor Education & Supervision, 46, 68–80.
Ben-Dror, R. (1994). Employee turnover in community mental health organization: A developmental stages study. Community Mental Health Journal, 30, 243–257.
Bishop, L. (2000). In defense of altruism: Inadequacies of Ayn Rand’s ethics and psychological egoism. New Orleans, LA: University Press of the South.
Bond, E. J. (1996). Ethics and human well-being. Oxford, England: Blackwell.
Bruner, J. (1985). Narrative and paradigmatic modes of thought. In E. Eisner (Ed.), Learning and teaching the ways of knowing (pp. 97–115). Chicago, IL: NSSE.
Comte, A. (2001). System of positive polity. In J. H. Bridges (Ed. & Trans.), System of positive polity (pp. 1–100). Bristol, England: Thoemmes. (Original work published 1875)
Corti, L., Witzel, A, & Bishop, L. (Eds.), (2005). Secondary analysis of qualitative data. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung/Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 6. Retrieved from http://qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/issue/view/13
Denzin, N. K. (1970). The research act: A theoretical introduction to sociological methods. New York, NY: Aldine.
Eisner, E. W. (1991). The enlightened eye: Qualitative inquiry and the enhancement of educational practice. Toronto: Collier Macmillan Canada.
Flynn, S. V. (2009). A grounded theory of the altruism and self-interest phenomenon within the counseling profession (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Database. (AAT 3378221)
Flynn, S. V., & Black, L. L. (2011). An emergent theory of altruism and self-interest. Journal of Counseling & Development, 89, 459–470.
Freud, S. (1974). New introductory lectures on psychoanalysis. J. Strachey (Ed.). London, England: Hogarth Press.
Gladstone, B. M., & Volpe, T. (2008, April). Qualitative secondary analysis: Asking “new” questions of “old” data. Paper presented at the Qualitative Research Interest Group, Athens, GA.
Hackney, H., & Cormier, S. (2009). The professional counselor: A process guide to helping (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Hakim, C. (1982). Secondary analysis in social research: A guide to data sources and methods with examples. London, England: George Allen & Unwin.
Hays, G. D., & Singh, A. A. (2012). Qualitative inquiry in clinical and educational settings. New York, NY: Guilford.
Heaton, J. (2004). Reworking qualitative data. London, England: Sage.
Heaton, J. (2008). Secondary analysis of qualitative data: An overview. Historical Social Research, 33, 33–45.
Hendricks, B. C. (2008). Introduction: Who are we? The role of ethics in shaping counselor identity. The Family Journal, 16, 258–260. doi:10.1177/1066480708317725
Hermon, D. A., & Hazler, R. J. (1999). Adherence to wellness model and perceptions of psychological well-being. Journal of Counseling and Development, 77, 339–343.
Holmes, J. G., Miller, D. T., & Lerner, M. J. (2002). Committing altruism under the cloak of self-interest: The exchange fiction. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 144–151.
Jung, C. G. (1953). Two essays on analytical psychology: Collected works (Vol. 7). R. F. C. Hull, trans. Bollingen Series XX. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G. (1968). Man and his symbols. New York: Laurel.
Jung, C. G. (1969). The archetypes and the collective unconscious (2nd ed.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G. (1981). The structure and dynamics of the psyche. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G. (1986). Four archetypes: Mother, rebirth, spirit, trickster. New York, NY: Ark.
Karylowski, J. (1982): Two types of altruistic behavior: Doing good to feel good or to make the other feel good. In V. J. Derlega & J. Grzelak, (Eds.). Cooperation and helping behavior: Theories and research (pp. 398–419). New York, NY: Academic Press.
Lai, C.K.Y. (2010). Narrative and narrative enquiry in health and social sciences, Nurse Researcher, 17, 3, 72–84.
Maslow, A. H. (1950). Self-actualizing people: A study of psychological health. In W. Wolff (Ed.), Personality symposia: Symposium #1 on values (pp. 11–34). New York, NY: Grune & Stratton.
Myers, J. E., & Sweeney, T. J. (2008). Wellness counseling: The evidence base for practice. Journal of Counseling and Development, 86, 482–493.
Myers, J. E., Sweeney, T. J., & White, V. E. (2002), Advocacy for counseling and counselors: A professional imperative. Journal of Counseling and Development, 80, 394–401.
Ohrt, J. H., & Cunningham, L. C. (2012). Wellness in mental health agencies. The Professional Counselor: Research and Practice, 2, 90–101.
Osborn, C. J. (2004). Seven salutary suggestions for counselor stamina. Journal of Counseling and Development, 82, 319–328.
Osborn, C. J., West, J. D., Bubenzer, D. L., Duba, J. D., & Olson, S. (2003). Dimensions and areas for leadership. In J. D. West, C. J. Osborn, & D. L. Bubenzer (Eds.), Leaders and legacies: Contributions to the profession of counseling (pp. 293–308). New York, NY: Taylor & Francis/Brunner-Routledge.
- Parker, M., & Henfield, M. S. (2012). Exploring school counselors’ perceptions of vicarious trauma: A qualitative study. The Professional Counselor: Research and Practice, 2, 134–142.
Polkinghorne, D. E. (1995). Narrative configuration in qualitative analysis. In J. A. Hatch and R. Wisniewski (Eds.), Life history and narrative (pp. 5–23). London, England: Falmer.
Rogers, C. R. (1959). A theory of therapy, personality and interpersonal relationships as developed in the client-centered framework. In S. Koch (Ed.), Psychology: A study of a science. Vol. 3: Formulations of the person and the social context. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Sears, J. S., & Davis, T. E. (2003). The doctorate in counselor education: Implications for leadership. In J. D. West, C. J. Osborn, & D. J. Bubenzer (Eds.), Leaders & legacies: Contributions to the profession of counseling (pp. 95-108). New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge.
Sexton, S. (2007). Voices echoing the past: I decided to do teaching because of the teacher that I had. Thirteen female secondary entry-level teachers candidates teaching not only what but also how they were taught. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 32, 1–13.
Simpson, B., Irwin, K., & Lawrence, P. (2006). Does a “norm of self-interest” discourage prosocial behavior? Rationality and quid pro quo in charitable giving. Social Psychology Quarterly, 69, 296–306.
Sober, E. (1993). Evolutionary altruism, psychological egoism, and morality: Disentangling the phenotypes. In M. H. Nitecki & D. V. Nitecki (Eds.), Evolutionary ethics (pp. 199–216). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Stevens, P. (2000). The ethics of being ethical. The Family Journal, 8, 177–178. doi:10.1177/1066480700082011
Van den Berg, H. (2005) Reanalyzing qualitative interviews from different angles: The risk of decontextualization and other problems of sharing qualitative data. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung/Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 6(1). Retrieved from http://www.qualitativeresearch.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/499/1074
Weglowska-Rzepa, K., Kowal, J., Park, L. H., & Lee, H. K. (2008). The presence of spiritual archetypes among representatives of eastern and western cultures. Jung Journal, 2, 58–72.
Stephen V. Flynn, NCC, is an Assistant Professor of Counselor Education in the Department of Counselor Education and School Psychology at Plymouth State University. Linda L. Black, NCC, is a Professor of Counselor Education and Supervision and Acting Dean of the Graduate School and International Admittance at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado. Correspondence can be addressed to Stephen V. Flynn, Plymouth State University, Department Counselor Education and School Psychology, 17 High Street MSC 11, Plymouth, NH 03264, firstname.lastname@example.org.