Understanding Racial Trauma: Implications for Professional Counselors

Warren Wright, Jennifer Hatchett Stover, Kathleen Brown-Rice

Racial trauma has become a common topic of discussion in professional counseling. This concept is also known as race-based traumatic stress, and it addresses how racially motivated incidents impede  emotional and mental health for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). Research about this topic and strategies to reduce its impact are substantial in the field of psychology. However, little research about racial trauma has been published in the counseling literature. The intent of this paper is to provide an in-depth perspective of racial trauma and its impact on BIPOC to enhance professional counselors’ understanding. Strategies for professional counselors to integrate into their clinical practice are provided. In addition, implications for counselor supervisors and educators are also provided.

Keywords: racial trauma, BIPOC, counseling, professional counselors, clinical practice

     The impact of racism on the psychological, emotional, and physical well-being of those subjected to it is no secret. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2021) has declared racism as a public health issue and threat to the health of minoritized individuals. Similarly, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (2019) reported that 5,155 people were targets of racially motivated hate crimes in 2018: 47.1% of the victims identified as Black/African American, 13% as Hispanic/Latino, 4.1% as American Indian/Alaskan Native, and 3.4% as Asian. Daily experiences of racism for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) can lead to an increase in health complications and mental health disparities (French et al., 2020; Williams et al., 2019). Hemmings and Evans (2018) noted that because of racism, BIPOC communities have limited access to resources, which impacts their quality of education and health care. Thus, racially marginalized communities are susceptible to chronic illnesses and mental health concerns such as diabetes, heart disease, depression, and suicide (Hemmings & Evans, 2018). Furthermore, researchers have found that exposure to racism and discrimination increases levels of stress in the body and can lead to chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and gastrointestinal issues for people of color (Bernier et al., 2021; Chavez-Dueñas et al., 2019; Smith et al., 2011; Wagner et al., 2015), therefore adversely impacting the livelihood and overall well-being of BIPOC communities.

Racism-related stressors can lead to race-based traumatic stress, also known as racial trauma (Carter, 2007; Comas-Díaz et al., 2019). Racial trauma and race-based traumatic stress occur when there is an experience of direct or indirect racism that leads to psychological and emotional injury for BIPOC. Examples include experiencing microaggressions in the workplace (Sue et al., 2019), witnessing an unarmed Black person being killed by law enforcement (Williams et al., 2018), and being physically attacked because others believe a person’s racialized group is the cause of a global pandemic (e.g., Asian American and Pacific Islanders [AAPIs]; Litam, 2020). There is a substantial amount of literature in the field of psychology related to racism, race-based traumatic stress, and racial trauma (Adames et al., 2023; Bryant-Davis & Ocampo, 2006; Carter, 2007; Comas-Díaz et al., 2019; French et al., 2020; Helms et al., 2010; Mosley et al., 2021). However, there is little to no research in the counseling profession related to racial trauma. Therefore, this article provides an overview of racial trauma and implications for the counseling profession.

Race-Based Traumatic Stress and Racial Trauma

     Racial trauma is the collective stress experienced by BIPOC directly or indirectly due to continuous racially motivated incidents of microaggressions, exclusion, discrimination, and sociopolitical events that create psychological and emotional harm (Anderson & Stevenson, 2019; Comas-Díaz et al., 2019). Race-based traumatic stress is one of the most common interchangeable terms for racial trauma and refers to the stress response and emotional injury that occur after experiencing a racist encounter (Carter, 2007; Williams et al., 2018). Carter (2007), along with other researchers (Chavez-Dueñas et al., 2019; Helms et al., 2010; Smith et al., 2007, 2016), examined the experiences of BIPOC and the accompanying psychological stress when they experience racism-related incidents. Constant exposure to racially motivated incidents can create and lead to an overwhelming emotional stress response for BIPOC. Bryant-Davis and Ocampo (2005), Hemmings and Evans (2018), and Litam (2020) discussed how racist incidents of physical assaults, verbal attacks, and threats to one’s safety impact a person’s sense of self and can cause a person to present with symptoms of trauma.

It is imperative to note that experiencing racism and presentation of trauma symptoms are not all life threatening. Therefore, racial trauma differs from the traditional diagnosable PTSD criteria as stated in the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5; American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2013). Although it is not explicitly stated in the DSM-5, racial trauma encompasses racism-related stressors associated with one’s membership in a racialized social group, historical trauma, and continuous exposure to racism-related violence. Consequently, conceptualizing and diagnosing a client that presents to counseling with trauma symptomology that does not fit the criteria for the PTSD diagnosis can be confusing for mental health professionals. Therefore, it is important for professional mental health counselors to be prepared to assess and treat clients who present to counseling with trauma symptomology related to racist incidents.

Impact of Racism and Racial Trauma

Racial trauma could impact a person’s sense of self, pride in culture, and identity (Brown-Rice, 2013; Skewes & Blume, 2019). Skewes and Blume (2019) found that assimilation, exploitation, and forced relocation led to the loss of spiritual and cultural practices for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities. Additionally, Brown-Rice (2013) stated that loss of cultural traditions and native practices creates a sense of confusion and hopelessness for Native American adults. Thus, racialized trauma can lead to a separation of cultural identity and practices. Similarly, Chavez-Dueñas and colleagues (2019) found that racial trauma has increased psychological distress for Latinx immigrant communities because of anti-immigration policies, opposition to assimilation into the American culture, and fear of deportation. Furthermore, racial trauma can lead to psychological concerns such as anxiety, depression, emotional dysregulation, and suicidal ideation (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2020; Bryant-Davis & Ocampo, 2005; Comas-Díaz et al., 2019; French et al., 2020; Hemmings & Evans, 2018). Additionally, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (2020) found suicide rates for minoritized communities have increased. Moreover, racial discrimination has been positively correlated with suicidal ideation among African American young adults (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2020).

Racism is consistently prevalent within American schools and continues to be an issue of concern experienced by BIPOC students (Kohli et al., 2017; Merlin, 2017). The experience of trauma coupled with racism and discriminatory practices in education has shown to impart racial disparities among BIPOC students in the areas of academic achievement, employment, and participation in the criminal justice system (Lebron et al., 2015). Black students are underrepresented in advanced courses, are less likely to be college ready, and spend less time in the classroom because of disciplinary practices (United Negro College Fund, 2020). According to a report on school discipline by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (2018), Black students only account for 18% of preschool enrollment, yet they make up 42% of total suspensions and 3 times more expulsions than their White peers. In addition, Black students are more than twice as likely to be referred to law enforcement and subject to arrest for school-based incidents when compared to their peers (United Negro College Fund, 2020). Furthermore, not only are Black students underrepresented in advanced courses, but they are overrepresented in special education programs and more likely to be identified with a disability (Harper, 2017). Therefore, it is imperative for professional mental health counselors to understand how racial trauma could impact the mental health and well-being of individuals at distinct phases of life span development (e.g., children, college students, etc.).

Currently, racial trauma has been exacerbated by the recent COVID-19 pandemic plaguing the United States and other parts of the world. Liu and Modir (2020) and Fortuna et al. (2020) highlighted the lived experiences within BIPOC communities regarding living in low-income neighborhoods, denial of access to care, and being disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 virus. Black Americans accounted for 34% of confirmed cases in the United States, followed by Latinos at 20%–25% of cases (Fortuna et al., 2020). This demonstrates that health disparities coupled with racism could impact the physical well-being of BIPOC. Racism-related stress impacts the emotional and physical health of BIPOC communities. This includes sense of self (Chavez-Dueñas et al., 2019), culture identity (Skewes & Blume, 2019), and overall wellness (Litam, 2020). Healing racial trauma requires professional mental health counselors working with BIPOC individuals to consider sociocultural factors such as systemic racism, oppression of marginalized communities, and cultural trauma.

Implications for Professional Counselors

The counseling profession highlights the importance of assessment competency as stated in the American Counseling Association (ACA) Code of Ethics (ACA, 2014; e.g., Standard E.5.c: Historical and Social Prejudices in the Diagnosis of Pathology) and the 2016 Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP, 2015) Standards (e.g., Assessment and Testing). In addition, the 2016 CACREP standards emphasized the importance of social and cultural diversity, highlighting strategies and techniques to identify and eliminate barriers of oppression and discrimination (CACREP, 2015). Because racial trauma is invasive and harmful for BIPOC individuals and communities, understanding its impact on psychological and emotional well-being is imperative for all mental health professionals in their respective roles. Thus, counselors must be prepared to provide culturally responsive care to BIPOC individuals who have experienced racism-related trauma.

Licensed Professional Mental Health Counselors
     Assessing for racial trauma is of utmost importance when conceptualizing and creating a treatment plan for BIPOC clients. It is imperative for counselors to become familiar with assessments and clinical interventions to inform their approach to treating racial trauma. Williams and colleagues (2018) proposed the UConn Racial/Ethnic Stress and Trauma Survey (UnRESTS) to assist mental health professionals in their case conceptualizations and treatment planning when racial trauma is present in BIPOC individuals. The UnRESTS is a clinician-administered semi-structured interview that is beneficial in case conceptualization to determine the multiple experiences of racism for the client. The interview comprises 6 sections: introduction of the interview, racial and ethnic identity development, experiences of direct overt racism, experiences of racism by loved ones, experiences of vicarious racism, and experiences of covert racism (Williams et al., 2018). Even though this survey is like the DSM-5 Cultural Formulations Interview (APA, 2013) and helps the counselor determine if the client’s symptomology fits criteria for PTSD, it should not be the only assessment tool used to determine a diagnosis of PTSD. Additionally, this interview tends to be lengthy in time; therefore, counselors should consider completing this interview within the first and second sessions. This assessment along with other clinical approaches could be beneficial to understanding the traumatic responses of clients impacted by racism.

Several BIPOC scholars have offered models, theories, and frameworks to heal racial trauma (Adames et al., 2023; Bryant-Davis & Ocampo, 2006; French et al., 2020; Mosley et al., 2021). Counselors must position themselves to consider approaches that go beyond Eurocentric theories and models when addressing and treating racial trauma. These include being critical of sociopolitical structures, awareness of one’s own racial identity, and comfort level when broaching the topic of racism and racial trauma (Adames et al., 2023; Thrower et al., 2020). For instance, Bryant-Davis and Ocampo (2006) provided a foundation for treating racial trauma in a safe environment. Their therapeutic approach included acknowledgment, grieving/mourning loss, analyzing internalized shame and racism, and centering coping and resistance strategies. Supporting clients to name oppressive systems, process their experiences of racist incidents, and deconstruct self-blame narratives because of racism fosters liberation and healing for BIPOC clients who have experienced racism-related stress and trauma (Adames et al., 2023). Thus, counselors must be empathetic and take initiative in helping BIPOC clients shift the focus on harm from self-blame to external oppressive factors. This promotes a strong sense of self and healthy living for BIPOC clients.

Similarly, models offered by Chavez-Dueñas et al. (2019), French et al. (2020), Mosley et al. (2021), and Adames et al. (2023) center the well-being and collective power of BIPOC communities. For example, critical consciousness, Black Psychology, Liberation Psychology, and trauma-informed care influenced these approaches to address racism-related stress and trauma. Subsequently, French and colleagues’ (2020) Radical Healing Framework centers justice and overall wellness for BIPOC communities. This is the intentional practice of going beyond just coping with racism to focus on healing wherein a client can thrive by connecting to community and engaging in resistance against racism-related stressors (French et al., 2020). Thus, helping clients to engage in activism and utilize microinterventions to disarm and address microaggressions can empower clients (Mosley et al., 2021; Sue et al., 2019). Microinterventions help equip clients with tools they can implement to assert boundaries and communicate disagreement with microaggressions (Litam, 2020; Sue et al., 2019). However, counselors must remember that safety is a priority when supporting clients in confronting perpetrators of racism-related trauma (Litam, 2020). Therefore, role-plays in counseling sessions could provide the space and time to strategize when it is and is not appropriate to confront perpetrators of microaggressions.

Utilizing these approaches with clients fosters validation and affirmation of their experiences. Failure to acknowledge and attend to the symptoms and experiences of racism-related stress and trauma can maintain psychological distress for BIPOC clients (Chavez-Dueñas et al., 2019). Furthermore, helping clients process the positive messages they received about their racial identity throughout their life can reinforce these approaches (Anderson & Stevenson, 2019). Thus, counselors should use a strength-based approach when supporting BIPOC clients in healing from racism-related stress and trauma. In addition, consultation with colleagues, supervisors, and counselor educators can provide support and a space to implement best practices to provide the most effective care for BIPOC individuals who have experienced racial trauma, rendering positive mental health outcomes.

Professional School Counselors
     Professional school counselors should demonstrate cultural competence and serve as essential stakeholders in identifying and supporting clients impacted by trauma (ACA, 2014; American School Counselor Association [ASCA], 2016; Parikh-Foxx et al., 2020). ASCA specifies these responsibilities and obligations in their ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors (ASCA, 2022). These principles serve as a framework in which professional values, norms, and behaviors are referenced. Further, school counselors can help to identify, respond to, and prevent incidents of racism and bias, as well as become resources to help promote systemic change and advocate for social justice within the educational setting (ASCA, 2020). However, ASCA (2021) recognizes the lack of racial literacy and the inherent gaps between racial equity and equality within education, petitioning for school counselors to continually pursue cultural competency and work toward mitigating the negative effects of racism and bias. Subsequently, ASCA guidelines encourage school counselors to examine their own biases and consult with community professionals to engage in immersive experiences and provide support to students and families who have experienced racial trauma or have been negatively impacted by racism (ASCA, 2021; Atkins & Oglesby, 2019; Levy & Adjapong, 2020).

As facilitators of change, school counselors can help to create environments that are safe and inclusive for both students and educators. One approach is to discuss issues of racial trauma using trauma-informed and restorative practices (National Child Traumatic Stress Network [NCTSN], 2018). Trauma-informed practices take on a phenomenological approach, seeking to identify, understand, and address the meaning behind student behaviors and experiences (Steane, 2019). Additionally, restorative practices not only provide an alternative to harsh disciplinary practices, but also create spaces for individuals to share their own perspectives without fear of judgement or ridicule, while being open to listening and validating the values, experiences, and perspectives of others (NCTSN, 2018; United Negro College Fund, 2020). Moreover, Anderson and Stevenson (2019) posited the concept of racial socialization, which is the intentional communication about the system of racism, racial identity, and experiences between parents and their children and others within the family system with similar racial and ethnic identities. Racial socialization aids in the development of a positive sense of self and cultural identity as mitigating forces to racial trauma. Further, the Racial Encounter Coping Appraisal and Socialization Theory (RECAST) helps families and youth prepare for, discuss, and respond to racially stressful experiences appropriately (Anderson & Stevenson, 2019). Thus, this can also prepare students to strategize how to respond to incidents of racism in the school environment.

It is evident that incidents of school-based racism are perpetuated by several factors and continue to negatively impact student performance and affect the health and well-being of BIPOC students (Kohli et al., 2017). The implementation of culturally responsive pedagogy can be used to mitigate this impact, increase academic success, and help students maintain cultural integrity (Ladson-Billings, 1995; Lebron et al., 2015). Counseling professionals can support this effort by engaging in training and professional development to understand racism and its impact on culturally diverse students and by facilitating necessary discussions that help to equip stakeholders with tools to adequately address discrimination, racism, and race-based trauma (NCTSN, 2018; Pietrantoni, 2017).

Counselor Supervisors
     The ACA Code of Ethics (2014; e.g., Section F: Supervision, Teaching, and Training) highlights the importance of counselor supervision for the development of counselors seeking licensure as independent mental health practitioners. Additionally, counselor supervision enhances a supervisee’s knowledge, skills, and ability to work with diverse clients (ACA, 2014). Therefore, counselor supervisors and their supervisees should be aware of racial trauma and the effects it could have on BIPOC clients. Pieterse (2018) posited guidelines and considerations for supervisors to follow when attending to racial trauma concerns in clinical supervision. Specifically, supervisors must be reflective of their own racial identity, understand how to assess for racial trauma, and implement effective clinical interventions for their supervisees’ clients impacted by racial trauma (Pieterse, 2018).

Additionally, understanding the concept of racial trauma in the larger context of historical trauma for BIPOC communities creates a learning environment for supervisees to deepen their knowledge of racial trauma (Comas-Díaz, 2000; French et al., 2020; Pieterse, 2018). For example, educating supervisees on historical depictions of racism-related stress and trauma for BIPOC communities, such as internment camps, chattel slavery, and colonization, provides the historical context of psychological wounds impacting BIPOC communities in present day by way of intergenerational trauma (Comas-Díaz et al., 2019; Nagata et al., 2019). Furthermore, clinical supervisors can role-play in supervision meetings with their supervisees to model helping clients process racist-related incidents, assessing for psychological distress, and empowering clients to practice effective coping and resistant strategies (Pieterse, 2018), thus ensuring supervisors’ awareness of multiculturalism and diversity in the supervisory relationship (ACA, 2014; e.g., Section F.2.b.: Multicultural Issues/Diversity in Supervision). It is critical for counselor supervisors to obtain the knowledge, skills, and abilities to best prepare counselor supervisees in addressing and treating racial trauma concerns.

Counselor Educators
     Moh and Sperandio (2022) urged the counseling profession to integrate trauma-informed curricula to best prepare counselors-in-training (CITs) to respond effectively to trauma concerns caused by systemic racism in the United States. However, there is hesitancy for counselor educators to teach CITs about racial trauma (VanAusdale & Swank, 2020). Specifically, counselor educators have reported a lack of knowledge and limited ability to teach CITs about racial trauma (VanAusdale & Swank, 2020), futher highlighting the need for trauma-informed curricula to be adopted in the counselor profession to best prepare counselors and educators to address the needs of those impacted by racial trauma. In addition, counselor educators’ lack of knowledge in trauma-informed care and racial trauma does not help prepare future CITs to address this concern once they have graduated from their respective counselor education programs, consequently leading to racial trauma concerns going unaddressed and deepening the wounds of racial trauma for BIPOC (Bryant-Davis & Ocampo, 2005; Comas-Díaz, 2000; Helms, et al., 2010).

However, counselor educators can find creative ways to implement racial trauma education into the classroom. For example, counselor educators can include required readings from BIPOC scholars in their classes that contribute to the racial trauma literature (e.g., Anderson & Stevenson, 2019; French et al., 2020; Mosley et al., 2021). Additionally, counselor educators can demonstrate how to implement the UnRESTS (Williams et al., 2018) for CITs in practicum and internship courses who are practicing conducting clinical interviews. Furthermore, counselor educators can introduce CITs to theories that go beyond the Eurocentric tradition. For example, the first author of this article, Warren Wright, was introduced to queer theory, critical theory, and critical race theory in his master’s-level multicultural counseling (formerly cross-cultural counseling) course. As a student, Wright was assigned to write a social justice and advocacy paper, in which he utilized critical race theory to discuss how adolescents’ responses to experiencing racism in K–12 education could present as behavioral and emotional dysregulation. To mitigate this concern, Wright created an after-school program that utilized dance movement therapy (i.e., stepping) to help Black adolescent males with emotional regulation, personal development, and academic excellence. This approach is an example of a trauma-informed and responsive practice that could reduce harsh disciplinary referrals and increase Black students’ socioemotional development (Stover et al., 2022). If counselor educators feel inadequate to teach trauma counseling or trauma-informed practices, they should seek additional training and consultation to increase their awareness, knowledge, and skills about trauma-informed curricula and approaches (Moh & Sperandio, 2022).


The aim of this article is to provide an understanding of racial trauma and its impact on the psychological and emotional well-being of BIPOC communities and provide recommendations for the counseling profession. Intentional practices, strategies, and approaches are needed to help reduce the impact of racial trauma experienced by BIPOC individuals and communities. Therefore, it is imperative for CITs, licensed professional mental health counselors, school counselors, counselor educators, and supervisors to be well-equipped to address racial trauma concerns. Failure of the counseling profession to address racial trauma concerns deepens the psychological and emotional injuries of racial trauma. Therefore, curricula for CITs should be adapted to best prepare the next generation of counselors to aid with and mitigate the lasting impacts of racially motivated trauma inflicted on BIPOC individuals and communities.


Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure
The authors reported no conflict of interest
or funding contributions for the development
of this manuscript.



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Warren Wright, MEd, NCC, LPC, CCTP, is a doctoral student at Sam Houston State University. Jennifer Hatchett Stover, MA, NCC, LPC, CCTP, CSC, is a doctoral student at Sam Houston State University. Kathleen Brown-Rice, PhD, NCC, ACS, LPC, LCMHC, LCAS, is a professor at Sam Houston State University. Correspondence may be addressed to Warren Wright 1932 Bobby K. Marks Drive, Huntsville, TX 77340, wbw007@shsu.edu.

All Foreign-Born Adoptees Are Not the Same: What Counselors and Parents Need to Know

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


Cognitive Development

     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).


Family Stress

     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.



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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, yxl257@psu.edu.


Altruism–Self-Interest Archetypes: A Paradigmatic Narrative of Counseling Professionals

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.


Artifact Analysis

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.






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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, svflynn@plymouth.edu.