Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Mary Z. Anderson

Second Advisor

Dr. Joseph R. Morris

Third Advisor

Dr. Patricia L. Reeves


Racism, counseling psychology, multicultural training effects, multicultural training, white racial identity, Racism education


The current study expands upon prior research that has explored how white psychology and counseling graduate trainees are impacted by their learning about racism. Prior to this study being conducted, research primarily addressed the psychological impact of learning about racism for white trainees. There was minimal acknowledgment and exploration of how learning about racism impacted the interpersonal aspects of trainees’ lives, such as their relationships and larger social networks. The current study addresses this gap within previous research, with it being the first to have an intentional, exclusive focus on the interpersonal impact of learning about racism. The primary purpose of the current study is to explore the changes that white counseling psychology doctoral trainees experience in their relationships and larger social networks as their awareness and understanding of racism increases.

In order to explore the interpersonal changes experienced by trainees, the current study utilizes a phenomenological method of qualitative inquiry. Participants of the study included 10 white counseling psychology doctoral trainees, who each engaged in two phone interviews. The analysis of participant data resulted in the identification of five themes, with each theme representing an interpersonal change commonly experienced by participants as they developed greater awareness and understanding of racism. The five identified themes include: relationship tension and conflict, development and strengthening of relationships, relationship disconnection, relationship dissolution, and transitioning to new roles. Interconnection was found among the themes, as they had an influence on each other.

Collectively, this study’s findings offer insight into how learning about racism impacts white counseling psychology trainees on an interpersonal level. The findings suggest that the development of greater awareness and understanding of racism may lead trainees to assume new roles in their relationships, with the assumption of new roles involving trainees shifting how they interact with others. The roles of educator, protector, and outsider were three roles the findings suggested that trainees may assume. Trainees’ learning about racism may also lead to shifts in the levels of intimacy and connection they experience in relationships. Finally, learning about racism may lead trainees to make changes to the structure of their social networks, where they begin to place greater emphasis on building relationships with fellow professionals, with people of color, and with individuals who share their perspectives on racism.

The findings of the current study have particular relevance for counseling psychology trainees, as well as counseling psychologists who are providers of multicultural education. Increasing trainees’ awareness of the potential interpersonal changes that may occur upon learning about racism, may help trainees better prepare for the challenges they may face when attempting to integrate their new perspectives on racism into their personal and professional lives. Trainees who are better prepared for potential challenges may be better able to develop strong, persistent anti-racist identities. Ultimately, through helping counseling psychology trainees to develop strong anti-racist identities that persist when faced with challenge, the perpetuation of racism within the field of psychology may be reduced.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access