Making Cross-Racial Therapy Work: A Phenomenological Study of Clients' Experiences of Cross-Racial Therapy

Doris F. Chang, Alexandra Berk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A phenomenological and consensual qualitative study of clients' lived experiences of cross-racial therapy was conducted to enhance the understanding of whether, how, and under what conditions race matters in the therapy relationship. The sample consisted of 16 racial and/or ethnic minority clients who received treatment from 16 White, European American therapists across a range of treatment settings. Participants who reported a satisfying experience of cross-racial therapy (n = 8) were examined in relation to gender-matched controls and, in most cases, race/ethnicity-matched controls (n = 8) who reported an overall unsatisfying experience. Therapy satisfaction was assessed during the screening process and was confirmed during the research interview. Therapy narratives were analyzed with consensual qualitative research to identify client, therapist, and relational factors that distinguished satisfied participants from unsatisfied participants. Findings reveal substantial differences at the level of individual characteristics and relational processes, providing evidence of both universal (etic) as well as culture- or context-specific (emic) aspects of healing relationships. Recommendations for facilitating positive alliance formation in cross-racial therapy are provided, based on clients' descriptions of facilitative conditions in the therapy relationship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)521-536
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Counseling Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2009


  • phenomenology
  • psychotherapy
  • racial/ethnic matching
  • therapeutic alliance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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