Site Admin|Contact|Home 

(Cultural) Identity Development Models

Saturday, January 20th, 2007 @ 10:12 pm
Leave a  comment
Posted in  Literature, Reading

The construct of IDENTITY inevitably plays a prominent role when we talk about cross-cultural work. I know (tacit knowledge) from my personal experience of living between (or within) two cultures (referring to ‘countries’) that my identity (not only cultural) has been affected in a number of ways, something difficult to put into words. As a Greek, growing up at the far East corner of Europe – with a Cypriot father – I ‘carry’ features of both East and West…and yet I was trained as a therapist in a very western (UK) environment and have been living in it for a few years now. Although, my country is a member of EU, politically governed by ‘democracy’ etc, we are yet a nation that has been historically repeatedly invaded until recent years…and dominated by nations with whom we presently seem to have ‘equal’ rights, according to EU standards…the boundaries of dynamics of power become kind of blurred at this point. When thinking about all this, C. Lago (2006, Identity Development and its role in Therapy) sent me this excellent paper where he critically reflects on identity development models and challenges therapists in considering the following:

“important for us, then, as workers in the interpersonal domain to understand the complexity of ‘intersectional identities’, of multiple diversities. To appreciate that individual experience can never be fully accounted for by theoretical models. My contention here is to say that we can draw very useful insights, ideas, and learning from theoretical models such as I have described but we have to retain the capacity to listen to the complexity of people’s lives and circumstances and accept those and understand those, even when those experiences do not accord with the theoretical models or identity politics with which we like to identify”

Here are the models he presents, something I intend to look upon again soon:

(with thanks and acknowledgements to C.Lago)

(Adopted from Atkinson, Morten and Sue, 1979)

This suggests that people at this stage:
1. Identify more strongly with the dominant culture values,
2. Lack awareness of an ethnic perspective,
3. Exhibit negative attitudes toward self and others as part of an ethnic group,
4. Accept and believe stereotypes prevalent in society about self and group.

In this stage, people:
1. Experience confusion and conflict about the values and beliefs developed in Stage One,
2. Actively question the dominant culture values,
3. Become aware of issues involving racism, sexism, oppression, etc.,
4. Identify with the history of the personal cultural group,
5. Have feelings of anger and loss,
6. Seek role models from the cultural group to which they belong.

At this stage, people:
1. Actively and forcefully reject and distrust the dominant culture,
2. Demonstrate greater identification with their own culture group,
3. Immerse themselves into ethnic history, traditions, foods, language, etc.,
4. Begin to exhibit activist behaviour with motivation towards combating oppression, racism and sexism,
5. Might separate from the dominant culture.


In stage four, people:
1. Question their previously rigid rejection of the dominant culture’s values,
2. Experience conflict and confusion regarding loyalty to their own cultural group and personal autonomy,
3. Struggle for self – awareness continuously.

In this final stage, people:
1. Resolve many of the conflicts exemplified in stage four,
2. Have a sense of fulfilment regarding their personal cultural identity, and an increase in appreciation for other cultural groups, as well the dominant cultural values,
3. Selectively accepts or rejects dominant culture values based upon their prior experience,
4. Become motivated to eliminate all forms of oppression


As for ‘dominant cultures”:

(From Helms, J.E. 1984.)


In this stage, persons:

1. Become aware that (Black) minority people exist,
2. Characterizes naively their interactions and knowledge about people from minorities,
3. Tend to ignore differences or regard them as unimportant (‘people are people’-a position claimed many times by therapists I know),
4. Are unaware of themselves as racial beings (e.g. They do not know what it means to be White, Austrian),
5. Become aware of societal pressures that accompany cross – racial interactions,
6. Seek resolution through withdrawal of approach.

In stage two, people begin to:
1. Become aware of racism, which leads to guilt, depression and negative feelings. They are forced to acknowledge that they are from the majority group in society.
2. Feel caught between their internal standards of human decency and external cultural expectations,
3. Respond to this dilemma in one of three ways:
a. Over identifies with those from minorities.
b. Become paternalistic towards minorities.
c. Retreat back into their own culture.

In this stage, people:
1. Becomes hostile towards minorities and more positively biased toward their own racial group, (prejudiced).
2. Overtly or covertly become anti –minority.
3. View or perceive minority traits as negative.


The fourth stage of majority group identity development sees persons:
1. Intellectually accepting and becoming increasingly curious about minorities and majority groups.
2. Becomeing interested in racial group similarities and differences
3. Possibly having cross – racial interactions which may be limited to special members of minority groups, (particularly with those who are similar to members of the majority group.)

In stage five, persons from the majority group:
1. Accept racial differences and similarities with appreciation and respect,
2. Do not perceive differences as deficits or similarities as enhancers,
3. Actively seek opportunities for cross – racial interactions.


Print this post

2 Comments for
“(Cultural) Identity Development Models”

  1. hey F… wow sister! you blow me away!….in my job as trade union official and equalities oficer the amount of racism is rife, inequalities are abound and no governmnet policies will remove prejudices deep rooted with ones culture, upbringing and ignorance; until they internalise and disect their own way of thinking….

    i read a good book many years ago.. the gift of therapy, reflections on being a therapist it written by irvin d. yalom have you read it? … you would eat it for breakfast!!!

    nameste x

  2. thanks for your feedback Karen!

    yes, i have read the book by Yalom…there is also more out there on the topic which is hoepful, suchthings are gradually being voiced but it does take a lot of courage, F

Leave a Comment:

Your comment: