Heterosexual ally development in counseling psychologists: Experiences, training, and advocacy.
Asta, E.L. & Vacha-Haase, T. (2013). Heterosexual ally development in counseling psychologists: Experiences, training, and advocacy. The Counseling Psychologist, 41, 493-529.
In this article, which is based on the first author’s dissertation, Asta and Vacha-Hasse discuss the impact of counseling psychology training on LGBT ally development. Prior research regarding the effects of majority groups becoming involved with supporting minority rights does not provide enough answers regarding how heterosexual allies can most effectively support their LGBT peers or how to best foster ally identities, according to the authors. By surveying the extant literature on ally identities and conducting in-depth interviews with counseling psychologists on the training they’ve received, the authors analyze whether the training received by counseling psychologists adequately prepares the psychologists to identify as allies and work with and support LGBT minorities. The authors note that we must first understand “how an ally identity is defined” and she uses the commonly cited definition from Washington & Evans (1991): “A person who is a member of the ‘dominant’ or ‘majority’ group who works to end oppression in his or her personal or professional life through support of, and as an advocate for, the oppressed population” (p. 2). Asta and Vacha-Hasse’s article specifically analyzes the prior research on LGBT allies, and then focuses on the evolution of the ally identity in trained counseling psychologists and to what extent training is enough to “encourage ally development” in counselors.
The qualitative study involved 14 pre-doctoral psychology interns and psychologists who were recruited via email to participate in phone interviews lasting less than 60 minutes. The interviews were semi-structured and also included follow up questions at a later date to allow the participants to share additional thoughts and reactions. Interviews were conducted by the primary researcher, a 27-year-old, European-American, heterosexual, female, doctoral graduate student in a Ph.D. counseling psychology program (p. 26). A research assistant or primary researcher transcribed each interview. Next, an “open coding” method was used. This method produced “concepts/codes that fit the data being analyzed” and that were “of interest to this particular research question” (p. 28). The analysis stage found relationships between the various codes and categorized the general concepts. These general concepts were labeled as “level II” codes, and were analyzed and used to find major themes in the data. During the interviews, specific strategies were used to increase the trustworthiness of the research. These included: regular journal keeping by researchers to assess their level of involvement with the data; regular peer examination and discussion of coding procedures; the review of interview transcripts by the interviewees; and lastly, the use of direct quotes and “rich, thick, description” in the final write-up in order to connect individuals to the data and ensure air representation (p. 26).
The authors discuss the 5 main data themes resulting from the data analysis: “1) ally meaning and essence, 2) ally growth and development, 3) ally challenges, 4) intersection, and 5) diversity within the LGBT community” (p. 31). Most participants defined ally not as a label, but as a process or way of being, and agreed that advocacy is a large component of being an ally. Similarly, most participants identified the necessity of having relationships with members of the LGBT community and generally supportive attitudes toward the whole LGBT community. The authors note that many interviewees indicated being highly influenced by others’ responses to their ally work. Recognition and appreciation of ally work from peers, LGBT leaders, or colleagues, all seemed to be highly influential. Asta and Vacha-Hasse also noted that the widest range of opinions on ally identity was regarding the “variation and fluidity” of identities (p. 35). Some interviewees viewed identity as a natural, effortful growth process, while others believed it to be a more innate, natural quality.
This study contributes to understanding of the development of ally identities and, in particular, the ally identities of counseling psychologists. The authors argue that, because the data does not fit into a previously established stage model, this study also suggests that current ally models may not be sufficient or even correct. With the continual progression of LGBT rights, it is vital that we gain a better understanding of the reasoning and progression behind ally identities. This article is particularly relevant for psychologists in a university setting, where LGBT groups and research are rapidly expanding. However, because this study focuses only on the relationship between counselor training and ally development, it leaves room for continued research regarding ally development in non-clinical professionals. Similarly, the study focused primarily on individuals with an educational background in psychology. This is limiting in that it does not sufficiently contribute on how we can better foster LGBT ally identities in the general population. Asta and Vacha-Hasse’s article serves as a solid foundation to learning more about ally development in counseling psychology and also highlights the need to further study ally development in other populations.