The therapist needs to be able to understand and use stereotypes without being seduced by them. Stereotypes become a form of projective determinism. An individual from a particular group is assumed by others, such as the therapist to have the attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors common to the group whether the stereotype has historical relevance much less individual relevance. Stereotypes however can be potentially relevant assumptions based on partial experience that allow one to make prejudgments and predictions about the probability of behavior and challenges. In this manner, each situation is not experienced as a totally new experience, but framed by previous experiences and information. For example, LaTaillade (2006) makes a potentially important comment about Black couples. "…the unique challenges that face Black couples increase the likelihood of relationship distress and instability, causing some to be ambivalent about marriage. Researchers have generally attributed the higher divorce rate and decline in marriage to several stressors that disproportionately affect African Americans, including economic instability, joblessness, exposure to poverty and violence, and continued experiences of racism and discrimination" (page 342). "Experiences of racism and discrimination can adversely impact Black couples in multiple ways. Partners may carry their individual experiences of racism home to the couple relationship… and displace their racism-related anger and frustration toward each other, increasing relationship conflict and distress… social and institutional experiences of discrimination among African American couples were negatively associated with use of constructive communication behaviors and positively associated with use of destructive forms of communication such as verbal aggression and violence" (page 343).
The therapist should be aware that African-American couples may be ambivalent about marriage and should be ready to examine for that when working with an African-American couple. The therapist should be aware of stressors that may adversely affect African-Americans and be vigilant to their potential relevance with African-American individuals, couples, and families. The therapist should assess for internalized self-hatred or racism, projective processes between partners, and negative communication patterns in African-American couples. Of course, the therapist should be aware of and assess for in any relationship or couple, ambivalence, adverse effects of stress, self-hatred, projective process, and negative communication. While the therapist need to be aware that such issues may be more prominent in African-American couples, he or she need to always hold clear that the couple in their therapy rooms may be intensely, significantly, somewhat, marginally, or not be influenced by stressors or manifest issues LaTaillade and other researchers of the African-American experience have identified.
Therapy or other interactions are new and developing experiences with evolving individuals. Although it may be useful and relevant to frame people based on historical, political, social, or cultural constructs, individuals, couples, and families are not necessarily or completely defined by the previous experiences and information. The actual experiences with people needs to be accepted and the focus of the interaction. The prejudgments from the stereotypes allow the therapist to anticipate probable circumstances in order to be more prepared to handle them successfully. Unfortunately, for some people the prejudgments from the stereotypes can cause them to experience stereotypes whether or not people actually enact them. Prejudgments and stereotypes can lead the therapist to look for certain common issues in individual or relationships dynamics that may be relevant in representing client or clients. However, prejudgments and stereotypes can lead the therapist to ignore other issues that are as relevant or more relevant. And to assume dynamics that may or may not be present. All the education, training, and experience that a conscientious therapist gains, can lead to stereotypical perceptions and therapy or to more efficient and effective therapy. Presenting the stereotypes as hypotheses to be checked and confirmed or disconfirmed or qualified by the individual, couple, or family creates opportunities for progress in therapy, versus defining them in terms of stereotypes and acting upon the stereotypes therapeutically without examination, which would be harmful to the process.