Race-based Stress Scale Helps Identify Discrimination Effects

Racial discrimination and racism can have serious negative psychological effects. Many studies have been conducted examining the relationship between racism and stress, racism and anxiety and racism and depression. However, until now, there has been no tool available to measure all of the mental health consequences of racial discrimination. In an effort to bridge this gap, Robert T. Carter of the Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Teachers College at Columbia, conducted a study testing the accuracy of the Race Based Traumatic Stress Symptom Scale (RBTSSS) on 330 Asian, Black, Hispanic and White participants. Previous research has shown that many black Americans do not seek professional help for mental health issues because they believe the clinicians won’t understand their feelings about racism. Carter believes that the RBTSSS could help not only these clients, but clinicians as well. He said, “We contend that an instrument to assess the presence of race-based emotional reactions to a specific encounter with racism or racial discrimination that could show whether the stress experienced reflected a trauma reaction would be useful to mental health professionals in several ways.”

After assessing the participants, Carter found that the RBTSS provided a clear measure of 52-items based on seven particular emotional responses, including avoidance, low self-esteem, depression, physical reactions, anger, hypervigilance/arousal and intrusion. “As noted previously, the RBTSSS could be used with caution to help mental health and counseling professionals build greater awareness of the emotional effects from racial incidents,” said Carter. “The RBTSSS adds a tool to counseling assessment by providing mental health professionals a way to assess the emotional reactions of racism and racial discrimination.” Carter hopes that these results will encourage further use of the RBTSSS. He added, “The use of the scale could have the effect of increasing the use of counseling services by underrepresented minority groups and by majority group members who have experienced emotional pain from a racial incident yet are afraid to discuss these in treatment for fear that therapists will not understand.”

Carter, R. T., Mazzula, S., Victoria, R., Vazquez, R., Hall, S., Smith, S., Sant-Barket, S., Forsyth, J., Bazelais, K., & Williams, B. (2011, December 5). Initial Development of the Race-Based Traumatic Stress Symptom Scale: Assessing the Emotional Impact of Racism. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025911

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jacqui


    December 15th, 2011 at 2:07 PM

    But how can you be sure that a minority is going to end up being represented by a therapist who is going to be sensitive to their concerns and needs? I mean just because this scale is there, and it indicates that the needs of racially diverse groups could be different from what they may be accustomed to working with there is still no guarantee that this is going to be used in the right situations every single time.

  • Leonna


    December 16th, 2011 at 1:37 PM

    Racism and mental health-an interesting topic because being subjected to racism is not just a time-bound incident but it leaves it’s marks on your psyche.It can be difficult for a person to come to terms with.

    Its important to assess how it’s impacting people.And it’s good that the same is happening and hopefully more and more people from all around come to have better mental health irrespective of their racial background.

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