The role of White guilt and White shame in awareness of privilege and anti-racism

Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology


Counseling Psychology

Content Description

1 online resource (vi, 68 pages) : illustrations.

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Alex L Pieterse

Committee Members

Mariola Moeyaert, LaRae Jome


Mental health counseling, Mental health counselors, Anti-racism, Privilege (Social psychology), White people, Shame, Guilt

Subject Categories

Counseling Psychology


The counseling field is committed to dismantling systems of oppression that may negatively impact client well-being (e.g., Multicultural and Social Justice Counseling Competencies; Ratts et al., 2015) and responding to racism is considered to be a key role of helpers in the counseling professions. Researchers have highlighted the importance of developing White counseling trainees’ understandings of race and racism to competently fulfill their role as counselors and advocates in the helping profession (Malott et al., 2019). Therefore, elucidating factors that precipitate anti-racism in White counseling trainees could help guide training and facilitate this role induction. Research has found that awareness and affect are two compelling factors of White racial identity development (Helms, 2008; Tatum, 2017) and guilt and shame are widely mentioned affective responses to racism for Whites as they develop awareness of privilege and oppression (e.g., Estrada & Matthews, 2016; Spanierman & Heppner, 2004; Grzanka et al., 2020; Helms, 2008). However, theories conflict on the roles of White guilt and White shame in the development of anti-racism. The current study examined how White guilt and White shame mediate the relation between awareness of privilege and oppression, and anti-racism with a sample of 353 White clinicians-in-training enrolled in Master’s and doctoral programs (e.g., counseling psychology, clinical psychology, mental health counseling). Findings revealed that White guilt and White shame both mediated the relation between the predictor, awareness of privilege and the outcome, anti-racism. In this sample, White guilt and White shame facilitated anti-racism with no significant difference between the mediators. Thus, these findings challenge the notion that White guilt and White shame detract from developing an anti-racism orientation. Limitations and future directions are discussed.

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