Defense Date


Graduation Date

Spring 2007


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Clinical Psychology


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Paul Richer

Committee Member

Eva-Marie Simms

Committee Member

Leswin Laubscher


African American Perceptions, Mental Health


This dissertation investigated African American parents/caregivers perceptions of childhood psychopathology and psychological services. The four participants of this study were African American parents/caregivers of children who were suspected by their respective schools of having symptoms of emotional, cognitive and or behavioral disorders. The researcher of this study asked these participants to describe their lived experiences of their children's functioning that school based evaluators consider atypical.

Data were obtained in the form of an initial phone interview. At a later date a face to face follow-up interview was audio taped and transcribed in order to obtain situated and general narratives.

Findings indicate that the parents/caregivers perceived their children's functioning to be typical and age appropriate for African American children. However, the schools identified the same children's functioning as worthy of supporting a psychological diagnosis. Interestingly, the participants' perceptions of mental health remained neutral to positive since their children received psychological diagnoses from school based evaluations. Therefore, the participants' perceptions of mental health remained unaffected since the mental health system was not directly involved. Additionally, the participants pinpointed the schools use of ethnocentric educational material and curricula as the reason why their children were identified as having difficulties warranting a school based psychological evaluation. The participants believed that there was a white model of education due to standards of behavior reflecting white values. Specifically, behavior checklists and observations used for diagnostic purposes were perceived by the participants to be grounded in white standards of normality and pathology. Moreover, school based evaluations of the participants children led to a combination of diagnoses to include Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity (ADHD), and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). The participants believed that a lack of multicultural competency was partly responsible for the differences in perceptions they had with school evaluators of the same children's functioning. Specifically, participants explained that when African American children demonstrate emotional and or behavioral difficulties that it is often times due to sociocultural stressors and not psychological disturbances.

This investigation also sought to uncover forms of help seeking and perceived barriers to seeking help among African American parents/caregivers. The participants identified race issues attributed to their children being identified by the school as having psychological problems. The school based psychological evaluations were perceived by the participants to be discriminatory against African American children due to an observation that a disproportionate number of African American males were identified and labeled in the school setting with behavioral and emotional disturbances that led to special education placement. Participants also believed that the school held negative and stereotypical perceptions of African Americans as a whole as was evidenced by the school's treatment of the parents in regard to their children. Participants attempted to counteract against the only course of treatment offered by the schools which was a combination of medication and or special education placement by implementing their own alternative strategies. The participants' alternative forms of help seeking included the use of a daily notebook to log behavior, home tutor, spiritual counselor, study material and alternative schools. In addition, the participants sought emotional refuge from the schools by turning to their families, and extensions of the family to include the church, positive male figures and elders in the community. Findings further indicated that while there were similarities in the participants' experiences, there were differences as well in terms of the meaning each of them assigned to the school experience and their understanding of their children's functioning. Treatment implications noted that African Americans are disproportionately underrepresented in the utilization of psychological services. This study's findings might contribute new information regarding the barriers to the receptivity and use of current psychological services by African Americans. Additionally, if parents of African children continue to experience aversive relationships with the school it may effect perceptions of the mental health system since psychological evaluations, diagnoses and related treatment regimens are affiliated with this system.