The Strong Black Woman Archetype and Implications for Treatment

Conference Strand

Identity Formation


African American women who embody the Strong Black Woman image are not your typical mental health client. In this presentation, we will explore the historical characteristics and clinical implications of working with women who strongly embrace this archetype. Treatment strategies using cultural coping methods will be proposed as a step towards developing a culturally responsive working alliance with this population.


Accustomed to self-sacrifice, the Strong Black Woman tackles the injustices of life on behalf of those she loves with no regard for her own needs or well-being (Watson & Hunter, 2015). Scholars have theorized that the insurmountable strength eluded by this mythical figure was the result of having to deny her own pain and anguish through selflessness in the face of horrendous acts committed against her and those she loved (Donovan & West, 2014). To survive, she learned to suffer in silence, developing a lesson of female independence and self-reliance that has been passed down through generations and is now recognized as the Strong Black Woman.

Donovan and West (2014) found that African American women who strongly embrace the persona of the Strong Black Woman (SBW) have significantly higher reports of depression symptoms than those who only mildly embrace the archetype. Current studies extend this area of research by indicating that the SBW archetype predicted poorer psychological outcomes for African American women and is associated with unfavorable attitudes toward professional psychological help seeking. These findings further demonstrate the importance of awareness of cultural factors in treating African American women’s mental health (Harrington, 2010; Ward & Hunter, 2014). In this presentation, attendees will demonstrate an increased awareness of historical factors impacting the identity of today's African American woman. Within this contextual framework, they will be challenged to 1) examine the long-term implications of slavery and racism on mental health, family dynamics, and cultural identity, 2) analyze the effectiveness of preferred cultural coping strategies and 3) learn how to incorporate these strategies into a culturally adapted scheme for working with African American women.



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Individual Presentations

Biographical Sketch

Donya Wallace, LPC, NCC, Doctoral Candidate Counselor Education University of South Carolina

With over 20 years experience in the human service field, I have worked successfully as a licensed clinician and therapist, treating a mostly African American clientele, a population known for its avoidance and mistrust of the counseling profession. Relying upon my understanding of the significance of kinship, and the spiritual journey of personal growth and its connectivity to our ancestors, I have intuitively used our preferred methods of coping (relationships, spirituality and self-reliance) to engage my clients in the process of healing. As a PhD candidate in the Counselor Education program at the University of South Carolina, I have focused my research on issues impacting the mental health of African American women and families. Along with my husband, I am the owner of PrimeCare of the Lower PeeDee, an integrated healthcare facility that focuses on holistic care.

Start Date

2-10-2018 10:15 AM

End Date

2-10-2018 11:30 AM

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Feb 10th, 10:15 AM Feb 10th, 11:30 AM

The Strong Black Woman Archetype and Implications for Treatment

African American women who embody the Strong Black Woman image are not your typical mental health client. In this presentation, we will explore the historical characteristics and clinical implications of working with women who strongly embrace this archetype. Treatment strategies using cultural coping methods will be proposed as a step towards developing a culturally responsive working alliance with this population.