A recent focus of my research has been to develop a richer understanding of the psychological barriers to seeking counseling and therapy. Studies suggest that as few as 11% of those who have a diagnosable disorder seek professional help in a given year. The most cited reason as to why individuals avoid treatment is because of concerns about the public stigma associated with mental illness (i.e., negative evaluations of individuals experiencing a mental health issue). However, colleagues and I hypothesized that concerns about stigmatization may not just be attached to mental illness but also attached to the act of being a client. As a result, we have been identifying the unique role of this new type of stigma on attitudes, intentions, and use of counseling services. We found that the stigma of seeking counseling predicts willingness to use counseling services over and above the effects of the stigma associated with mental illness. We have also showed that the stigma associated with counseling applies to different types of counseling and is influenced by societal and cultural factors as well as gender roles. We have also developed a measure of the self-stigma of seeking counseling (i.e., the process of degrading and devaluing oneself for seeking help) and have found that the relationship between public stigma and the decision to seek counseling is fully mediated by self-stigma. In other words, individuals appear to internalize, external messages and it is these internal messages (i.e., I am weak for needing help) that accounts for the decision to seek counseling. This is an important finding as society’s opinions about seeking counseling might be hard to change. However, one’s internal messages might be more malleable. As a result of these findings, we are currently assessing the effectiveness of several interventions designed to reduce the self-stigma associated with seeking counseling. This research has also generated interest from researchers from around the world and we are currently examining cross-cultural similarities and differences in self-stigma in several countries (e.g., Australia, Canada, China, England, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Taiwan, Turkey, and the US). In addtion, we are currently developing collaborations to reduce the stigma associated with seeking help for military personnel experiencing mental health concerns after being deployed (e.g., the self-stigma of seeking counseling measure is currently part of the stigma screening on afterdeployment.org) and we are working to develop a grant to assess the effectiveness of these screening and intervention types of efforts. To find out more about this line of research see our Self-Stigma Research Collaborative website.
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