A Thirteen-Year Comparison in Patterns of Attitudes toward Counseling
Rule, Warren R., Gandy, Gerald L., Adolescence
Professionals in the helping fields are understandably intrigued with the way their services are perceived by potential clients and which attitudes remain relatively constant. These concerns can be related to professional identity issues as well as to intervention strategies.
More specifically, the general area of counseling preferences has been investigated from different perspectives: characteristics of those who might or might not seek counseling (e.g., Cook, 1984; Greenly & Mechanic, 1976; Siegman, 1974; Goodman, Sewell & Jampol, 1984; Voit, 1982; Chamow, 1978; Robertson, 1989; Kemp, 1989; Shack-Finger, 1988; Gray, 1987; Bushway, 1985; Cooperman, 1983; Neal, 1983); preferences for types of helpers (e.g., Cook, 1984; Getsinger & Garfield, 1976; Gelso & Karl, 1974; Smith, 1974; Corwin, 1973; Sharpley, 1986; Webb & Spears, 1986; Butterfield, 1989; Kemp, 1989; Bologub, 1986; Ricketts, 1988); types of client problems (e.g., Cook, 1984; Corwin, 1973); responsibilities of the professional helper (e.g., Hagedorn, 1977; Dreman & Dolev, 1976); and attitude toward theoretical orientation of the professional (e.g., Smith, 1974; Healey, 1978). Each of these areas are discussed here.
A survey was conducted in 1976 on a relatively homogeneous group of 117 college students enrolled in sophomore-junior level classes in a school of community services in a Mid-Atlantic university. Thirteen years later the same survey was administered to a similarly homogeneous group of 143 college students at the same school. In both samples, gender was approximately equal. Specific areas of the survey form and the results will follow, along with the findings of related investigations.
The issue of the likelihood of seeking help when one is experiencing an upsetting personal problem has been studied by a number of researchers, especially those concerned with college populations. Cook (1984) found that female college students had greater potential interest in counseling than did males. An investigation by Greenley and Mechanic (1976) discovered that being female affected generalized help-seeking behaviors of college students. Shack-Finger (1988) found that female college students had more positive attitudes toward help-seeking behavior, yet the findings showed no significant sex differences in actual help-seeking behavior. A study by Cooperman (1983) with college students indicated that being female, as well as having more limited interpersonal contacts and having positive impressions of therapy were related to positive attitudes toward seeking psychological help. Neal's (1983) findings revealed that females were relatively more aware of counseling services and were proportionately greater users of these services. Voit (1982) found that college students with female sex-role identity were more likely to seek counseling. Robertson (1989) found that predictions of positive attitudes toward traditional counseling included higher feminine scores on a gender role measure and higher social scores on a personality measure, whereas negative attitudes were related to high scores on various masculinity measures. A study by Kemp (1989) noted different predictions for seeking help by male and female college students. In a different vein, Chamow (1978) provided a three-situational framework for conceptualizing when most men seem to become involved in individual therapy.
Some studies have investigated predictions based on other than gender differences in seeking help. Gray (1987) identified 16 significant variables related to help-seeking behavior in college students, whereas Siegman (1974) found self-acceptance to be the only variable in the California Psychological Inventory that was significant for seekers and nonseekers. Goodmana, Sewell, & Jampol (1984) studied stresses and social supports for college students and concluded that given equal numbers of stressful events, the likelihood of seeking counseling increases as social supports decrease. In a sample of college undergraduates, Bushway (1985) found that four variables had a significant impact on help-seeking decisions in 52% of the cases.
In the present comparative investigation, participants in both the 1976 and 1989 survey were requested to respond to the question:
If you were experiencing a personal problem that frequently upset you, what are the chances that you would talk it over with someone? Circle the most appropriate number (1 = Very Certain; 2 = Quite Probably; 3 = Somewhat Likely; 4 = Not Sure; 5 = Somewhat Unlikely; 6 = Quite Doubtful; 7 = Definitely Not).
Comparisons within Each Year
For each year, females were significantly more likely to seek help. Using Pearson correlation coefficients, for 1976, r(95) = .202, p = .05; for 1989; r(142) = .195, p = .02. For 1976, the means were: females = 2.29 and males = 2.91; for 1989, females = 1.80 and males = 2.59.
In combining both genders into one sample, results indicate that a chi-square test is also quite significant; (6, N = 237) = 17.24, p = .008.
Comparisons between years
In comparing the 1976 and 1989 ratings, no significant differences were found for males or females. In combining the males and females, no significant differences were found in comparing the two years [[Chi].sup.2] (M = 2.62 for 1976; M = 2.35 for 1989).
Thus, in keeping with the previously discussed research patterns for both samples, females were consistently more likely to seek counseling. Yet, the 13-year time span produced no overall significant changes for both sexes in seeking counseling.
TYPES OF HELPERS
Closely related to an individual's decision to seek help is the choice of helper. A sizeable proportion of investigations in this area seem to have been conducted with college samples as well. Kemp (1989) discovered a strong preference for close friends or relatives over counseling psychologists and clergy. Cook (1984) also found a preference for friends or relatives. Smith's (1974) survey revealed that respondents preferred a fellow student rather than a professional counselor for solving personal problems. An investigation by Getsinger & Garfield (1976) indicated that males perceived counseling psychologists as likely sources of help for emotional, family, interpersonal, and sexual problems, whereas general counselors were perceived as more likely sources of help for vocational and educational problems. Yet, Gelso & Karl (1974) found greater perceived differences within the various counseling specialties than between counseling psychologists and either clinical psychologists or psychiatrists. A study by Webb & Speers (1986) noted that psychologists are seen as very similar to psychiatrists, but unlike scientists. Sharpley (1986) found that the Australian public viewed the professions as falling into two subgroups: (1) psychologists and psychiatrists as fee-demanding private practitioners who studied human behavior and thoughts; and (2) social workers and counselors as nonfee-demanding professionals who were more practical and helped the average person solve emotional problems. Butterfield (1989) studied the public image of mental health professionals, both within the field and as viewed by the general public, and found definite dissimilarities. The public seemed to differentiate on the basis of three categories: medical professions, "psychological" professions, and professions not specifically related to mental health care. An investigation by Bogolub (1986) found distinct age, gender, and educational differences between those who sought help from mental health professionals and from non-mental health professionals. Ricketts (1988) discovered different perceptions of mental health services between mental health outpatients and randomly sampled residents on the variables of age and gender but not across socioeconomic status or network characteristics.
In the survey used in the present study, an attempt was made to provide the respondents with a choice of "traditional" helpers or "professional" helpers. Participants in the 1976 and the 1989 samples were requested to respond to the following question:
If you were experiencing a personal problem that you knew you could not deal with by yourself and felt that you definitely had to talk to someone about it, what is the likelihood that you would seek out the following individuals? (Circle the most appropriate number.) No expense involved for the professionals. (Note: The same 7-point Likert scale was used for each of the following individuals as was used in Question 1.): family member; close friend; minister, priest, rabbi; professional counselor; psychologist; psychiatrist.
Comparisons within Each Year
In 1976, males were more likely to consider a psychiatrist, r(93) = .171, p = .10. In 1989, females were more likely to consider a professional counselor, r(139) = .254, p = .003; a psychologist, r(139) = -.176, p = .04; and a psychiatrist, r(138) = -.149, p = .08.
In combining the genders into one sample, results indicated that none of the ratings of helpers, with one notable exception, came close to approaching significant gender differences. A chi-square test revealed that women were more likely to seek out a close friend, [[Chi].sup.2] (6, N = 231) = 14.52, p = .02.
Comparisons between Years
In comparing the 1976 and 1989 ratings, females were significantly more likely in 1989 (M = 3.00) to seek help from a family member than in 1976 (M = 3.55), t(100.3) = 1.63, p = .10. With regard to seeking out a psychiatrist, the patterns reversed for each sex from 1976 to 1989. Males were significantly less likely to seek out a psychiatrist in 1989 (M = 5.46) than in 1976 (M = 4.95), t(87.2) = 1.76, p = .10, whereas females were more likely to seek out a psychatrist in 1989 (M = 4.99) than in 1976 (M = 5.50), t (107.9) = 1.72, p = .06.
As shown in Table 1, rankings of the likelihood of seeking each of the helpers remained constant from 1976 to 1989. Quite remarkably, the means for each of the professional helpers (professional counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist) were virtually unchanged from 1976 to 1989, varying no more than one-hundreth of a point. This consistency may be disappointing to professionals who hope that their public image would have improved in the eyes of the college-educated public over 13 years. Yet the likelihood would seem to be increased, from a research perspective, that the samples may well be, in many ways, quite comparable. Not surprising is the finding that each sample selected "Close Friend" as the first choice; this is consistent with most of the research on college students. Perhaps noteworthy is that the likelihood of seeking counseling (first question in survey) correlated significantly with the likelihood of seeking a close friend in 1976, whereas the likelihood of seeking counseling correlated with all six helpers in 1989. Possibly participants in the recent sample felt they had more choices once they had made a decision to seek help.
Table 1 Means and S.D.s of Rankings of Potential Helpers 1976 1989 Potential Helper Rank M S.D. Rank M S.D. Close Friend 1 2.13 1.32 1 1.99 1.17 Family Member 2 3.25 1.85 2 2.83 1.73 Professional Counselor 3 4.47 1.67 3 4.47 1.83 Psychologist 4 4.96 1.72 4 4.97 1.71 Minister, Priest, Rabbi 5 5.04 1.79 5 5.21 1.67 Psychiatrist 6 5.21 1.56 6 5.22 1.61
For both 1976 and 1989, professional counselors were viewed as similar to psychologists (r = .72, .79), yet somewhat less like psychiatrists (r = .46, .67), whereas psychologists were viewed as similar to psychiatrists (r = .71, .86).
TYPE OF PROBLEM
The type of problem for which the individual is willing to seek professional help has been alluded to previously. In addition, Cook (1984) found that trained professionals were seen as helpful in career choice and stress-related or anxiety problems. Corwin (1973) found that professionals in an academic setting were preferred sources of assistance in general for academic and vocational concerns, yet fellow students were the preferred source of assistance for personal and social concerns.
Both the 1976 and 1989 samples was requested to respond to the following questions:
Listed below are broad areas in which personal problems can develop. Circle the number that best represents the chances of your seeking professional help (e.g., professional counselor or therapist) if you had an upsetting problem in that area. Assume that no expense is involved. (Note: Below are the five "lifetasks," described by Mosak , which were regarded by Alfred Adler as those on which everyone must take some sort of a position. An attempt here was made to express them in "laymenlike" terms. The Likert Scale after each of these was the same as that used for Questions 1 & 2); interpersonal (family or friends); work or school; relationship to the opposite sex; philosophical/existential issues; coping with and/or accepting yourself.
Comparisons within Each Year
For both 1976 and 1989, there was no significant relationship between sex and any of the types of problems, using Pearson correlation.
After combining the total men and total women into one sample, there were no significant differences for any of the problems, using chi-square tests.
Comparison between Years
With regard to comparing the likelihood of seeking help for each type of problem, there was no significant change from 1976 to 1989 for females. However, the males were less likely in 1989 to seek help for problems related to work or school (M = 4.30) or philosophical/existential issues (M = 5.01) as compared to 1976 (M = 3.95; M = 4.23, respectively); t(96) = -1.76, p = .08; t(88.6) = -2.36, p = .02. However, when combining the sexes into a single sample for each year, there was a significant difference in the mean for each year; the likelihood of seeking help for "coping with and/or accepting yourself" decreased from 1976 to 1989, t(244.9) = -1.82, p = 07. Perhaps noteworthy is that this problem area dropped from first to second in the rankings from 1976 to 1989; however, the difference is relatively small. The consistency between the means of Interpersonal (Family and Friends) problems for both 1976 and 1989 is worth noting, even though this area moved to the first rank (although slightly) in 1989.
Table 2 Means and S.D.s of Rankings of Life Problems 1976 1989 Lifetask Rank M S.D. Rank M S.D. Coping with and/or Accept. Yourself 1 3.69 1.96 2 4.16 2.11 Work or School 2 3.91 1.93 3 4.28 1.87 Relationship to the Opposite Sex 3 4.165 1.87 4 4.30 1.89 Interpersonal (Fam. or Friends) 4 4.167 1.82 1 4.12 2.00 Philosophical/ Existent. Problem 5 4.21 1.72 5 4.90 1.67
Interestingly, there were no significant correlations between likelihood of seeking counseling itself (the first survey question) and any of the "problem areas" in 1976; however, likelihood of seeking counseling correlated significantly with all of the problem areas in 1989. This finding is quite similar to the expanded 1989 correlations noted in the preceding section on choice of helpers, lending more support to the possibility that the 1989 sample related more choices to the decision to seek help.
RESPONSIBILITY FOR PROBLEM SOLUTION
After the individual has made the decision to seek professional help, the issue of responsibility can be a key influence at varying levels of consciousness as the person approaches and participates in the counseling experience. Dreman & Dolev (1976) found that nonclient college students wanted the counselor to be significantly more active than they had expected him/her to be. Hagedorn (1977) found no significant differences between counseling seekers and nonseekers in their likelihood for taking responsibility for their problems. In this study, each of the subjects was asked to respond to the following question:
Assume that you have made the decision to see a counselor or therapist about an upsetting personal problem. Circle below the amount of responsibility you think the counselor should take in solving the problem for you. (Note: The Likert Scale was: 1 = Entire Responsibility; 2 = Most; 3 = Somewhat More than Me; 4 = Share it Equally; 5 = Somewhat Less than Me; 6 = Little; 7 = None.)
Comparisons within Each Year
For 1976 the males expected the professional helper to take significantly more responsibility than did the females, r(95) = .27, p = .008. The means were 4.33 and 4.92, respectively.
For 1989 there was no significant difference between males and females on helper responsibility, r(143) = .05, p = .52. The means were 4.73 and 4.60, respectively.
After combining the total males and females into one sample, no significant differences were found using a chi-square test. Quite interestingly, not a single individual of the combined total of 260 indicated that the counselor should take entire responsibility.
Comparison between Years
After combining the sexes into a single sample for each year, no significant difference was found on expected helper responsibility between 1976 and 1989; in fact, the means were virtually identical: 4.64 and 4.66. However, the changing patterns for each sex from 1976 to 1989 were quite significant and in opposite directions. Males in 1989 (M = 4.73) thought the counselor should take less responsibility than did those in 1976 (M = 4.33), t(103.2) = -1.75, p = .08; however, the females in 1989 (M = 4.60) thought the counselor should take more responsibility than did those in 1976 (M = 4.94), t(113.5) = 1.69, p = .09.
TYPE OF COUNSELING APPROACH
The actual type of counseling approach the individual would prefer, once having made the decision to seek help, is an intriguing investigation issue, yet it does not appear to have generated much research. For example, Smith (1974) found that college students regarded innovative counseling models as relatively unimportant. An investigation by Healey (1978) revealed that there was no significant difference in college women's perceptions as a function of counselor style or client problem type.
Both the 1976 and 1989 participants were asked to respond to the following five-part question. Each part consisted of a laymanlike description of a major counseling approach. The order of presentation (Gestalt, Behavioral, Rational-Emotive, Person-Centered, and Adlerian) was determined by random selection. A 1-7 Likert Scale (the same used in Questions 1-3) was provided under each approach.
Described below are five different counseling approaches or methods a counselor might use in helping someone deal with a personal problem. Assume that you have a personal problem involving a great deal of undesirable emotional feelings (e.g., anxiety, anger, frustration, depression, guilt) and that you made the decision to see a professional counselor or therapist. Circle the number under each description to indicate your degree of preference for that particular counseling approach in helping you with your upsetting problem.
1. The counselor or therapist attempts to create an atmosphere in which you will learn for yourself an increased awareness of the here-and-now as it relates to your own resource potential and to the use of avoidances in your life. The counselor believes that this awareness of self will enable you to deal more effectively with your problem. Techniques would be used such as your being skillfully challenged by the counselor, your being requested to participate in sensory awareness exercises, your being asked to relive and roleplay dreams and real-life experiences.
2. The counselor or therapist views your problem as a problem in learning. The counselor, after having discussed with you your goals in terms of how you would like to act instead of the way you presently act, would help you arrange conditions to learn more adaptive behavior for coping with your problem. This involves techniques such as anxiety reduction procedures, self-reinforcement, learning from important others, roleplaying.
3. The counselor or therapist is an active, directive teacher who uses logic and reason, suggestion, persuasion, and confrontation in order to show you and to help you express what the irrational thoughts are that seem to be causing your problems and how to replace these self-defeating thoughts with rational, logical ones. Specific interpersonal homework assignments would be prescribed.
4. The counselor or therapist strives to understand your internal frame of reference--to view the world as you view it and to see you as you see yourself. By communicating to you this empathic understanding of your feelings and perceptions, the counselor believes that your own personal resources will function more effectively and help you better comprehend and work through your problem.
5. The counselor or therapist, after attempting to establish a relationship of trust, shares with you his impressions of your "lifestyle" based primarily on a discussion of your early childhood impressions. Together you would explore how the goals of the life style (i.e., the mental map for interacting with others and for moving through life) contribute to your problem and how these goals are working at a dimly conscious level in your daily life; suggestions for change would be discussed.
Comparison within Each Year
In 1976, males were more likely to rate the Gestalt approach higher than did females, r(94) = .17, p = .10, whereas in 1989, females were more likely to rate the Behavioral approach higher, r(139) = -.20, p = .02.
In combining the total men and women into one sample, findings indicated that the males rated the Gestalt approach higher than did the females, using a chi-square test, [[Chi].sup.2](6, N = 234) = 12.17, p = .06.
Comparison between Years
When combining the sexes into a single sample for each year, no significant difference between 1976 and 1989 was found for any of the five counseling approaches. However, the males showed a significant decrease in interest in the behavioral approach from 1976 (M = 3.02) to 1989 (M = 3.56), t(90.6) = 2.08, p = .04.
Some question can be raised, however, regarding the subjects willingness or ability to discriminate among the five choices of counseling approaches. As can be noted in Table 3, the mean rankings for either year do not vary more than half a point, and the 1989 means are particularly close. Yet, likelihood of seeking counseling (Question 1) correlated significantly with only one approach (Gestalt) in 1976 whereas it correlated significantly with three of the five in 1989 (Gestalt, Behavioral, Person-Centered).
Table 3 Means and S.D.s of Rankings of Counseling Approaches 1976 1989 Counseling Approach Rank M S.D. Rank M S. D. Person-Centered 1 3.155 1.33 3 3.30 1.53 Behavioral 2 3.163 1.43 2 3.29 1.39 Adlerian 3 3.38 1.39 1 3.21 1.44 Gestalt 4 3.46 1.60 5 3.49 1.42 Rational-Emotive 5 3.49 1.48 4 3.42 1.39
An interesting shift occurred between 1976 and 1989 in the correlation between "counselor responsibility for problem solution" and counseling approach. In 1976, Rational-Emotive correlated significantly with expectation of counselor assuming responsibility, r(115) = .20, p = .03; none of the r-values for any of the other approaches exceeded .12. But in 1989, Behavioral Counseling correlated significantly with expectation of counselor assuming responsibility, r(139) = .24, p = .004; none of the r-values for any of the other approaches exceeded .08. Perhaps a shift had occurred between 1976 and 1989 in the implications of self responsibility and in the perception of "directness" in counseling approaches. These two approaches, Rational-Emotive and Behavioral are possibly (at least as described for the subjects in this investigation), the more directive of the five approaches. Yet it may be that those subjects who were, in 1976, inclined to place more responsibility on the counselor were also placing value on the importance of thoughts and introspection (Rational-Emotive), whereas those subjects who were leaning toward counselor responsibility in 1989 were more oriented toward learning behaviors for goal achievement (Behavioral Counseling). This speculation about the changing counseling preferences may be consistent with a broader pattern of social change which is discussed in the next section.
The 1976 and 1989 samples, responding to the same survey instrument, appeared to reflect a number of consistencies with each other as well as with much of the existing research. The virtually identical means for both years on several of the major questions (e.g., choice of professional helpers, responsibility for outcome), would seem to indicate that the two samples were comparable in at least some areas. In addition, several of the major findings for both years were consistent with the research literature (e.g., females more likely to seek counseling, both sexes choosing close friend as the top-priority helper).
In regard to differences in findings between 1976 and 1989, some of the changes may be related to changes in patterns of thinking during the 13-year passage of time. These changes may reflect broader societal shifts in priorities. Subsequent discussion will be directed toward the speculation that attitudes toward counseling, as measured in these two samples, did reflect evolving changes in societal values.
In 1976, the prevailing attitudes on college campuses seemed to be strongly influenced by those of the much-heralded late 1960s and early '70s. The emphasis then seemed to be, for example, on self-exploration, emergent feminism, self-expression, and consciousness raising. Some of the findings in the present investigation would seem to support this. There was significantly more likelihood in 1976 of seeking help for philosophical/existential problems (males) and coping with/accepting oneself (both sexes). Additionally, expectation of counselor responsibility significantly correlated with one counseling approach, Rational-Emotive (possibly because of its attendant emphasis on introspection and awareness of present thoughts). Moreover, females in 1976, perhaps attuned to the growing feminist movement, indicated that they were willing to accept responsibility for counseling outcome significantly more than were the males of that same year or than females of 1989.
In 1989, values on college campuses seem to have shifted somewhat from the inner-directedness of the early 1970s to the outer-directedness of achievement, goal-orientation, and tradition. For instance, in 1989 the females expected the counselor to take significantly more responsibility for the outcome than they did in 1976. Also, in 1989 females indicated a significantly greater interest than did males in the behavioral approach, possibly because of its emphasis on learning to achieve goals using specific behaviors. In combining both sexes for each year, the likelihood of seeking help for "coping with and/or accepting yourself' significantly decreased from 1976 to 1989. Moreover, in combining both sexes in a single sample for 1989, the behavioral approach was the only one that correlated significantly with expectation of counselor responsibility for outcome. Finally, perhaps indicating an increased valuing of tradition, the 1989 sample of combined sexes was significantly more likely to seek help from a family member than was the 1976 sample.
Somewhat more baffling is the attempt to uncover a common thread in some of the significant results for the males. Males in 1989 indicated a significantly reduced interest in Behavioral Counseling as compared to those in 1976, and combining the male and female samples for both years, the males expressed a significantly greater likelihood than did females in seeking out a Gestalt counselor. Further, males in 1989 were significantly less likely than males in 1976 to seek assistance with problems related to work or school or with philosophical/existential problems. A unifying speculation might be that male values, from 1976 to 1989, were shifting somewhat toward--at whatever level of awareness--viewing oneself as needing to be more of a do-it-yourself, "Renaissance" man. This shifting self-image would be consistent with the previously discussed values of achievement and goal orientation of 1989, although expressed in a more self-controlled way than that of the changing females. For instance, the reduced interest in Behavioral Counseling in 13 years, the preference as compared with females for Gestalt, the decreased interest in receiving assistance with several major life-issue problems would seem to be variables that are consistent with the self-image of individuals who find it important to draw primarily upon their own resources.
Even more open to speculation is the reversed perception over time of the sexes toward psychiatrists (i.e., males were more likely than females in 1976 to seek out a psychiatrist, whereas the gender preferences for psychiatrists reversed in 1989). This shift, as well as those related to professionals and personal problems, are worthy of further study. Perhaps more difficult is the much-needed research which investigates linkages between changing attitudes toward counseling and changing societal values.
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Publication information: Article title: A Thirteen-Year Comparison in Patterns of Attitudes toward Counseling. Contributors: Rule, Warren R. - Author, Gandy, Gerald L. - Author. Journal title: Adolescence. Volume: 29. Issue: 115 Publication date: Fall 1994. Page number: 575+. © 1999 Libra Publishers, Inc. COPYRIGHT 1994 Gale Group.
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