Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

An Investigation of the Relations between Student Knowledge, Personal Contact, and Attitudes toward Individuals with Schizophrenia

Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

An Investigation of the Relations between Student Knowledge, Personal Contact, and Attitudes toward Individuals with Schizophrenia

Article excerpt

SOCIAL WORKERS are the primary providers of psychosocial treatment to individuals with schizophrenia (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2001), a complex and disabling mental disorder that poses unique treatment challenges to mental health professionals. Recent evidence has suggested that although social workers have remained committed to serving this population, they often feel inadequately prepared for this challenging work (Newhill & Korr, 2004), and that the challenges they face in the course of working with persons with schizophrenia may negatively influence their attitudes toward this population (Eack & Newhill, in press). Such attitudes are of particular importance, as they have been consistently linked with negative outcomes among persons with schizophrenia (e.g., Moore & Kuipers, 1992; Snyder et al., 1996). Unfortunately, the mechanisms by which negative attitudes develop among social workers are not well known.

Social psychological theories of attitude and stereotype development suggest that inadequate knowledge about a group of people may lead to negative attitudes toward that group (Allport, 1954; Weber & Crocker, 1983). Given that many social workers feel inadequately prepared for working with persons with schizophrenia (Newhill & Korr, 2004), a lack of requisite knowledge about this population may be a primary mechanism by which negative attitudes develop. However, to date, no study has examined how social workers' knowledge about schizophrenia is related to their attitudes toward this population. One of the primary functions of social work education is to ensure that successive generations of social workers continue to "practice without discrimination and with respect, knowledge, and skills related to clients' age, class, color, culture, disability [italics added], ethnicity, family structure, gender, marital status, national origin, race, religion, sex, and sexual orientation" (Council on Social Work Education [CSWE], 2001, Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards, Educational Policy 1.2). An investigation of the relationship between knowledge and attitudes about schizophrenia is of particular importance to social work educators, as it can provide key insights about how negative attitudes develop among social workers, and serve to guide the development of professional training curricula that focuses on facilitating more positive attitudes toward working with individuals with schizophrenia.

Knowledge, Stigma, and Attitude Development

Although clinical social workers are trained in diagnosing and treating severe mental illness, they are not immune to the continuing social stigma that surrounds society's attitudes toward this population. Social work educators have long recognized this, and for the past several decades mandated the exploration of attitudes, values, and ethics in social work education (CSWE, 2008; Garcia & Van Soest, 1997; Van Soest, 1994). Stigma may be defined as a mark of shame or disgrace that is viewed as not normal and "is manifested by bias, distrust, stereotyping, fear, embarrassment, anger and/or avoidance" (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999). Such stigma is often operationalized through the development of negative stereotypes and attitudes toward a group of people that are based on either a lack of knowledge or inaccurate knowledge about some aspect of that group (Allport, 1954; Sherman, 1996; Weber & Crocker, 1983). For example, certain stereotypes about individuals with mental illness have derived from ill-formed notions about the dangerousness of such persons (e.g., Corrigan, Markowitz, Watson, Rowan, & Kubiak, 2003).

Cognitive models of stereotype development support the link between knowledge and attitudes by conceptualizing stereotypes as simplified collections of categorized information, which are often based on inaccurate or incomplete information (Hilton & von Hippel, 1996). …

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