Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Personality Factors and Attitude toward Seeking Professional Help

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Personality Factors and Attitude toward Seeking Professional Help

Article excerpt

Although psychology has a long history, many people still harbor misconceptions about mental illness. Those with mental health problems often are regarded as inferior, incompetent, responsible for their own symptoms, dangerous, and a threat to society (Corrigan, 2004; Levey & Howells, 1994; Morrison, de Man, & Drumheller, 1993; Rousseau & de Man, 1998). These negative views are common, notwithstanding the fact that a considerable proportion of the population suffers from some form of mental illness at least once during their lives (CPA, 2006).

Individuals who contemplate getting professional psychological help are confronted with similar attitudes. Clients of mental health professionals are often regarded unfavorably by others and subjected to stigmatization. This may deter some who are in need of help from voluntarily seeking professional assistance. Indeed, some people resist professional aid during a personal crisis. They may view help-seeking as a sign of personal weakness or failure and would feel ashamed if they had to admit that they were in therapy. Others, on the other hand, seek help willingly when faced with psychological discomfort and openly admit to this (Fisher & Turner, 1970).

The present study concerns this variation in attitude toward seeking psychological help. More specifically, it explores the relationship between this attitude and the personality variables of self-esteem, trait-anxiety, and internal/external locus of control.

Although there are many factors which can affect a person's decision to accept or reject professional help for psychological problems, it was hypothesized that an individual's personality, or aspects of it, would bear a significant relationship to help-seeking attitude. This hypothesis and the subsequent selection of self-esteem, trait-anxiety, and internal/external locus of control as potential predictor variables was based on Lazarus' (1993, 2000) theory of coping. Lazarus noted that when people are confronted with psychologically stressful conditions, they are faced with two challenges: that is, meeting the requirements of the situation and protecting the self from psychological disorganization. When they feel competent to handle the psychological challenge they may opt for problem-focused coping; when they doubt their own competencies, an emotion-focused response may prevail. Those who use problem-focused coping, approach stress as a problem to be solved; they move from merely thinking and worrying about their difficulties to actively taking steps to deal with them. They will objectively appraise a problem, review alternative solutions, and, upon choosing a particular strategy, take action. The latter may include seeking professional psychological help. Those who rely on emotion-focused coping attempt to regulate the emotional consequences of the problem. They try to reduce the symptoms of the psychological stress without addressing its source by using mechanisms such as denial, repression, wishful thinking, and so forth.

It has been shown that people with high self-esteem compared to those with low self-regard tend to rely more on problem-focused strategies and less on emotion-focused coping (Carver, Scheier, & Weintraub, 1989; Fleishman, 1984; Holahan & Moos, 1987; Terry, 1991, 1994). Taking the problem-focused approach, high self-esteem individuals will assess the situation and possible solutions, and then take action. As far as help-seeking is concerned, they may realize that there is no point to suffering alone through emotional stress when professional help is available. Moreover, because they feel good about themselves and consequently are less worried about what others might think of them (Leary & Downs, 1995), they may be less affected by the threat of stigmatization. Furthermore, individuals who feel confident about themselves will feel less threatened by the fact that they will be required to open up and reveal their troubles to an appropriate professional. …

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