Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Undergraduate College Students' Perceptions of Psychologists

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Undergraduate College Students' Perceptions of Psychologists

Article excerpt

Attitudes represent a strong foundation for a person's perception of reality. The present study explored attitudes regarding mental health professionals and, more specifically, psychologists. Previous studies have focused on the perception of mental health professionals (Strong, Hendel, & Bratton, 1971; West & Walsh, 1975), but recent studies have not quantitatively examined these perceptions in students who are often key recipients of mental health services (e.g., Firmin, Wantz, Firmin, & Johnson, 2012). Current research also has focused on individuals' understanding of more severe mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, rather than more common and less severe diagnoses such as anxiety disorders. These studies often research students' attitudes who are specifically training for work with mental health populations, but not students in general (Wahl & Aroesry-Cohen, 2010). Since mental health patients and practitioners often suffer from negative stigmatization and general misperceptions, education sometimes has been proposed as a key effort to reduce this stigma. At the same time, however, Bathje and Pryor (2011) indicate that mental health stigmas must be addressed in more specific ways in order to significant strides to be realized. Studies that aim to reduce mental health stigma must also take the public's specific attitudes into consideration.

Students' perceptions about mental health in general are valuable because they often serve as a connection to the general public. Students relay the information they learn about the mental health field to a selectively wide array of the larger population. In addition, they may also pursue careers in this field (MacDonald, 2007). In fact, Goldstein (2010) found that psychology has grown to become one of the most popular undergraduate majors among US university students. Nonetheless, the profession of psychology is often misunderstood by the general public. While education and students may combat mental health stigma, at times, educators and psychologists should first understand the nature of misperceptions that exist in professional psychology (McCutcheon, 1991).

Unfortunately, negative stigmatization often accompanies mental health patients and practitioners. Ben-Zeev, Young and Corrigan (2010) define public stigma in terms of how social groups come to frame their understandings of groups and the stigmatization that follows. These authors suggest that the DSM dimensional view and public education are designed to help reduce mental health stigma. To this end, some current research focuses on college education designed to combat mental health stigma (Jakovljevic, Tomic, Maslov, Skoko, 2010; Wigney & Parker, 2007). Despite stigmatization, in general, the public has a more positive than negative attitude towards mental illnesses; however, results remain mixed concerning the public's overall attitudes about mental health (Wahl & Aroesry-Cohen, 2010).

Mills (2009) wrote that, while the public expresses a generally positive view of psychology on the whole, people seemingly sometimes fail to understand key components of this field. First, individuals often do not understand that psychology is a scientific discipline. Mills suggests that part of the reason is that psychology is not tied to medicine as strictly as its counterpart field of psychiatry. Second, Mills writes that the general public does not know how much education is required for someone to practice psychology. Perhaps because of this perceived "soft science" conception, some evidently have concluded that psychology licensure requires a truncated amount of education. Warner and Bradley's (1991) research illustrates this point.

Overall, students' initial perceptions of mental health professionals may influence whether they eventually will choose this field as a vocation or how they perceive it in the future. We believe a study focused on students' perception of psychology elucidates how education potentially could make a contribution toward reversing negative perceptions in professional psychology. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.