Academic journal article Journal of Behavioural Sciences

The Portrayal of Counselling on Television and YouTube: Implications for Professional Counsellors

Academic journal article Journal of Behavioural Sciences

The Portrayal of Counselling on Television and YouTube: Implications for Professional Counsellors

Article excerpt

For the general public in western English speaking countries, with little specialized knowledge about counselling, attitudes towards seeking help from a counsellor and their expectations about the treatment they might receive are partly forged by secondary sources such as the visual entertainment media (Lopez, 1991). Regrettably, representations of counsellors in the western visual entertainment media often promote negative, unrealistic and unfavourable images (Pirkis, Blood, & McCallum, 2005; Timpson, 2010). Indeed, in a noteworthy study Timpson (2010) articulated how public understandings of counselling, based on media representations can lead to an erosion of the public's confidence in seeking help from a counsellor and how those already involved in therapy can be affected. Earlier studies by Bram (1997); Lent (1990); Robison (2009) produced similar findings to those of Timpson. Other studies have also demonstrated that media portrayals have created attitude and behaviour change in viewers concerning beliefs about violence (Bushman, 1998; Paik & Cornstock, 1994), self-perception, gender roles (Tan, 1979) and sexual behaviour (Wilson, Linz, Donnerstein & Stipp, 1992; Zillman & Bryant, 1988). In response to growing concern Division 46 of the American Psychological Association (2006) created an award for excellence for the portrayal of mental health professionals in the visual media (Schultz, 2005). However, since 2008 no show has been considered sufficiently worthy of receiving this award (Timpson, 2010).

The way in which western entertainment media influences public attitudes can be understood within the context of three theories. Cultivation theory (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, & Signorielli, 1980) has been used to identify a positive relationship between the frequency of viewing visual images and social attitudes formed by exposure. It assumes that the greater the individual's exposure to the media, the more they will come to believe that the real world is a reflection of what they are seeing which, in turn, explains the social construction of reality (Potter & Chang, 1990; Vogel, Gentile, & Kaplan, 2008). In contrast, Trans-theoretical theory has been used to provide an explanation as to how people's readiness for behaviour change varies (Nutbeam, Harris, & Wise, 2010; Prochaska, Johnson, & Lee, 2009; Prochaska, Redding, & Evers, 2008; Sharma & Romas, 2008) and, relevant to the present study, what leads to them to act on their thoughts to seek counselling. The most prominent theory is Social learning theory, which has been used to argue that learning occurs by observing the behaviour of others along with its consequences. Such observations enable new ways of thinking and behaving to be transmitted to large numbers of people in geographically dispersed locations (Bandura, 2001).

Inaccurate depictions of counselling can be considered to fall into two broad categories. The first relates to depictions that are not reflective of contemporary therapeutic counselling approaches, rather, the majority of counsellors are depicted as psychoanalytically inspired, even though this technique is not as widely used compared with other more contemporary counselling approaches in western English speaking countries (Gabbard, 2001; Gordon, 1994; Orchowski, Spickard, & McNamara, 2006; Von Sydow & Reimer, 1998). The decrease in popularity of psychoanalytically inspired counselling in western English speaking countries can be attributed to the adoption of the applied scientific practitioner model which stands in contrast to Freud's vague and intuitive methodology (Colledge, 2002). Psychoanalysis has also been challenged by Feminists and by advances in the use of drugs to treat mental illness, both of which added fuel to the debate about the scientific validity of Freud's theories. Despite these changes in western counselling paradigms classical psychoanalysis has appealed to film producers as it contributes to the plot (Von Sydow & Reimer, 1998) by allowing characters to talk aloud, revealing their inner thoughts and emotions (Gabbard, 2001). …

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