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Do Psychology Students Perpetuate the Stigma Surrounding Therapy?


Psychology students spend years studying their field in order to be able to provide clinical services to clients. The majority of students who pursue degrees in psychology do so because they want to make a difference in the lives of others. Perhaps they personally experienced traumas, abuses, or other types of significant mental health challenges and have benefited from therapy. Maybe they lived with a family member who experienced psychological disturbances and want to be able to help other families cope with mental illness in a healthy and constructive way. Regardless of what motivates students to pursue psychology degrees, the ultimate goal of students should be to deliver responsible therapy services and to advocate for the benefits of treatment. So why do many students perpetuate the stigma that prevents so many people from seeking help?

Malena Digiuni of Canterbury Christ Church University in England was curious to find out if psychology students were part of the problem when it comes to psychological stigma, and if so, whether cultural differences affected their attitudes. She interviewed more than 450 students pursuing psychology degrees and asked them about their attitudes toward seeking personal therapy and the social stigma surrounding treatment. The participants included students from the United States, England, and Argentina. “The results revealed significant cross-national differences, with Argentinean students showing the lowest levels of perceived social stigma for receiving therapy, followed by English and Americans,” Digiuni said.

In sum, it appeared that culture affected perceptions of therapy quite dramatically. The students from Argentina were most accepting of personal treatment, while the Americans were the least likely to receive treatment for themselves. This finding is troubling because Digiuni believes that therapy could not only help many students but also provide clinical benefits. Digiuni believes that students who are educated about the relationship between stigma and help seeking may be better prepared to address these issues with future clientele.

Digiuni, M., Jones, F. W., Camic, P. M. (2012). Perceived social stigma and attitudes towards seeking therapy in training: a cross-national study. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028784

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  • Jennifer Martin August 29th, 2012 at 4:19 PM #1

    Why do we Anglos have to always be so dang uptight about everything?! If this is something that could help, whether you are a student of psychology or not, why go around making others believe in the stigmas that are already perceived about receiving therapy? I am not saying that you have to air your dirty laundry to anyone that you see, but you should at least be willing to step out of that comfort zone that you have created for yourself and do something about it. Therapy is not a bad thing. In fact, I have this sneaky little feeling that if it had not helped alot of people over the years then it wouldn’t still be hanging around and recommended by pretty much anyone with half a brain.

  • sandra August 29th, 2012 at 4:57 PM #2

    if we start surveying students of different fields as to whether they truly believe in what they are studying and plan on taking up as a career,I am pretty certain we will get similar responses.not everybody completely believes in what they do or take up as a career.for most people career and self belief are two different things.although having professionals who truly believe in what they do can be a great thing,that species is quite endangered i’m afraid!

  • quinn August 30th, 2012 at 4:07 AM #3

    kind of hard to encourage others to seek therapy if it is something that you have a hard time believing in yourself

  • hillary August 30th, 2012 at 12:11 PM #4

    its never gonna be easy to convince ppl bout the benefits of therapy mainly coz their minds r closed n years of hearing bout mental health and d stigma to it does no help.therapy students r no different but im sure as they learn more n more they will open up n wil finally acknowledge d benefits of therapy.also this study does not specify which students were interviewd.im pretty sure a student in his first yr of study wil ve more stigma in general compared to someone who has studied therapy for years n is gonna graduate.

  • P.L August 30th, 2012 at 11:57 PM #5

    Its not necessary that these students who have difficulty with therapy themselves will not be good therapists.Lets think of this-as parents,we preach so many things to our young ones butdo we follow all of those things?No!

    So I really don’t think its a problem that students of therapy have some amount of stigma.Many people do and their non-compliance is nothing different from that in other people.

  • Janelle August 31st, 2012 at 5:21 AM #6

    While I don’t think that they have to be actively enrolled intherapy to be agood therapist it is at least generally a good idea to believe that this is something that will be beneficial to those who are experiencing therapy themselves and need help with some mental health issues. How can they possible espouse all the benefits of therapy and treatment if they do not whole heartedly believe that this is something that can lead to positive changes and improvements for their patients? You have to believe what you say and say what you believe and in this case I find that if you want to have a full patient or client load upon graduating then you need to let people know that this is an issue that you care deeply about and support.

  • Walt September 1st, 2012 at 10:05 AM #7

    Just because you like your job doesn’t mean that the whole concept will actually be right for you.
    Some will respond well to therapy and some will not, you have to keep your mind and heart open to recovery and improvement if this will work for you.

  • Selena September 2nd, 2012 at 4:49 AM #8

    Going out on a limb and saying that Argentines are probably a lot more accepting in general of a lot of things that Brits and Americans look down upon.

  • Bernard September 5th, 2012 at 12:42 PM #9

    as a psychotherapist trainee I appreciated being apart of a wounded healer style program that has a monitory of 48 hours of traditional psychotherapy required to graduate, I feel that it is very dangerous for those who seek BBS employment with the goal of helping others walk down paths they have never set foot on themselves

  • Bijal Oza September 12th, 2012 at 1:57 AM #10

    The stigma surrounding therapy is extremely high even in India. As a practicing clinical counselor, I often come across people who hesitate to enter therapy especially because of the social stigma around it. It is due to this stigma that our clients challenge our ability to help them as professionals in the field. And probably this is a vicious cycle, since a lot of students refrain from believing in the outcomes of therapy by engaging in the process themselves, mainly because of the stigma, and that eventually gets transferred onto the clients’ belief in therapy.

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