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New Study Identifies the Strongest Influences on Therapy-Seeking Behaviors

Occasionally, obstacles to receiving therapy may exist, some real and others perceived. For individuals living in rural areas or with financial limitations, therapy may be relatively inaccessible. But for college students, mental health services usually are readily available and affordable. However, too many students who need therapy never receive it. When this happens, they become more vulnerable to serious emotional, professional, and academic problems. Understanding why students refuse to get treatment could help in the formation of educational outreach programs that might ultimately encourage more students in need to seek help. In an effort to examine the conditions that persuade or dissuade college students from getting mental health services, Suk Kyung Nam, an assistant professor of psychology at Kyungnam University in Korea, recently conducted a meta-analysis of 19 separate studies on the Attitudes Toward Seeking Professional Psychological Help Scale.

After examining the studies, Nam found that individual factors influenced therapy seeking either negatively or positively. Among the positive influences, Nam discovered that the anticipated benefit of therapy was the strongest predictor of help-seeking behaviors. This was followed closely by self-disclosure. Taken together, individuals who perceived they would be helped by treatment, and were willing to share their problems with a counselor or group, were the most likely to seek services. In contrast, individuals who had low levels of emotional support and disclosure were unlikely to look for help. The negative stigma often associated with therapy also dissuaded many of the participants from getting the treatment they needed. Nam said: “Most individuals perceive that they are socially unacceptable if they seek counseling, which can lead to reduced self-esteem or self-worth.” The findings from this analysis suggest that universities and counselors use methods to decrease stigma and raise awareness of the potential benefits of therapy in order to persuade more students in need to seek mental health services for their emotional distress.

Nam, S. K., Choi, S. I., Lee, J. H., Lee, M. K., Kim, A R., Lee, S. M. (2012). Psychological factors in college students’ attitudes toward seeking professional psychological help: a meta-analysis. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029562

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  • Bella

    August 28th, 2012 at 3:59 AM

    Where I go to school it seems like everyone is going to some form of counseling, and they aren’t afraid to talk about it. There is no shame, no taboo, so it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that there could still be segments in society who shun therapy because they are ashamed that this is something that they are doing. Maybe it is just that my gemneration of peers has grown up with this so for us it isn’t a big deal. I think that’s a good thing. The less that someone feels stigmatized by asking for help, then they will seek that help in greater numbers. I realize that this doesn’t do anything to help others who could use the help, but maybe in some small way it will help society as a whole understand that there is nothing at all shameful about seeking counseling or therapy when it is needed and that you don’t have to hide those problems that you could be feeling.

  • Cosette

    August 28th, 2012 at 11:33 AM

    The challenge here is that many times kids of this age tend to think that they don’t need outside help, that these are things that they can handle on their own, but this is when they often get too overwhelmed to seek out help even after it becomes apparent that they need it. So not only do I think that some schools could do a better job at decreasing stigma if that is a problem on their campus, but I think that more outreach meeds to be done by faculty and staff if they see a studnet in trouble. Often there are signs there that we ignore, because we get busy with our own lives, but we have to remember that we could be saving the life of another if sometimes we would just pay a little more attention to the people areound us everyday.

  • Ryan

    August 28th, 2012 at 1:39 PM

    I sometimes think we actually decide for ourselves as to how well we are going to cope with life problems.And therapy is no different.Everybody will have situations in life that can be hard to manage on your own.But some people,by the virtue of everything they pick up through life,automatically deny themselves help by having an aversion to seeking help or whatever it may be.And some others could be forthcoming about needing help while others may need a little push from family or friends.Whatever group a person belongs to,other things in life generally dictate the outcome.Strange ways of life don’t you think?

  • morgan key

    August 28th, 2012 at 3:33 PM

    most college students would tend to be open minded and therefore I wouldn’t think that there would be that much of a hold up to seeking therapy if needed
    the great thing is that most schools make this so accessible and easy to get these days that you would hope that no one would be silly enough to let it pass by without taking advantage of it when needed

  • Randy

    August 29th, 2012 at 3:10 PM

    While I see the importance here, what we have learned is that in general those who can still find a way to remain positive in life (i.e they think that they can be helped and are willing to share their issues in an effort to seek counsel from others) are the ones who are going to look for treatment and try to be an active participant in their treatment. On the other hand those who are naturally more negative and think that finding solace and encouragement is going to be impossible then those will be the people who will be the least likely to seek treatment. Of course this is the truth- but what we have to do is find way to encourage those who are not the most inclined to seek help to get out there and find it because obviously they will not go out of their ways to find this on their own, and they are the ones who are most in need!

  • eoin.m

    August 29th, 2012 at 5:57 PM

    one problem I see is that even the people who do receive and benefit from therapy hardly talk about it.When this does not happen the ones that are looking at therapy and are undecided do not get that little push that encourages them to take the plunge.And for anything out there,there is no PR like word of mouth and that is often ,missing for therapy.

  • Jeremiah

    August 30th, 2012 at 4:31 AM

    A large part of who we are and what we think about certain issues comes directly from how we were raised and the opinions that our parents and family had about those things.
    If they were very open minded then there is a good chance that you are too and that there will not be that reticence to seek therapy if or when you may need it.
    If you were raised in ahome that went more by the solve your problems for yourself kind of mentality then there could be more of a hesutation to seek help because you have always been made to feel like you should handle these things on your own.
    Many times it takes being in the right situation at the right time and surrounded by the right group of people to help you see that this could be a positive thing in your life if you are ready to do the work and willing to take advantage of the services being offered to you.

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