One of the primary reasons people neglect to seek treatment for their mental health problems is because they are concerned about the external and internal stigmas associated with mental illness. Public stigma is the external belief that one is defective if they receive therapy for their problems, while self-stigma is the perception that an individual has of his or herself as a result of struggling with a mental health issue. In a recent study led by Nathaniel G. Wade of the Department of Psychology at Iowa State University, researchers examined how therapist self-disclosure affected stigma. “The goal of this investigation was to explore stigma before and after an initial session of group counseling and to examine aspects of the counseling process (e.g., session quality, working alliance, counselor self-disclosure) that may predict changes in stigma,” said Wade. Most therapists already self-disclose and share their moral beliefs, fears and hopes with their clients. “Some of the main reasons therapists may choose to self-disclose are to make themselves more accessible to clients, to develop the working alliance, and to build greater trust in the therapeutic relationship.” Wade added, “In other words, clients are likely to feel less self-stigma when working with a group counselor that they trust and view positively as, in such situations, the threat to one’s self-esteem and confidence is less likely.”
Wade invited 263 students from Iowa State to participate in one group therapy session with a therapist who self-disclosed. He found that the students experienced an increase in self-esteem and a reduction in self-stigma after the session. “Greater change in self-stigma was associated with greater perceptions of working alliance– bond and session depth.” Wade said, “Group therapists, in particular, may want to focus on establishing a strong positive bond with clients in early sessions before group climate has time to develop. Group counselors who meet individually with clients for an orientation to group counseling might find this an opportune time to consciously attend to the bond.” He added, “Given the proximal role self-stigma plays in increasing one’s intent to seek counseling and the mediating role it plays between public stigma and intentions to seek help, these findings are of special value to practitioners who wish to increase treatment adherence and decrease dropout rates through targeted measures.”
Wade, Nathaniel G., Brian C. Post, Marilyn A. Cornish, David L. Vogel, and Jeritt R. Tucker. “Predictors of the Change in Self-stigma following a Single Session of Group Counseling.” Journal of Counseling Psychology 58.2 (2011): 170-82. Print.
© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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