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A survey was carried out among people from two different age categories to determine whether age and gender individually result in different attitudes towards seeking psychological help. The 653 participants each completed a shorter version of the Attitudes Towards Seeking Professional Psychological Help Scale survey. The survey results were later grouped based on gender where there was 319 males and 334 females. The gender groups were again each classified into two age categories; as either young or older adults. The results indicated females have more positive attitudes towards seeking psychological help than males and that older adults have more positive attitudes towards seeking psychological help. It was also found that participants who had previously sought psychological help had more positive attitudes towards seeking psychological help. This research needs to consider the methodological limitations, such as the selection of the participants by the experimenters, which could have biased the results and also whether the length of the Attitudes Towards Seeking Professional Psychological Help Scale survey produces different results.
Age and Gender Differences in
Attitudes Towards Seeking Professional Psychological Help
Psychotherapy has been described as embarrassing and potentially difficult and it induces fear and avoidance in some individuals (Vogel, Wester & Larson, 2007). Andrews, Issakidis & Carter’s study (2001, as cited in Vogel, Wester & Larson, 2007) found that “less than one third of individuals who experience psychological distress do seek help from a mental health professional” (p 410). For many people, counselling and seeking psychological help is an uncomfortable way to deal with personal problems. This may be true for many men as the findings of most studies related to attitudes towards seeking psychological help have been particularly consistent that women tend to have more positive attitudes towards seeking psychological help (Fisher & Farina 1995). Some researchers have found that age is another barrier which underutilizes help seeking (Mackenzie, Gekoski & Knox, 2006) and it is generally uncommon for an individual to discontinue a psychological service once they have experience it for the first time (Deane & Todd, 1996).
Attitudes towards psychological help seeking vary between individuals due to avoidance factors and demographic influences. Kushner and Sher’s study (1989, as cited in Vogel, Wester & Larson, 2007) found that different avoidance factors are likely to vary in their intensity and importance depending on the characteristics of the individual (eg., sex, age) as well as social and cultural differences” (p 413). Vogel, Wester & Larson (2007) stated that “some researchers have suggested that traditional gender roles influence professional help seeking” (p 414) which is possibly why males avoid seeking help. The behaviours and characteristics associated with traditional masculinity form a system of social beliefs- that is, an ideology- regarding the expectation of how men should be (1995, as cited in Levant, Wimer, Williams, Smalley & Noronha). This ideology influences the way that adults think, feel and behave in gender matters. Therefore, males may feel that they need to mask their problems due to traditional masculinity which is why females are mainly found to have more positive attitudes towards seeking psychological help.
Veoff, Kulka & Douvan (1981) believe that adolescents and seniors are both reluctant to help-seeking due to one avoidance factor in common; Social norms, which changes across the age groups. However, social stigma has been conceptualised as one of the most significant barriers to treatment for both younger and older adults (Vogel, Wester and Larson, 2007). Vogel, Wester and Larson (2007) concluded that younger adults however are more affected by the avoidance factor social stigma as adolescence is a time of developing and building a sense of identity. Being a young adult is also the time when peers and norm groups may be particularly salient (1989, as cited in Vogel, Wester and Larson, 2007). Therefore, some young adults may be reluctant to help seeking because of the threats as being judged negatively (2002, as cited in Vogel, Wester and Larson, 2007).
Some individuals may or may not find psychological help beneficial and this determines whether they continue or discontinue the service. However, most people who have received help from a professional psychologist or counsellor rate themselves as more likely to continuing seeking help as compared to people who have received no psychological help (Deane & Todd, 1996). Consistent with this research, females with more positive attitudes towards seeking psychological help rate themselves as more likely to seek professional help (Deane & Todd, 1996).
The present study aimed to determine whether age and gender affect attitudes towards seeking psychological help. From the research examined, it was anticipated that age, gender and previous history of counselling influences attitudes towards help seeking. It was hypothesised that females will have more positive attitudes towards psychological help seeking than men and younger adults will have more positive attitudes towards seeking psychological help. It was also hypothesised that individuals who have previously sought psychological help would have more positive attitudes towards psychological help seeking.
The 653 participants in this study consisted of 319 males and 334 females. Participants needed to be specifically selected based on their age, since the research involved investigating age and gender differences in attitudes towards seeking psychological help. There were two age categories that separated the younger adults from the older adults. Younger adults were classified between the ages of 18 years to 30 years of age, whereas the older adults were classified over 55 years of age. Of the 653 participants, 373 participants were classified as younger adults and 280 participants as older. The younger adults group consisted of 178 males and 195 females, whereas the older adult group consisted of 141 males and 139 females.
The mean age of the 653 participants was 38.05 (SD= 20.10) and the ages ranged from 18 years of age to 85 years of age. The mean age of the 178 younger male adults was 21.72 (SD= 4.38), whereas the mean age of the 141 older males was 60.11 (SD= 6.10). The mean age of the 195 younger female adults was 20.90 (SD= 3.26), whereas the mean age of the 139 older females was 60.64 (SD= 7.73).
A shorter version of the Attitudes Towards Seeking Professional Psychological Help Scale was used to measure participant’s attitudes towards seeking psychological help. The scale for each statement ranged from 0 (disagree) to 3 (agree). The scale contained 10 statements, some of which expressed negative attitudes towards seeking psychological help and other expressed positive attitudes. Reverse scoring was needed for the statements which expressed negative attitudes towards seeking psychological help so that a higher score represents a more positive attitude. The statements which represented positive attitudes towards seeking psychological help did not have to use reverse scoring.
The maximum possible score was 30 which represented the highest positive attitude towards seeking professional psychological help, whereas the minimum possible score was 0, which represented the lowest support for seeking professional psychological help. A demographic sheet was also attached to the Attitudes Towards Seeking Psychological Help Scale. The demographic sheet questioned for information such as date of birth, age, sex, occupation, country of birth and whether the participant has had no, little or a lot of counselling prior to completing the scale.
The shorter version of the Attitudes Towards Seeking Professional Psychological Help Scale was provided to all students attending Victoria University who are enrolled in Psychology 1B. Psychology 1B students were instructed to make an additional three copies as they each needed to survey four people. Each Psychology 1B student needed to survey two males and two females, however one participant from each gender needed to be either 18 years of age to 30 years of age and the other needed to be over 55 years of age. The participants were not allowed to complete the survey if they were a psychologist or a psychology student. The unit coordinator of Psychology 1B derived the mean age and mean attitude score towards seeking psychological help for the following categories: (a) young male adults, (b) young female adults, (c) older male adults and (d) older female adults.
An analysis of the mean attitude scores towards seeking psychological help for each of the four participant categories were used to determine whether the hypotheses were supported. The mean attitude scores towards seeking professional psychological help for all four participants’ categories are presented in Table 1.
The mean attitude scores towards psychological help seeking
Note. Numbers in brackets are the standard deviations of each mean attitude score.
The results from Table 1 indicates that females have more positive attitudes towards seeking psychological help with a mean of 18.95 (SD=5.52) as compared to males who scored a mean of 14.96 (SD=6.11). This finding supported the hypothesis that females have a more positive attitude towards seeking psychological help than males. From the table, it is also evident that older participants have more positive attitudes towards seeking psychological help with a mean of 17.24 (SD=6.90), as compared to younger adults who scored a mean of 16.82 (SD=5.52). This result did not support the hypothesis younger adults have a more positive attitude towards seeking psychological help than older adults.
In terms of counselling history, a no counselling history was mostly reported. Of the 653 participants, 418 participants had never had counselling before with a mean of 15.76 (SD=5.98), 203 participants have had little counselling before with a mean of 18.69 (SD=5.71) and 32 participants have had a lot of counselling with a mean of 22.44 (SD=5.62).
In this study, two of the three hypotheses were supported. Both hypotheses (a) females have more positive attitudes towards seeking psychological help than men and (b) individuals who had previously sought psychological help would have more positive attitudes towards psychological help seeking were supported in this study. However, the hypothesis (c) younger adults will have more positive attitudes towards psychological help seeking than older adults was not supported.
A gender difference in attitudes towards psychological help seeking is one of the most consistent findings in the literature (Ang, Lim & Tan, 2004). In the present study, the results suggested that females had more positive attitudes towards seeking psychological help than men. This finding supports the results of previous research of Vogel, Wester and Larson (2007) where they researched factors that inhibit seeking help. In their study, Vogel, Wester and Larson (2007) found that gender role plays a part in psychological help seeking. This was evident as men were more likely to think that they would be stigmatized for consulting a psychologist or counsellor. Women in contrast, are more open towards seeking psychological help and feel comfortable and less ashamed. However, because gender role is recognised by so many people, women may feel that they are expected to act reverse to a man. In this study, females may have felt that it would only be normal for them to have positive attitudes towards seeking help as compared to men because they are usually classified as weaker and softer than men. To address this limitation in further research, participants should be given the opportunity to make a statement or comment on why they believe their gender should and should not seek psychological help. This may further help explain gender role which is defined as one of the most common factors that prevents seeking psychological help.
On the other hand, a previous history or experience seeking psychological help indicated that participants were more likely to have more positive attitudes towards psychological help seeking than those people who have not sought help. Deane and Todd’s study (1996) supports the findings of this study as their results were very similar. For example, approximately 35% of participants have had little or a continuation of therapy in this study which is similar to the 40% of participants in Deane and Todd’s study (1996). In this study, participant needed to mark whether they had never had counselling before, have had little counselling or have had a lot of counselling. This approach used to determine whether a previous history encourages a positive attitude towards psychotherapy could have been used more effectively to find out the duration of therapy and for those who have had no counselling; to find out whether something is inhibiting them from seeking psychological help or if they simply do not need it. In future research, participants who have received psychotherapy both short term and long term should be questioned about the duration of psychotherapy they have had. On the other hand, participants who have not received psychotherapy should be given the opportunity to further elaborate on their choice of not seeking help.
The results did not support the hypothesis that younger adults will have more positive attitudes towards seeking psychological help than older adults. These findings differ from those of previous studies (e.g., Mackenzie, Gekoski & Knox, 2006; Vogel, Wester & Larson 2007) in which respectively reported that older adult’s attitudes towards seeking psychological help are generally positive and younger adults are reluctant to help seeking due to a certain avoidance factor; social stigma. This could be due to the way researchers from previous studies tested their participants to determine their attitudes. In some studies, participants may have been tested for their opinions on psychological help seeking, whereas others may have been tested on their actual use of a psychotherapy service. In this study, participants were tested to determine their opinions towards seeking psychological help, whereas other studies may have tested people’s attitudes after using the service. Future research should mention what their participants are tested for so that other researchers are able to correctly support or find differences in their findings.
A further limitation of the study was that the participants were not given the opportunity to provide statements about how they feel about seeking psychotherapy as a quantitative scale measure was used to determine their attitudes towards seeking psychological help. Therefore, their responses were restricted using the Attitudes Towards Seeking Professional Psychological Help Scale survey. Future research should also employ a qualitative measure to help support the results produced from a quantitative measure.
Overall, the results of the study suggest that gender role does impact attitudes towards seeking psychological help as one gender consistently showed more positive attitudes towards help seeking. The results also suggest that older adults have more positive attitudes towards psychological help seeking than younger adults. It may be that adults in the present are exposed to a positive interpretation of psychotherapy which encourages them to view seeking psychological help more positively. Also, the results of the study suggest that a previous history of psychotherapy will make an individual view psychological help seeking with a positive attitude. This may be because the individual learns that the therapy is beneficial and outweighs their reasons for avoiding during psychotherapy.
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