Psychological Factors that Inhibit Seeking Help

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In the article “Avoidance of counseling: Psychological factors that inhibit seeking help” (2007) the authors discuss the techniques used to help counselors reach out to reluctant clients (p.410). The authors begin by pointing out the way a person initially enters treatment. They say that “…the act of seeking professional help” is a process of “…approach/avoidance conflict wherein approach factors, such as one’s level of distress and the desire to reduce that distress, increase the likelihood that one will seek out counseling services; on the other hand, avoidance factors, such as the risks of being perceived as crazy, decrease the chances that an individual will seek out services” (p.410). In determining the avoidance factors that contribute to a person not seeking help, the authors claim that if therapists work at better understanding a hesitant person’s attitudes, intent, and behavior surrounding their reluctance it may help practitioners in working with people who are desperately in need of help but too afraid to get it.

The authors discuss “…five factors that have been described as avoidance factors in the help-seeking process: social stigma, treatment fears, fear of emotion, anticipated utility and risks, and self-disclosure” (p.410).

Social stigma is when a person is afraid of being labeled as someone who needs psychological help. According to the article researchers have demonstrated that “social stigma predicted a person’s attitudes toward seeking help as well as predicted the intention to seek help at a future date (p.411). The following is a brief description of the five factors.

The treatment fear factor is concerned with the “subjective state of apprehension arising from aversive expectations surrounding the seeking…of mental health services” (p.411). When people have this fear they are afraid of what the counselor will think of them, what they will make them do, and how they will be treated (p.411).
Fear of emotion is when a person is afraid of revealing their painful emotions to a counselor. According to the research described in the article, people who were reluctant to see a counselor were also people who were “…not open about their emotions” (p.411). Researchers found that “…expectations of having to express emotions to a therapist affected individuals’ help-seeking attitudes and intentions” (p.411).

Anticipated utility and risk is the fourth factor they discuss. Anticipated utility is when a person cannot see the potential benefits of the therapeutic experience and anticipated risk is when a person see opening up to another person as potentially dangerous (p.412). The researchers site many articles that put forth the validity of this factor that people experience that prevents them from seeking treatment. The anticipated risk factor, according to researchers, often occurs when a person has experienced some sort of trauma in their past (p.412).

The last avoidance factor the authors discuss is self-disclosure, which is when a person is afraid of disclosing personal information to a counselor for fear that it will be an uncomfortable experience. According to the authors, “…studies have reported that an individual’s comfort in self-disclosing to a therapist was linked with her or his attitudes and intentions to seek help” (p.412). According to one research study, “…people who were not comfortable talking about personal issues with a professional were 5 times less likely to seek help” (p.412).

If it is ingrained into people’s heads that seeking treatment is bad, or abnormal, then it is logical to assume that people might be resistant to seeking treatment. People who are reluctant to seek treatment are essentially afraid of prejudice and discrimination. The common cure for prejudice and discrimination is education. Once someone is education about the cultural differences, cultural similarities, and human commonalities between us all, then they become much less prejudicial and discriminatory. In the same way, the authors suggest that the cure for people who are reluctant to seek help is education about the therapeutic process. If people who are reluctant to seek treatment are educated about the process and the normality of seeking treatment then perhaps, as the authors suggest, they will be less afraid to seek the help they need.

Vogel, D., Wester, S., & Larson, L. (2007, September). Avoidance of counseling:
Psychological factors that inhibit seeking help. Journal of Counseling &
Development, 85(4), 410-422.


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