Effects of therapists' personal therapy experience on perceptions and help-seeking decisions of potential consumers
Public perceptions of therapists' personal therapy may affect establishment of client trust and acceptance of the therapy process. This study investigated what effect a potential client's pretreatment knowledge of a therapist's personal therapy experience has on that potential client's therapy decisions, including the decision to seek therapy, the selection of a therapist, and the assessment of a therapist's levels of credibility/effectiveness and empathy. A 2 x 4, between-subjects, factorial design was utilized, in which participants (356 male and female undergraduates, enrolled in introductory psychology courses) were instructed to read one of two brief descriptions of a therapist and indicate (a) their likelihood of choosing to enter therapy with that therapist, (b) their ratings of therapist's level of credibility/effectiveness and (c) their ratings of therapist's level of empathy, given 4 different scenarios/levels of emotional stress. Independent variables were (a) the therapist's description as either having or not having had personal therapy and (b) the 4 levels (scenarios) of emotional stress/psychopathology. Dependent variables were participants' (a) self-reported likelihood of choosing to enter therapy with that therapist via a 7-point scale, (b) ratings of therapist's level of credibility/effectiveness, using the Counselor Effectiveness Rating Scale (CERS), and (c) ratings of therapist's level of empathy, via the Barrett-Lennard Relationship Inventory-Form OS. The study found no significant differences between groups for any of the scales. Participants' knowledge of therapist's personal therapy failed to significantly influence their therapist selection as well as their perceptions of therapist empathy and credibility/effectiveness. This finding, coupled with the finding that (total) participants were more likely to choose the therapist for the "tougher" problems ("depression and anxiety" or "adjustment problem") than for "academic stress" and "relational issues," can lead one to conclude that potential clients, when making therapy decisions, are more concerned with the nature of their presenting problem than with whether their therapist has been in therapy. From a therapy perspective, the study's findings seem to make questions regarding appropriateness of a therapist's self-disclosure of personal therapy less an issue. Therapists, therefore, remain left to their clinical judgment as to when or if to self-disclose.
Jerry Douglas Armour,
"Effects of therapists' personal therapy experience on perceptions and help-seeking decisions of potential consumers"
ETD Collection for Tennessee State University.