The effect of practitioner title and gender socialization on men's attitudes, stigma, and preferences for seeking help

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McKelley, Ryan Andrew

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Men’s underutilization of mental health services continues to be one of the most consistent findings in the help-seeking literature. Many scholars suggest that the culture of therapy may be at odds with masculine socialization and men who might be most in need of help are not seeking or receiving it. Interestingly, this aversion to seeking help is not reflected in the recent growth in the practice of executive coaching. However, no studies have investigated coaching as an alternative treatment option. The purpose of this study was to explore men’s attitudes and preferences about seeking professional help based on practitioner title (psychologist or executive coach), examine the stigma of seeking professional help based on intervention (therapy or executive coaching), and provide additional data on barriers to seeking help. It was hypothesized that men’s conformity to masculine norms would be related to attitudes, stigma, and preferences for seeking help in several important ways. First, most men would have more positive attitudes toward seeking help from executive coaching than therapy. Second, differences in attitudes would be most pronounced for more “traditional” men. Third, executive coaching was expected to be less stigmatizing than therapy. Finally, although men might view a psychologist as more expert and trustworthy, coaching would be a more attractive treatment option. Two-hundred-nine working adult men in the U.S. participated in the online study. After filling out demographic information and assessing their conformity to masculine norms and help-seeking attitudes, participants chose one of three audio vignettes depicting a man getting professional help for a work concern. Afterwards, their attitudes toward seeking help, evaluations of the session, and ratings of stigma for the vignette character were collected. Participants also listed reasons for and against seeking professional help. Results indicate that men in the study had similar help-seeking attitudes for therapy and executive coaching; however, conformity to masculine norms predicted stigma for seeking help, and therapy was viewed as the more stigmatizing intervention. Several interesting themes around reasons for and against seeking help for both modalities also emerged. Implications of the study, as well as limitations and directions for future research, are discussed.