Addressing Stigma in Psychotherapy

stigma in psychotherapy

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines mental illness stigma as “a range of negative attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors about mental and substance use disorders.”

Looking to assess how prevalent mental illness stigmas are, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) used a Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System to survey 37 states about their beliefs and attitudes toward those with mental illness. They found that although 57% of all adults believed that people are caring and sympathetic toward those with mental illness, only 25% of adults with mental illness endorsed this belief (CDC, 2016). The takeaway, according to the CDC, is that there is a very real need to support people with mental illness and reduce the barriers that prevent them from seeking treatment. This, however, is only part of the story. Not only do our attitudes and fears about the implications of mental illness keep us from seeking support, they also foster a wide range of assumptions about what it means to be mentally ill, how this may affect our ability to function, seek employment, gain housing, and be received in society.

In the clinical setting, fears such as this can dramatically confound treatment. Clients can be hesitant to reveal distressing thoughts, beliefs, and feelings, as well as family history of mental illness – all of which creates a very blurry picture from which the clinician is to diagnose the client. Further, clients can fear the implications of a diagnosis itself on their employment, parental custody, and rights as a citizen. While all of this interrupts the client’s understanding of mental illness, their willingness to receive treatment, and the clinician’s ability to help them, stigmas about mental illness most dramatically affect the therapeutic alliance. Because the clinician is in a position of rendering a clinical diagnosis – that the client may fear – the client can often feel like an outsider in a process where he is judged, labeled, and ultimately treated differently. This can lead to feelings of mistrust, inaccurate assumptions about the therapist’s intentions and abilities, and the clinical setting as unsafe.

A clinical setting that is experienced as safe and a strong, trusting therapeutic alliance are the strongest predictors of client change, regardless of the client’s diagnosis, or the treatment methodology used. Through addressing this very real and prevalent barrier to the client’s feeling of safety, clinicians can help create a lasting therapeutic alliance that allows for exploration and remediation of fears, the building of trust and understanding, and the confidence to seek and receive therapeutic support – all while overcoming stigmas about mental illness.

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Course excerpt from:

stigma of mental illnessOvercoming the Stigma of Mental Illness is a 2-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that explores the stigmas around mental illness and provides effective strategies to overcome them.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines mental illness stigma as “a range of negative attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors about mental and substance use disorders.” Mental health and substance use disorders are prevalent and among the most highly stigmatized health conditions in the United States, and they remain barriers to full participation in society in areas as basic as education, housing, and employment.

This course will explore the stigmas surrounding mental illness and provide effective strategies clinicians can use to create a therapeutic environment where clients can evaluate their attitudes, beliefs, and fears about mental illness, and ultimately find ways to overcome them. We will explore the ways in which mental illness stigmas shape our beliefs, decisions, and lives. We will then look at specific stigmas about mental illness, from the fear of being seen as crazy to the fear of losing cognitive function and the ways in which we seek to avoid these fears. We will then look at targeted strategies that, you, the clinician, can use to create a therapeutic alliance where change and healing can overcome the client’s fears. Lastly, we will look at the specific exercises you can use in session with your clients to help them address and overcome their biases and stigmas about mental illness. Course #21-24 | 2018 | 35 pages | 15 posttest questions

Course Directions

Our online courses provide instant access to the course materials (PDF download) and CE test. Successful completion of the online CE test (80% required to pass, 3 chances to take) and course evaluation are required to earn a certificate of completion. Click here to learn more. Have a question? Contact us. We’re here to help!

Professional Development Resources is a nonprofit educational corporation 501(c)(3) organized in 1992. We are approved to sponsor continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA); the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy, Psychology & School Psychology, Dietetics & Nutrition, Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, and Occupational Therapy Practice; the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board and Board of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology; the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs; the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists and State Board of Social Worker Examiners; and are CE Broker compliant (all courses are reported within a few days of completion).

Target Audience: PsychologistsCounselorsSocial WorkersMarriage & Family Therapist (MFTs)Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs)Occupational Therapists (OTs)Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs)School Psychologists, and Teachers

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