Term of Award

Summer 2018

Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology (Psy.D.)

Document Type and Release Option

Dissertation (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of Psychology

Committee Chair

C. Thresa Yancey

Committee Member 1

Jeff Klibert

Committee Member 2

Bradley Sturz


Research indicates the general public stigmatizes individuals across a number of circumstances, including people with a mental illness. Individuals with a mental illness are more likely to be perceived by members of the general public as responsible for their illness, dangerous, or helpless compared to those with physical illnesses, and such stigma appears higher in rural areas. Compared to members of the general public, mental health professionals and trainees hold more positive perceptions of those with mental illness, viewing them as less dangerous, untrustworthy, and unpredictable. In working with clients, mental health professionals may choose to use self-disclosure as a therapeutic tool. A therapist who discloses a past history of mental illness for example may help clients feel more understood, less alone, or more connected with their therapist. However, therapists are often cautioned in their use of self-disclosure and the client impact of a therapist disclosing a past history of mental illness is not well understood. It is still unclear how mental health professionals perceive other mental health professionals who disclose a past history of mental illness to their clients. The current study compared perceptions of people with mental illness between mental health professionals, including psychologists, social workers, and counselors, and nonprofessionals. Brief therapeutic vignettes were utilized, followed by a questionnaire to measure perceptions of therapists who disclose a past mental illness compared to ones who do not disclose. Results indicated that, as expected, mental health professionals held less personal stigma toward people with mental illness than did nonprofessionals. While nonprofessionals rated disclosing and nondisclosing therapists similarly, mental health professionals endorsed significantly more negative views of a self-disclosing therapist. Lastly, no differences in stigmatizing attitudes or perceptions of the vignette therapist were found based on rural or non-rural upbringing. The results suggest that mental health professionals more negatively evaluate a self-disclosing therapist than do nonprofessionals. Furthermore, this perception is not accurately predicted by one’s stigmatizing attitudes. Recommendations for future research are also provided.

Research Data and Supplementary Material