Clinical psychologists: Attitudes toward and conceptualizations of mental illness

Lynn M Servais, Marquette University


This investigation used an anonymous mail survey to compare the attitudes toward the mentally ill held by randomly selected clinical psychologists trained in either traditional (Boulder) or professional (Vail) programs. Clinicians' ratings of themselves, the public, and three clinical groups of varying illness severity were obtained using bipolar adjective scales that represented either diagnostic or attributional dimensions. The Attitudes Toward People With Psychological Problems Scale-Explicit (APPPS-E) assessed the attitudes of respondents toward individuals with neurotic illnesses. Additionally, respondents' psychosocial versus medical conceptualizations of the etiology and treatment of mental illness were assessed by the Mental Health Questionnaire (MHQ). Vail compared to Boulder clinicians were expected to rate mentally ill targets more favorably due to the sense of competence instilled by the professional model's emphasis on clinical skill development. Both groups were expected to show a psychosocial rather than medical model orientation although the Vail group was expected to be more psychosocial than the Boulder group. The results indicated that both groups displayed relatively favorable and similar attitudes toward individuals suffering from neurotic illnesses as measured by the APPPS-E. However, the bipolar adjective ratings indicated that the Vail clinicians rated the three clinical groups more positively than the Boulder clinicians across the two adjective categories. This effect was mediated by a sense of clinical competence only in regard to the diagnostic adjective ratings. The MHQ indicated that the two groups closely resembled each other in terms of adopting a psychosocial conceptualization of mental illness. Further, when respondents were examined as a group, the results indicated that the nature of the target had a significant effect on ratings depending upon which dimension, diagnostic or attributional, was used. Also, differences between clinicians' self-ratings and their ratings of other targets increased significantly in a less positive direction as illness severity increased. Although the Vail participants showed signs of possessing more favorable attitudes than the Boulder participants, it was proposed that ambivalence, self-enhancement, and distancing may be important features operating in the attitudes toward the mentally ill held by clinical psychologists as a whole.

Recommended Citation

Servais, Lynn M, "Clinical psychologists: Attitudes toward and conceptualizations of mental illness" (2002). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3059385.