Date of Award

Fall 1993

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Physicians have been found to be reluctant to personally seek mental health services. Low utilization of mental health services occurs despite the prevalence of documented adjustment difficulties which are often manifested in stress disorders, depression, suicide, divorce, and alcohol and substance abuse. Many of these problems surface in physicians who do not meet the professional criteria for impairment. This investigation examined the characteristics, experiences, attitudes and behaviors of physicians who had voluntarily sought mental health services. The study was primarily qualitative in design and relied upon individual, depth interviews. Findings of the interviews were combined with quantitative data which included personality type assessment and an attitudes measure. The investigation was limited to family physicians or residents. Thirty-three physicians participated. Help-seeking physicians differed from their peers on only one dimension of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, being significantly more likely to be Intuitive types. Female help-seeking physicians expressed significantly more positive attitudes about seeking psychological help than male subjects. Among help-seeking participants, Intuitive-Feeling types reported more positive attitudes toward help-seeking than their Sensing-Thinking counterparts. Participants perceived their physician peers to be reluctant to seek mental health services but believed that help-seeking was more accepted by family physicians than other specialists. Major impediments to help-seeking included threat to self and professional esteem, stigma, time demands, confidentiality and difficulties accessing the mental health system. Primary factors associated with precipitating help-seeking included the intensity of distress, dystonic thoughts or behavior, the encouragement of significant others and/or the threat of potential sanctions. Women physicians were perceived as able to seek help easier than men but also having to resolve specific gender issues. Impediments encountered in practice tended to be amplified in residency. Physician use of mental health services could be increased through role-modeling by high status peers, challenging requirements for disclosure of mental health contacts, educating spouses and significant others and increasing exposure to mental health providers and methods.



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