WHAT SEEMS TO BE THE PROBLEM?

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In the days and weeks following Sept. 11, many Americans sought the aid of psychotherapists to help them cope with the tragedy. Little did they know that by helping themselves, they were also helping to reduce the stigma associated with psychotherapy. According to this month's exclusive American Demographics survey, conducted by market research firm Market Facts, 1 in 7 Americans (14 percent) say they are more accepting of psychotherapy today than they were prior to Sept. 11. But even so, many people still have negative perceptions of Dr. Freud and his colleagues, which suggests it may be some time before the shroud is entirely lifted from the leather couch.

Admittedly, most personal problems do not require the assistance of a professional. But 16 percent of respondents to our nationally representative telephone survey of 1,000 Americans confessed to having sought the advice of a psychotherapist or a comparable professional counselor at some point in their lives.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Baby Boomers — the “me� generation — are the most likely to have seen a therapist. In fact, nearly a quarter of 45- to 54- year-olds (23 percent) have sought professional help compared with 13 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds and 13 percent of adults age 55 and older. A greater share of Westerners (21 percent) — as their Hollywood reputation suggests — have been to see a shrink. Only 16 percent of Midwesterners, 15 percent of Southerners and 12 percent of people in the Northeast admit to making a self-help visit.

Interestingly, income is not a predicting factor for psychotherapy treatment, but education is. Fully a quarter of Americans with a postgraduate degree have been to a therapist, compared with 17 percent of college grads and just 12 percent of those with a high school diploma or less. Noted psychologist and author Dr. Joyce Brothers, explains: “With greater education, you're aware that you don't have to be mentally ill to get support. If you sense there's something wrong, you're going to find someone who can help you, regardless of how much you make. If money is an issue, you find a cheaper therapist.�

Overall, Americans tend to see therapy as a good thing, but there is still a handful who remain skeptical. When asked how they would feel if they found out someone they knew was in psychotherapy, almost half (49 percent) of respondents say the news would evoke a positive feeling, but 1 in 10 say their reaction would be decidedly negative. Thirty-eight percent remain ambivalent. Or so they say. But consider this: Nearly 1 in 5 Americans (19 percent) believe that psychotherapy is primarily “for people with serious psychological disorders,� while another 13 percent think it's “a waste of time� and an additional 3 percent say that psychotherapy is essentially “for the rich and famous.�

Regardless of what they say, more people would likely be in therapy today were it not for the perceived cost. A third of respondents (32 percent) admit that they have avoided therapy in the past or will not seek the advice of a therapist in the future because they don't think they can afford the counseling. This perception is especially high in the Midwest and the West, where 37 percent of residents in both regions say cost is one factor keeping them from the therapist's couch, compared with only 29 percent of Northeasterners and 27 percent of those in the South who say the same.

But fees are certainly not the only obstacle. Many Americans still fear the social ramifications they could face if others found out. This reason is cited by 15 percent of respondents as a factor which either has or will inhibit them from seeing a psychotherapist. Ironically, typically fearless Gen Ys are most afraid of being judged. Almost a third (29 percent) of 18- to 24-year-olds, compared with half as many adults age 25 and older, shun therapy for fear of being found out.

“Young people are more concerned with what others think because they're still in their developmental years and seek approval from others,� says Dr. Brothers. “They don't want anything on their record, like therapy, that might keep them from advancing later in life.�

LEND AN EAR

With whom have you spoken in the past when dealing with a personal problem?

MEN WOMEN
Friend or family member 68% 82%
Religious/spiritual leader 24% 28%
Psychotherapist 13% 18%
Source: American Demographics/Market Facts

SUPPORT GROUP

Women are significantly more accepting of those in therapy than men. More men say that word of someone they know seeing a therapist would carry a negative connotation.

IF YOU FOUND OUT SOMEONE YOU KNEW WAS SEEING A PSYCHOTHERAPIST, WOULD THAT NEWS CARRY IN YOUR MIND…

MEN WOMEN
A very positive connotation 17% 35%
A somewhat positive connotation 23% 21%
Total: positive connotation 40% 57%
A somewhat negative connotation 10% 4%
A very negative connotation 2% 3%
Total: negative connotation 12% 7%
Neither a positive nor negative connotation 43% 34%
Source: American Demographics/Market Facts
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