Using Personification and Agency Reorientation to Reduce Mental-Health Clinicians’ Stigmatizing Attitudes Toward Patients

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Abstract

People with mental disorders are strongly stigmatized. Among mental health professionals, stigmatizing attitudes often manifest as desire for social distance from people with mental disorders. Currently ascendant biomedical conceptualizations of psychopathology could exacerbate this problem by engendering dehumanization, which is linked to prejudice. Given the clinical implications of such an occurrence, the present research tested a possible mitigation strategy. In an online study of 216 U.S. mental health clinicians, 2 strategies for mitigating dehumanization in health care were tested—personification, highlighting personal traits of people with mental disorders rather than presenting them as malfunctioning brains, and agency reorientation, underscoring people’s ability to make choices and decisions. This approach yielded significantly less desire for social distance, among clinicians, from a person with depression whose symptoms were explained biologically. These findings may suggest an avenue for decreasing stigma in clinical practice.

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