Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Department of Psychology


The public attitude towards psychologists is, to say the least, somewhat ambivalent. Surveys of public attitude, both in Australia and internationally, have continually highlighted that the profession is poorly understood, its practitioners seen as impractical, its models of service delivery not "user friendly", its costs prohibitive and its perceived level of successful intervention dubious.

It is argued that many of these negative attitudes stem from the operation of stereotyping which, in turn, results from very low individual contact with psychologists combined with faulty media representations. Barriers to helpseeking that contribute to maintaining this low utilisation rate are discussed. Taken together, these factors have resulted in a profession suffering an identity crisis as it struggles to maintain its viability.

The present study aimed to investigate whether it was possible to positively influence the public attitude towards psychologists. It used the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) paradigm of psychological service delivery as a model designed to encourage individuals to seek psychological assistance as it addresses many of the common barriers to helpseeking.

Three organisations were chosen to participate in this study, each consisting of 330 Ss. Each participating organisation, in turn, was divided into two equal groups (n=165 ) or "departments" termed A and B.

Those Ss allocated to Department A were systematically exposed to a range of strategic interventions specifically designed to positively influence their attitude towards psychologists and their work. Three psychologists were employed to deliver the interventions in each organisation. By contrast Ss allocated to Department B received none of these interventions and thus effectively acted as the control.

In order to accurately tap the construct that is the public attitude towards psychologists a new psychometric instrument needed to be developed. The Perception of Psychologists Scale (POPS) was developed over a series of individual studies designed to initially refine and then validate the scale. The resulting instrument was a 30 item self-report measure composed of three subscales: Knowledge (of psychologists and their work), Confidence (in psychologists) and Stigma Tolerance.

Ss in both Departments A and B were requested to complete POPS on three occasions over a 12 month period: T1 (pre-test), T2 (at six months) and finally at T3 (post-test).

Data fiom this process was analysed using SPSSX procedure MANOVA. The three subscales of POPS - Confidence, Knowledge and Stigma Tolerance acted as the dependent variables while organisation (ORG), department (DEPT), sex of S (SEX), psychologist (PSYC) and time (TIME) acted as the independent variables of interest.

Strong main effects were found for DEPT, SEX, ORG, and TIME for department A Ss. No main effect was found for PSYC for department A Ss. Additionally an extensive range of interactions were also found. No main effects for any of the independent variables were found for any department B Ss.

The results indicated that it was possible to positively influence the public attitude towards psychologists. This finding was true for both male and female Ss from all three participating organisations and was independent of who presented the interventions.

The results are discussed in light of the independent variables, the Perception of Psychologists Scale, rate of referral to the EAP, theories of attitude change and the elusive link between attitude change and behavioural intention.

With respect to the results of this study the implications of the findings are extensive, and significant for the future viability of the profession. These implications include challenging contemporary models of psychological service delivery, the role of the EAP as a viable model of psychological service delivery, implications for professional training, the comparison of psychology with similar professional groups, the categorisation of psychologists, marketing and promotion of psychology and psychologists, and implications for models of psychological helpseeking.

Suggestions for extending the findings of the present study are discussed. A series of recommendations resulting from the present study are presented.