Psychology of men & masculinity

Relationship between Gender Role Conflict and Attitudes toward Seeking Professional Psychological Help among College Students

Abstract

This study aims to examine the relationship between gender role conflict and attitudes toward seeking professional psychological help among college students. A total of 100 college students participated in the study. The result shows that gender role conflict is significantly correlated with attitudes toward seeking professional psychological help in negative direction. Female students are found to have significantly positive attitudes toward seeking professional psychological help as compared to male students. As for the gender role conflict, the male students experience significantly more gender role conflict than female students. In terms of ethnic difference, Malay students experience significantly more gender role conflict than Chinese students. Counselors need to find ways to reduce the gender role conflict and to inculcate positive attitudes toward seeking professional psychological help.

Relationship between Gender Role Conflict and Attitudes toward Seeking Professional Psychological Help among College Students

Gender role is the defined as "behaviours, expectations, and role sets that are defined by society as masculine or feminine (O'Neil, 1981, as cited by Turkum, 2005). In general, the cultural background, ethnicity, and social interaction mould and reinforce the gender role. Firstly, the cultural background plays a significant role in shaping the gender role (Schaub & Williams, 2007; Smith & Carolina, 2008). A boy is usually fed with cultural messages about masculinity and masculine behavior since he was young. Hence, his perception and behaviors is shaped and structured according to those messages (Smith & Carolina, 2008). For example, being athletic and skills in playing sports are one of the messages that have inculcated into the male of being masculine and manly (Steinfeldt, Steinfeldt, England, & Speight, 2009).

Secondly, the ethnic background has an important impact on the perception on gender role. For example, Asian men are generally known to be less emotional and affective expressive due to the cultural upbringing. It is common that the Asian men restrain from saying "I love you" to their wives. Contradictory, the Western cultures demand the husband to constantly express the love to their wives.

Thirdly, social interaction among genders is another factor in molding one's perception of gender role (Addis & Mahalik, 2003; Schaub & Williams, 2007; Steinfeldt et al., 2009). People have created an interactional and cultural norm (masculine culture and feminine culture) among the different gender. They interact within the norm boundaries. The men are competitive, less emotional, and focus on achievement (O'Neil et al., 1986). Traits like expressiveness, emotional, and relational oriented are considered feminine and weak. The men do masculine activities like sports that fulfill the need of achievement and competition but do not require them to be vulnerable emotionally. In short, the men are taught to be masculine by the cultural background and interaction process.

Traditionally, the women are taught to be feminine. However, in this modern egalitarian society, the raise of women status induces the women assume similar gender role as the men (Magovcevic & Addis, 2005). The traditional male exclusive traits such as being competitive, successful, restraining emotional expression and career oriented can be seen in many modern women nowadays. It is common for women to be bread winner in the family. Movies and TV programs exalt women who are successful in their career. Girls are inspired to be successful career women and be independent from men. Hence, it can be concluded that women may assume the masculine gender role in the contemporary society.

In sum, both men and women may assume the masculine role. The masculine role emphasize on being competitive, successful, restraining emotional expression. In the face of reality, there are circumstances may put these people in conflict when dealing with situations that require them to be vulnerable emotionally. For example, seeking psychological help is one of such situations. Therefore, this research focuses on the gender role conflict and the attitudes toward professional psychological help seeking.

Gender Role Conflict and the Help-Seeking Attitudes

The gender role conflict is defined as "a psychological state where gender roles have negative consequences or impact on a person or others" (O'Neil, 1896, p.336). It occurs when "rigid, sexist, or restrictive gender roles result in restriction, devaluation, or violation of others or self" (O'Neil et al., 1995, as cited by Steinfedlt et al., 2009, p.5).

The gender role conflict is often related with negative outcomes. O'Neil (2008) summarized that gender role conflict is often related intrapersonal problems (e.g. depression, anxiety, low self esteem, alexithymia, substance abuse) and interpersonal problems (e.g. lack of interpersonal functioning, problematic attachment, low fathering and marital satisfaction). In addition, people who have high gender role conflict will have negative perception on psychological problems (Magovcevic & Addis, 2005). They perceive it as nonnormative, ego-central, and stigmatizing.

Given that people with high gender role conflict are prone to have psychological problems aforementioned, the situation become worsen as people with high gender role conflict have negative attitudes toward help seeking (Turkum, 2005). The negative attitude is consistence "across different ages, nationalities, races, and sexual orientations, and special health circumstances" (O'Neil, 2008 p.396). It hinders the needy people to reach out for help. Thus, gender role conflict plays a vital role in determining the willingness to seek professional psychological help, whereby a person will high gender role conflict is less likely to seek help.

The gender role conflict also influences one's expectation about counseling (Schaub & Williams, 2007). The high restrictive emotion men rely on the counselor expertise and facilitative conditions; the men with high success, power, and competition and conflict between work family relationships will invest more personal commitment in the counseling process. Counselors need to be aware of the difference expectation arise from the gender role conflict and its effects on the effectiveness of session.

Current study

In main purpose of the research is to test the relationship between gender role conflict and the attitudes toward seeking professional psychological help. The researchers also examined the gender difference and ethnic difference in the gender role conflict and attitudes toward seeking professional psychological help. The researchers hypothesized that: (1) there is significant relationship between gender role conflict and the attitudes toward seeking professional psychological help, (2) there is significant difference in gender role conflict between male and female, (3) there is significant difference in attitudes toward seeking professional psychological help between male and female, (4) there is significant difference in gender role conflict between Chinese and Malay, (5) there is significant difference in attitudes toward seeking professional psychological help between Chinese and Malay, (6) there is significant difference in gender role conflict between Chinese male and Malay male, (7) there is significant difference in attitudes toward seeking professional psychological help between Chinese male and Malay male, (8) there is significant difference in gender role conflict between Chinese female and Malay female, (9) there is significant difference in attitudes toward seeking professional psychological help between Chinese female and Malay female.

Method

Participants

The population in this research is the college students, who are in the World Religion Class of a private university in Nilai, Malaysia. All students in the population were recruited to participate in the research. There are total of 100 respondents. The characteristic of the respondents is summarized in Table 1. The mean age of the respondent is 19.44 years (SD = 0.65).

Measures

Gender role conflict. The gender role conflict was measured by Gender Role Conflict Scale (GRCS) developed by O'Neil et al. (1986). It was initially designed to measure the male gender role conflicts. To measure the female gender role conflicts, some adaptation was made by replacing the wording of "men" to "women", despite that the content of the items are same for both gender (Magovcevic & Addis, 2005). The GRCS consists of 37-items, with four factors: (1) success, power, and competition, (2) restrictive emotionality, (3) restrictive affectionate behavior, and (4) conflicts between work and family relations. O'Neil (2008) defined each factor: (1) success, power, competition refers to "personal attitudes about success pursued through competition and power" (p.367) , (2) restrictive emotionality reflects one "having restrictions and fears about expressing one's feeling as well as restriction in finding words to express basic emotion" (p.367), (3) restrictive affectionate behavior indicates "restrictions in expressing one's feelings and thought, and difficulty touching with people of same gender" (p.367), (4) conflict between work family relation refers to "restriction in balancing work, school, and family relations resulting in health problems, overwork, stress, and a lack of leisure and relaxation" (p.367).

The response format of GRCS is 6-point Likert scale, from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree). The possible range of total score is from 37 to 222. A high score indicates that the person experience more gender role conflict and assume the masculine role. Previous researches found that the reliability of GRCS is high among the college students, with the high internal consistence and high test-retest reliability (Lane & Addis, 2005; O'Neil et al., 1986; Pederson & Vogel, 2007; Schaub & Williams, 2007). In this research, the internal consistency of the GRCS is high, as the total scale with Cronbach's alpha of .87, and the subscale range from .75 to .82.

Attitudes toward Seeking Professional Psychology Help. The attitudes toward seeking professional psychology help was measured by Attitudes toward Seeking Professional Psychological Help Scale - Shortened Form (ATSPPHS-SF) developed by Fischer and Farina (1995, as appended in Elhai et al., 2008). It consists of 10 items. It was developed from the original scale with 29 items. The shortened form was used as it is easier to be administered and less obtrusive (Fisher & Farina, 1995). The response format is four-point scale, from 1 (disagree) to 4 (agree). The negative items (i.e. item - 2, 4, 8, 9, 10) were reverse coded for score computation. A high score reflects positive attitudes, and thus, more likely to seek professional help in time of need. Previous research showed that the ATSPPHS-SF is of adequate validity and reliability for the college students (Elhai et al., 2008). In this research, the internal consistency of the ATSPPHS-SF is high, with the Cronbach's alpha of .78.

Procedure

The respondents were recruited form the World Religions class of a private college in Nilai, Malaysia. They were given 30 minutes to complete the self-administrated questionnaire in a classroom setting. The self administered questionnaire was used because it promises greater anonymity, the quickest way of collecting data, relatively save money, human resource, and time as compare with other measurement tools (Rozumah & Nor Sheereen, 2006).

Analysis

The descriptive statistics is used to describe the data. The nonparametric inferential statistics is used as the all students of the defined population were included in the research. The Spearman's Rho Correlation is employed to test the relationship between the gender role conflict and attitude towards seeking professional psychological help. The Mann-Whitney U-test is employed to test the mean rank difference in gender role conflict and attitude towards seeking professional psychological help. The significant level of .05 was used for the decision making process.

Result

Table 3 presents the descriptive statistic of the gender role conflict and attitude towards seeking professional psychological help of the respondents. The respondents tend to have more gender role conflict (M = 135.84, SD = 21.03) and negative attitude towards seeking professional psychological help (M = 26.77, SD = 4.50).

Table 4 shows the Spearman Rho's correlation analysis between gender role conflict and attitudes toward seeking professional psychological help. The result indicates gender role conflict is significantly correlated with attitude towards seeking professional psychological help in a negative direction (r = -.26, p < .01). The first research hypothesis is supported. When a person has more gender role conflict, he tends to have negative attitude towards seeking professional psychological help. Further analysis was conducted to examine the relationship of the four factors of gender role conflict with attitude towards seeking professional psychological help. The result identified that a person with high score in the success, power and competition has negative attitude towards seeking professional psychological help (r = -.32, p < .01). Similarly, a person with high score in the restrictive affective behavior has negative attitude towards seeking professional psychological help (r = -.26, p < .01).

Discussion

The result of the research indicated a significant negative relationship between gender role conflict and attitudes toward seeking professional psychological help. One who experiences more gender role conflict tends to has negative attitudes toward seeking professional psychological help. This is consistence with the literature that linked the masculine role with negative help seeking attitudes (Smith et al., 2008). The masculine role such as high sense of success and power increases the stigmatization of help seeking (Pederson & Vogel, 2007; Steinfeldt et al., 2009). On the other hand, the masculine role of restrictive emotionality and affective behavior expression increases the disclosure distress in the counseling process (Pederson & Vogel, 2007). The stigmatization and disclosure distress constitute to the negative attitudes toward seeking professional psychological help among those with high gender role conflict.

The analysis revealed that the attitudes toward seeking professional psychological help is significantly differed by gender. The women have more positive attitudes toward help seeking than the men. The result is consistence with the literatures (Lane & Addis, 2005; Turkum, 2005). The gender difference is mainly due to the gender role socialization, whereby the women are more likely to express themselves, but not the men. It is consider normal for women to seek help as they are usually labeled as the emotional vulnerable. The men have negative attitudes in help seeking as a consequence of the traditional masculine gender role aforementioned.

In term of the gender role conflict, it was found that the men have more gender role conflict than the women. This is consistence with the previous findings (Magovcevic & Addis) and the model of gender role that highlighted that the men's fear of being feminine (O'Neil et al., 1986). As for the ethnic difference, result shows that the Malay students experience more gender role conflict than the Chinese students. Thereby the Malay male and Malay female have more gender role conflict than the Chinese male and Chinese female respectively. The result is consistence with the ethnic difference which was found in the American population (Lane & Addis, 2005). The ethnic differences support the notion that ethnicity is one of the importance cultural influences. In general, the Chinese and Malay have diverse culture (e.g. values, religions, social-economic status, and educational level) and it is believed that such diversity that contribute to the ethnic difference in the gender role conflict.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the research supported six from the nine research hypotheses proposed. The gender role conflict is correlated with negative attitudes toward seeking professional psychological help. The men experience more gender role conflict and negative attitudes toward help-seeking than the women. The Malay people experience more gender role conflicts than the Chinese people. Hence, the Malay men experience more gender role conflicts than the Chinese men; the Malay women experience more gender role conflict than Chinese women.

Implication

The findings of the research have significant implications for the counseling profession. Firstly, the counselors need to reduce the gender role conflict of the students. The counselors can conduct the workshop on how to be more emotionally and affectively expressive especially among the men and Malay populations. Besides, the counselors can brand or promote the counseling services via nontraditional counseling brochure as suggested by Robertson and Fitzgerald (1992, as cited by O'Neil, 2008). This will help the potential clients acknowledge they are worthy and in-charge of their life and the sense of success, power, and competition are not threatened.

Secondly, the counselors need to inculcate the positive attitudes towards seeking professional psychological help. Researchers suggest that the awareness campaign of the counseling service to be conducted to clarify some of the misperception about the profession. In addition, the counselors need to be more creative in providing the alternative psychological help such as psychoeducational program, workshop, and seminar (Pederson & Vogel, 2007). Also, the theoretical approaches that focus more on the thinking and behaviors, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and rational emotive behavioral therapy, may sound more appropriate when dealing with the clients with negative attitudes of psychological help seeking (O'Neil, 2008). These alternatives are believed to be less self- and social stigmatization as compared with counseling service.

Limitations

The research has two limitations. First, the 'relationship' between the gender role conflict and the help seeking attitudes may be due to common variables that are not identified or other possible variables which are not understudied in the research, for example self- and social stigmatization. Secondly, the research was conducted with a small population. The respondents included are in the first year and second year of studies and are may not represent of the senior students. Readers should careful evaluate the similarities between the target groups and the respondents in the research should they want to generalize the finding to others groups. Thirdly, the data was collected based on self-report questionnaire. There may consists of social desirability effect and it is highly rely on the respondent's honesty.

Suggestions

Firstly, the future research may be beneficial to identify the moderator and mediating variables of the relationship between gender role conflict and attitudes toward help-seeking (refer O'Neil, 2008 for details). Secondly, the future research is valuable if it can replicate the studies in the secondary school. This is because the adolescents are vulnerable and are in need of the psychological in combating the life challenges during the developmental stage. Thirdly, the future research can be enhanced by collecting the data using mixed method (e.g. interview or focus group discussion) to ensure sufficient coverage of the breath and depth of the research.

References

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  • Elhai, J.D., Schweinle, W., & Anderson, S.M. (2008). Reliability and validity of the attitudes toward seeking professional psychological help scale-short form [Electronic version]. Psychiatry Research, 159, 320-329.
  • Fisher, E., & Farina, A. (1995). Attitudes toward seeking professional psychological help: a shortened form and considerations for research [Electronic version]. Retrieved on Feb 28, 2010 from http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/custom/portlets/recordDetails/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=EJ545759&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=EJ545759
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