Theses Doctoral

Effects of the Mental Health Practitioner's Professional Affiliation, Gender, and Warmth on Client Attitude Change

Alperin, Richard Martin

This study tested the effects of a mental health practitioner's professional affiliation (psychiatry, clinical psychology, and social work), gender, and warmth on clients' perceptions of the professional's expertness and social attractiveness and the relationship between these perceptions and the influence the mental health practitioner has on client attitude change. Using social psychology's literature on attitude change as a frame of reference, the study was based on the premise that social work practice is a process of social influence in which the social worker attempts to influence clients to change their attitudes.

The subjects were 120 randomly selected male inpatients from an alcohol detoxification unit at a private hospital in New York City. They were randomly assigned to one of twelve experimental conditions based on the mental health practitioner's professional affiliation, gender, and the description of the practitioner as a warm or cold person. These experimental conditions were established by biographical sketches describing the mental health professional. The subjects then listened to a ten-minute segment of a simulated psychotherapy session and completed the Counselor Rating Form which measured the subjects' perceptions of the mental health practitioner's expertness and attractiveness, and the Persuasibility Questionnaire, which measured the tape mental health professional's influence on subjects' attitudes.

The results indicated that the practitioners from all three professions were perceived to be equally expert and attractive as were the male and female practitioners in both psychiatry and psychology. Although male and female social workers were perceived to be equally attractive, the male social workers were perceived to be significantly more expert than their female counterparts. When the psychiatrists and psychologists were described as warm they were perceived to be significantly more expert and attractive than when they were described as cold. However, the description of the social worker as warm had no differential effect on the subjects' perceptions. This resulted from the subjects' failure to see the social workers as cold, even when they were so described.

The overall findings of this study indicated that the more expert and attractive mental health professionals were perceived to be, the more influence they had in changing the subjects' attitudes. This held true for all subgroups except social workers and male mental health professionals.


More About This Work

Academic Units
Social Work
Thesis Advisors
Whiteman, Martin
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 1, 2015