Sex-role stereotypes, androgyny, and clinical judgments of mental health

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Browning, Anita N.
Hutchinson, Roger L.
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The purpose of this study was twofold: 1) to investigate whether men and women clients in therapy are viewed differently by therapists as a result of a double standard of mental health, i.e., whether or not therapists hold one set of beliefs about behaviors and characteristics that describes a mentally healthy male and yet another set of beliefs about behaviors and characteristics that describes a healthy female, and 2) to determine if both sex-typed and androgynous therapists hold these differential views.The basic design of the study was a 2 x 2 x 3 analysis of variances Sex Role Identity by Sex of Clinician by Referent (male, female or adult). The study utilized 83 female and 74 male volunteer clinicians from nine mental health centers in central. Indiana. The 157 participants, ranging in age from 22 to 62, were administered the Bern Sex Role Inventory in order to assess their Sex Role Identity (SRI). The data are based on 44 sex-typed and 45 androgynous subjects retained to complete the study. Of these, 47 were females and 42 were males. Participants were randomly assigned to 3 independent groups and asked to complete the Sex Role Stereotype Questionnaire. One group was asked how they viewed a healthy male; groups 2 and 3 were asked how they viewed a healthy female or adult--gender unspecified, respectively.It was expected that sex-typed clinicians would differentiate in their views of a healthy male and healthy female and that these differences would parallel sex role stereotypes prevalent in our society. It was expected that sex-typed clinicians would see no difference between healthy males and healthy adults, gender unspecified. Further, it was thought that Sex Role Identity would have an effect on Sex Role Stereotype Questionnaire scores, specifically that sex-typed male and female clinicians would see a healthy male and a healthy female as having different personality traits and that androgynous therapists would see no differences.In order to test the hypotheses, six planned comparisons were made utilizing 95%Bonferroni t confidence intervals. Contrary to expectations, the data did not support any of the hypotheses. Each was found to be nonsignificant. The present study was compared to the Broverman et al. study which found a double standard eleven years ago.The results may indicate that therapists--both androgynous and sex-typed--may be moving toward a more androgynous view of the world. Factors related to professional discipline of the subjects could have affected the results as well as the possible hesitancy to disclose of some subjects. Rather than being a primary personality attribute, psychological androgyny and sex role identification may make up a limited, situation-specific aspect of personality. This suggests the possibility that sex-typed as well as androgynous clinicians may not hold differential attitudes about men and women.Although clinicians were identified as sex-typed in their attitudes, they may have been able to suspend these attitudes and keep their stereotypes to themselves when counseling clients. The impact of the Women's movement as well as professional and ethical directives prohibiting discrimination may have an influential effect on therapeutic behavior.Finally, it is possible that clinicians could have held egalitarian views of health in their conscious awareness which would have been reflected in their SRSQ scores, but that an opposing set of unconscious attitudes about women could have affected their behavior with women clients. Further research suggestions include focusing on the therapists' behavior in the counseling setting and exploring clients' views of the therapist and of the counseling experience to determine whether non-sexist counseling is actually occurring behind the closed door.