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Title: Social representations of psychology and the psychologist
Author: Johnston, Fiona J. E.
Awarding Body: University of London
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2000
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This study presents a qualitative approach to investigating public views on psychology and psychologists. Thirty two white British members of the general public who had never had direct contact with psychology services were recruited from community settings in north, south, east and west London (community centres, social clubs and working mens clubs). They participated in a semi-structured interview designed to tap their views on the nature of psychology, its practitioners and its clients. Two age groups were targeted (25-35 year olds and 65-75 year olds), with equal numbers of men and women in each A content analytic approach was used to explore what meanings people constructed and assigned to the concepts 'psychology' and 'psychologist', and how these meanings were related to the socio-cultural milieu within the UK at the end of the 20th century The theoretical basis for the study was social representations theory. This social constructionist approach emphasises the reciprocal interdependence between society and the individual, and the extent to which ideas from people's socio-cultural heritage continue to circulate within the public's collective discourse, constraining and shaping people's current beliefs. The vast majority of the participants seemed to hold social representations of psychology as a clinical discipline associated with mental health, and psychologists as high status medical professionals, akin to psychiatrists or doctors, who are experts in the study of the mind. There was also considerable consensus in associating seeing a psychologist with themes of threat and stigma. Only a minority of participants, mainly women, also viewed seeing a psychologist as a potentially positive move. Multiple models of the nature of psychological problems were suggested by the data. The principal emphases were on individual factors and on the role of personal experiences, with little or no attribution of psychological problems to innate 'wickedness', biological inheritance or systemic factors. Most participants viewed the psychologist's expertise as the primary therapeutic agent, with little direct emphasis on the therapeutic relationship. A number of salient sex differences emerged suggesting that men felt more threatened by psychology than women. The ideas concerning threat and the nature of psychological problems and treatments were common across the two age groups. However, amongst the younger participants there was greater evidence of additional ideas which could make psychology more acceptable to this age group. The findings are interpreted in terms of social representational and psychodynamic ideas, and discussed in terms of how they complement and extend existing quantitative work and related qualitative studies. Implications for clinical practice and suggestions for future research are considered.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available