Skip to main content

The public's perception of psychotherapy and counseling: Differential views on the effectiveness of psychologists, psychiatrists, and other providers


This study examined the public's perceptions relative to the effectiveness of psychotherapy and counseling, expectations of treatment efficacy for different psychotherapy and counseling providers (i.e., clinical psychologists, counseling psychologists, counselors, general medical practitioners, marital and family therapists, psychiatrists, self-help groups, and social workers), professional characteristics, and factors that may influence treatment utilization in an adult population. The sample viewed psychotherapy or counseling as moderately effective and perceived psychotherapy/counseling to be effective for 26 to 50 percent of all cases. The perceived amount of time necessary for noticeable improvement in psychotherapy or counseling was approximately four months, and the expected necessary length of treatment was approximately eight months. Participants stated they were moderately willing to seek psychotherapy or counseling if they were to experience a mental problem, and reported discernible differences among the eight psychotherapy/counseling providers in terms of treatment efficacy. Differences were also found in the relative perception of providers' personal/professional qualities and characteristics.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  • American Psychiatric Association. (1987).Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. (3rd ed, rev). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bascue, L. O., & Inman, D. J. (1984). A comparison of private practice activities of clinical and counseling psychologists.Psychotherapy in Private Practice, 2, 67–73.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fitzgerald, L. F., & Osipow, S. H. (1986). An occupational analysis of psychology: How special is the specialty?American Psychologist, 41, 535–544.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Halgin, R. P., & Weaver, D. D. (1986) Salient beliefs about obtaining psychotherapy.Psychotherapy in Private Practice, 4(1) 23–31.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hillerbrand, E. T., & Claiborn, C. D. (1988). Ethical knowledge exhibited by clients and nonclients.Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 19, 527–531.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kabatznick, R. (1984).The public's perception of psychology: Attitudes of four selected groups. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, City University of New York.

  • Myers, J. K., Weissman, M. M., Tischler, G. L., Holzer, C. E., Leaf, P. J., Orvaschel, H., Anthony, J. C., Boyd, J. H., Burke, J. D., Kramer, M., & Stoltzman, R. (1984). Six month prevalence of psychiatrie disorders in three communities.Archives of General Psychiatry, 41, 959–967.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Norcross, J. C., & Prochaska, J. O. (1982a). A national survey of clinical psychologists: Characteristics and activities.The Clinical Psychologist, 35, 1–8.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schindler, F., Berren, M. R., Hannah, M. T., Beigel, A., & Santiago, J. M. (1987). How the public perceives psychiatrists, psychologists, non-psychiatric physicians and members of the clergy.Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 18, 371–376.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • United States Department of Commerce (1990).Census of the population. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

    Google Scholar 

  • Warner, D. L., & Bradley, J. R. (1991). Undergraduate psychology students' views of counselors, psychiatrists, and psychologists: A challenge to academic psychologists.Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 22, 138–140.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Watkins, C. E., Jr., Lopez, F. G., Campbell, V. L., & Himmell, C. D. (1986). Contemporary counseling psychology: Results of a national survey.Journal of Counseling Psychology, 33, 301–309.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Watkins, C. E., Jr., Lopez, F. G., Campbell, V. L., & Himmell, C. D. (1989). Counseling psychologists in private practice: Who are they? What do they do? What do they practice?Psychotherapy in Private Practice, 7, 135–150.

    Google Scholar 

  • Webb, A. R., & Speer, J. R. (1985). The public image of psychologists.American Psychologist, 40, 1063–1064.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Webb, A. R., & Speer, J. R. (1986). Prototype of a profession: Psychology's public image.Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 17, 5–9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wollersheim, D. M., & Walsh, J. A. (1993). Clinical psychologists: Professionals without a role.Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 24, 171–175.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wood, W., Jones, M., & Benjamin, L. T. (1986). Surveying psychology's public image.American Psychologist, 41, 947–953.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zwick, R., & Attkisson, C. C. (1984). The use of reception checks in client pretherapy orientation research.Journal of Clinical Psychology, 40, 446–452.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Richardson, P., Handal, P. The public's perception of psychotherapy and counseling: Differential views on the effectiveness of psychologists, psychiatrists, and other providers. J Contemp Psychother 25, 367–385 (1995).

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Public Health
  • Social Psychology
  • Social Worker
  • Adult Population
  • Treatment Efficacy