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Managing Stigma Effectively: What Social Psychology and Social Neuroscience Can Teach Us

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Abstract

Psychiatric education is confronted with three barriers to managing stigma associated with mental health treatment. First, there are limited evidence-based practices for stigma reduction, and interventions to deal with stigma against mental health care providers are especially lacking. Second, there is a scarcity of training models for mental health professionals on how to reduce stigma in clinical services. Third, there is a lack of conceptual models for neuroscience approaches to stigma reduction, which are a requirement for high-tier competency in the ACGME Milestones for Psychiatry. The George Washington University (GWU) psychiatry residency program has developed an eight-week course on managing stigma that is based on social psychology and social neuroscience research. The course draws upon social neuroscience research demonstrating that stigma is a normal function of normal brains resulting from evolutionary processes in human group behavior. Based on these processes, stigma can be categorized according to different threats that include peril stigma, disruption stigma, empathy fatigue, moral stigma, and courtesy stigma. Grounded in social neuroscience mechanisms, residents are taught to develop interventions to manage stigma. Case examples illustrate application to common clinical challenges: (1) helping patients anticipate and manage stigma encountered in the family, community, or workplace; (2) ameliorating internalized stigma among patients; (3) conducting effective treatment from a stigmatized position due to prejudice from medical colleagues or patients' family members; and (4) facilitating patient treatment plans when stigma precludes engagement with mental health professionals. This curriculum addresses the need for educating trainees to manage stigma in clinical settings. Future studies are needed to evaluate changes in clinical practices and patient outcomes as a result of social neuroscience-based training on managing stigma.

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Acknowledgments

The second author (BAK) has received funding support through NIMH U19 MH095687 and NIMH K01 MH104310.

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The authors declared that they have no competing interests.

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Correspondence to James L. Griffith.

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Griffith, J.L., Kohrt, B.A. Managing Stigma Effectively: What Social Psychology and Social Neuroscience Can Teach Us. Acad Psychiatry 40, 339–347 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40596-015-0391-0

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s40596-015-0391-0

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