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Examining Mental Health Practitioners’ Perceptions of Clients Based on Social Class and Sexual Orientation


There is negligible research exploring mental health clinicians’ perceptions of clients based upon client social class and sexual orientation (McGarrity, 2014; Whitcomb & Walinsky, 2013). The purpose of this study was to examine how licensed mental health clinicians’ perceptions of clients were influenced by a hypothetical client’s social class and sexual orientation using a 2 (lower social class vs. higher social class) 2 (lesbian vs. straight) quasi-experimental vignette-based design. Results from 257 practitioners demonstrated that the hypothetical client portrayed in the video was rated differently on levels of depression, anxiety, and flourishing, as well as job satisfaction and meaningful work. Participants who viewed the client portrayed as having a lower social class rated her as having more symptoms of depression and anxiety, as being less satisfied at work, as having lower levels of meaningful work, and as having lower levels of flourishing as compared with the participants who viewed the client portrayed as having a higher social class. Participants did not rate the hypothetical clients differently on symptoms of depression, anxiety, meaningful work, or job satisfaction based upon client sexual orientation. The lesbian client was rated as being significantly more attractive to work with and as having significantly higher levels of flourishing as compared to the straight clients. No interaction effects were demonstrated. Implications of these findings and directions for future research are discussed.

Keywords: vignette-based experimental design, social class, psychotherapy, therapist perceptions

Mindi Thompson, PhD, HSP, is an Associate Professor of Counseling Psychology at The University of Wisconsin-Madison and a licensed and registered Health Service Psychologist. She has published more than 30 peer reviewed journal articles and book chapters using qualitative and quantitative methods and has coauthored a research design textbook entitled Research Design in Counseling (4th Ed.). Applications of her research agenda occur within two primary domains: (1) vocational and educational development and (2) mental health and psychotherapy. She attends to interpersonal and systemic factors (e.g., social class, experiences with oppression, unemployment) that contribute to mental health and career development among individuals from diverse and underrepresented groups. She is the Director of Clinical Training for the PhD program in Counseling Psychology at UW-Madison and the Director of Faculty Programs for the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity. She is a faculty affiliate of the Institute for Research on Poverty and the Center for Work and Career Transitions at UW-Madison. She teaches a variety of courses at UW-Madison, including: research methods, vocational psychology, career counseling, and mental health consultation.

Cite This Article

Thompson, M. N., Chin, M. Y., & Kring, M. (2019). Examining mental health practitioners’ perceptions of clients based on social class and sexual orientation. Psychotherapy56(2), 217-228.



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