Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations


Secondary Stigma For Professionals Who Work with Marginalized Groups: A Comparative Study

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Catherine Stein (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Michael Zickar (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Dryw Dworsky (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Laura Sanchez (Committee Member)


Although research has been done on social stigma and its effects on individuals in marginalized groups, relatively little is known about the effects of secondary stigma for those people who are associated with stigmatized individuals, such as mental health professionals. Using a sample of 196 mental health professionals who work with sexual offenders (64 sexual offender counselors), serious mental illness (64 case managers), and college students (68 college counselors), the present research examined mental health professionals' experience of secondary stigma, personal growth, professional burnout, and job choice regret as a function of working with clients. The mixed-method research design includes a qualitative analysis of mental health professionals’ descriptions of secondary stigma and the impact of their work on their professional and personal lives. The psychometric properties of the newly developed measure, the Mental Health Professionals Secondary Stigma Scale (MHPSSS) were also evaluated. Findings suggest that sex offender counselors reported experiencing more secondary stigma and depersonalization than case managers and college counselors. Case managers reported higher levels of personal growth followed by college counselors and sexual offender counselors. All three samples of mental health professionals identified positive and negative aspects of their work. Implications of findings for research and clinical practice are discussed.