Adolescent use of the continuum of help as a function of problem domain, problem persona, gender, age, self-efficacy, and perceived informal support

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Counseling and Human Services


Richard E. Pearson


formal support, family, friends

Subject Categories

Curriculum and Social Inquiry | Social and Philosophical Foundations of Education


When confronted with difficult situations, there is an array of help, or a continuum of help, available to individuals: self-help; informal help from family and friends; and formal help. Alternately individuals may choose not to do anything. The purpose of this study was to examine adolescent use of the continuum of help and reluctant non-seeking behavior. Gender, age, perceived informal support, and self-efficacy of adolescents were considered. Problem situations were defined along the dimensions of domain (career, academic, or personal/social) and persona (impersonal; interpersonal with parent, with non-related adult, with peer; or intrapersonal).

Eighth and eleventh graders in a suburban public school were administered the Survey of Consultant Choice, the General Self-Efficacy Scale (Sherer et al., 1982), and the Inventory of Socially Supportive Behaviors (adapted by Conn and Peterson, 1989).

Adolescents were more likely to seek help from parents and friends than any other source, and were more likely to be self-reliant than to seek formal help. Formal help was selected only more often than reluctant non-seeking behavior. Females preferred friends as helpers; males were more likely to be self-reliant. There were no differences due to age, except older adolescents were more likely to be self-reliant. Self-efficacy showed a correlation to help-seeking for younger adolescents: those with higher levels of self-efficacy were less likely to be reluctant non-seekers (males and females), more likely to seek parental help (males), and less likely to seek help from friends (females). Higher levels of perceived informal support correlated to seeking formal and parental help, and lower levels of reluctant non-seeking behavior. Graphical illustrations indicated seeking help from parents, self-reliant behavior, and reluctant non-seeking behavior was fairly consistent across the domain, but differed when problem persona was considered. Both domain and persona appeared to impact seeking help from friends and formal sources.

Implications for professional helpers include educating students, parents, and teachers about the continuum; assisting in developing all components of the continuum; adopting positive aspects of the informal components; creating programs to increase student self-efficacy; and working with teacher and school administration programs to create a primary prevention approach to school counseling.


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