Background and Purpose. Ineffective or excessive helping behavior may encourage helpee dependence and overextension of helper resources. Early family experiences and perceptions of the helpee's situation both contribute to the expression of helping behavior in health professionals. The purpose of this study was to determine how early family experiences and variations in perceived patient responsibility influence physical therapist helping behavior. Subjects and Methods. Five hundred physical therapists were surveyed by mail, resulting in a final sample of 221 (44%) respondents who completed the Family of Origin Scale (FOS), measuring the nature of their early family experiences, and a Helping Questionnaire, measuring their helping behavior, perceptions of replaceability, and feelings of compassion for four hypothetical patients. The four patients represented Brickman's models of helping and coping, varying in high and low responsibility for the problem and high and low responsibility for the solution to the problem. Results. Subjects who scored in the dysfunctional or neutral ranges on the FOS had lower scores on their willingness to help and feelings of compassion than did subjects who scored in the functional range on the FOS. Regardless of early family experiences, subjects' scores were higher for willingness to help and feelings of compassion and lower in their perceptions of replaceability for patients who were not thought to be responsible for their medical problem (medical and compensatory models). In contrast, subjects' scores were lower for their willingness to help and feelings of compassion and higher in their perceptions of replaceability when patients were felt to be responsible for their medical problem (enlightenment and moral models). Conclusion and Discussion. All subjects, regardless of early family experience, showed helping responses that linked feelings of compassion with greater tendencies to help. Variations in perceived patient responsibility for the medical problem, rather than early family experience, appears to be a major determinant in motivating both compassion and helping behavior. Thus, helpers may be more likely to overextend themselves or create patient dependence when patients are perceived to be not responsible for the cause of their problem.
- Family of origin
- Physical therapist
- Role perceptions
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
- Health Professions(all)
- Orthopedics and Sports Medicine