The Perceived Seriousness of Personal Problems: A Comparative Study of Telephone Counselors and Community Members


Requests for reprints should be sent to Paul R. Amato, Institute of Family Studies, 766 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 3000.


This study investigated judgments of the seriousness of problems by 25 telephone counselors and 25 members of the public not involved in helping professions. Subjects rank ordered 15 problem descriptions taken from counseling files in terms of their seriousness and provided ratings for each problem on a series of bipolar scales. The two groups displayed a high level of agreement in relation to the ranks assigned and in relation to the problem characteristics associated with seriousness. Highly serious problems were ones in which help was needed immediately, a threat to life was involved, the victim was responsible for the welfare of others, and the problem was complex. Multidimensional scaling analysis of the ranks revealed similarities, and differences, in the dimensions the two groups used to cognitively represent the problems.