Models of the Help Seeking Process

Some people are reluctant to seek help if they perceive that they cannot pay an equal payment for the helper. When people ask for help, they estimate the balance of the cost and reward that the helper may obtain. This behaviour, the reluctance to seek help, can be explained by the equity theory.

According to equity theory, the decision to seek help from the help-seeker is based on the cost of the helper’s effort, and the outcomes or the positive rewards that the helper gets for providing help. Generally, help-seeker’s reactions are based on empathy and fear of negative reaction from the potential helper. For example, if the request for help is from a PhD student, it will be viewed as disturbing their thesis work, so they may not get help.

This is compared to asking for help from a professional such as a supervisor or psychologist who gets paid for the help provided. Shapiro (1980) states that people will ask more help when the cost of help provided by the helper is low. However, this situation only happens among strangers or professionals. With friends, even if the cost is high, it is still acceptable.

In academic setting, help-seeking is viewed as an adaptive problem solving skills that a student can learn from their teacher.

There are five steps in academic help-seeking processes develop by Nelson-Le Gall (1981) which; (1) student’s awareness of the help needed when they encounter academic difficulties, (2) student’s perceived of benefit and cost for asking a question or requesting help, (3) identify the potential helper, (4) manage a strategy to elicit help, (5) evaluate the process.

If the request were successful, the students will likely ask help more frequent, therefore, their ability of solving problem will improve as well.


Gross, A. E., & McMullen, P. A. (1983). Models of the help-seeking process. In B. M. DePaulo, A. Nadler & J. D. Fisher (Eds.), New directions in helping (Vol. 2). London: Academic Press.

Nelson-Le Gall, S. (1981). Help-seeking: An understudied problem-solving skill in children. Developmental Review, 1(3), 224-246. doi: 10.1016/0273-2297(81)90019-8

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