Psychoeducation In Psychological Therapy

This practice is part of the day-to-day psychology consultations.

Consultant psychologist.

Effective psychological treatments for psychological disorders known today are very varied and include different blocks or steps, in fact, each psychological therapy has its idiosyncrasies.

However, within the framework of cognitive-behavioral therapy, there is a fundamental element in the face of adequate psychological intervention in certain mental disorders: the tool of psychoeducation. In this article we will explain in a simple way what this resource is and in which psychological disorders it is used most frequently, as well as some practical examples of its application.

What is psychoeducation?

Psychoeducation, always carried out by the professional in charge of the treatment, constitutes the prelude to many of the psychological treatments applied in consultations and hospitals. This does not mean that psychoeducation has to be used only at the beginning of the therapeutic process, but that it can be dosed to ensure that the problem is understood by the patient or client (or group of patients).

Thus, psychoeducation consists of the explanation by the psychologist in charge of the treatment of different psychological constructs and variables that explain the problem of the patient or group of patients. In general, it is explained what the disorder consists of (although in many cases it is not necessary to label the problem as a “disorder” for the patient, but to explain its characteristics so that he or she understands it and can cope with it in a more adaptive way ), how the disorder affects the life of the patient, frequent symptoms, what treatments exist, what can be done to improve, and so on.

Sometimes, we will call psychoeducation to all that technical information that we explain in therapy that we consider necessary for the improvement of the patient. For example, how do we become depressed, what is functional and dysfunctional anxiety, how does marijuana influence the brain, what repercussions does induced vomiting have on our body …

Tools used in this type of psychological intervention

Although each professional usually elaborates his psychoeducational script for the sessions with the patients, it is important to highlight that the content of the explanation has to be adapted to the level of understanding and understanding of the person, and in most cases they always the resources that we will see below will be useful.

The use of analogies and metaphors

As psychological phenomena are often complex, it is good to make comparisons with elements of everyday life.

Using a whiteboard or visual stand

It is very useful to interact with the patient while giving the explanation. For example, asking questions and having the patient respond based on their own experience).

Provide a summary of what was explained in the psychoeducation session (or sessions)

This serves so that the person can take it home, read it calmly and ask any questions about it.

Finally, to facilitate the psychoeducation process and complement it, psychologists recommend reading didactic manuals on some problems (not with the aim that they read self-help manuals, but in order to better understand what is happening to them and work it together in the sessions). The viewing of films, documentaries, etc. are also useful.

Why is psychoeducation so important?

Psychoeducation is therapeutic in itself. Some patients often report that after having been able to take advantage of the psychoeducation sessions and understand what is happening to them, they deflate like a “balloon”, they feel calmer, with better expectations. In fact, many of the people who suffer from anxiety reduce the symptoms by understanding the mechanisms and causes of it.

The level of uncertainty of many people is directly reduced, and the typical questions such as what is wrong with me? Are I answered? Am I going crazy? Do you have a “solution”? happens to me or more people ?.

In addition, in some cases and depending on the person’s abilities, only by giving some psychoeducational guidelines in a few sessions the person manages to understand the mechanisms that underlie their problem and implement new strategies, which is very interesting and often positive for person.

It is usually especially effective in group sessions with people with similar problems (eg, a group with panic disorder), as sharing similar experiences and feeling emotional support is a very comforting experience. It is a very important help in the development of individual therapy for these people.

In what types of psychological problems is it used?

In general terms, psychoeducation can be of great use as an initial phase of treatment in most of the documented psychological disorders or problems. As an example, it is widely used among professionals in well-known disorders such as:

  • Anxiety disorders: panic disorder, selective phobia, social anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder, illness anxiety disorder (hypochondria) …
  • Bipolar Disorder and Related Disorders.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Pathological grief.
  • Eating disorders : bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, orthorexia …
  • Sexual dysfunctions.
  • Addictions.
  • Self-esteem problems : how low self- esteem is generated and maintained.

Practical examples

Next we are going to briefly explain the contents that could be explained in a psychoeducation session in anxiety disorders and in post-traumatic stress disorder.

Psychoeducation in anxiety disorders

It is convenient to explain what anxiety is (emotional response to danger / threat), the objective it pursues (to protect the organism -at this moment the use of analogies or metaphors would be positive-), the relationship that exists between anxiety and the autonomic nervous system , the activation process that our body follows on a physical level in the face of a dangerous situation and explanation of all bodily sensations (muscle tension, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, dry mouth, trembling legs …).

How our body reacts to “non-dangerous” situations in which the brain mistakenly interprets that there is a danger, how the first panic attack can occur, the role our interpretations play on bodily sensations, and so on. Obviously, depending on the anxiety disorder, we must emphasize some concepts or others.

Psychoeducation in post-traumatic stress disorder

This explanation will vary depending on the type and frequency of trauma the victim has suffered.

An explanation is given about typical intrusive responses (why distressing memories or nightmares occur), the role of persistent avoidance of memories or stimuli associated with the event, cognitive and mood disturbances related to the episode (how exaggerated beliefs about oneself are formed), the significant alteration of activation and reactivity associated with the traumatic event (why do you feel hypervigilant all the time, what are the outbursts of anger or irritable behavior due to, sleep disturbances … ).

In addition, it is useful to explain the maintenance of PTSD, for example by a simple adaptation of the Horowitz (1986) model or the Lang (1988) model.

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