Psychoeducation in psychotherapy

The effective psychological treatments for the psychological disorders known today are very varied and consider different blocks or stages, in fact, each psychological therapy has its idiosyncrasy.

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

What is psychoeducation?

Psychoeducation, always provided by the professional in charge of the treatment, constitutes the antechamber of many psychological treatments applied to consultations and hospitals. This does not mean that psychoeducation should only be used at the start of the therapeutic process, but that can be dosed to make sure 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 constructions and variables which explain the problem of the patient or of the group of patients. This usually explains what the disorder is (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 they understand it and can deal with it more adaptively) The disorder affects the patient’s body. patient’s life, frequent symptoms, existing treatments, what can be done to improve, etc.

Sometimes we will call psychoeducation to all that technical information that we explain in therapy that we deem necessary for the improvement of the patient. For example, how we got depressed, what functional and dysfunctional anxiety is, how marijuana influences the brain, what impact induced vomiting has on our body …

Tools used in this type of psychological intervention

Again each professional generally writes his own psychoeducational scenario When it comes to sessions with patients, it is important to stress that the content of the explanation should be appropriate to the person’s level of understanding and comprehension, and in most cases, they are still helpful.

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 chalkboard or visual aid

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

Provide a summary of what was explained in the psychoeducational session (s)

This is to prevent the person from taking it home, reading it quietly, and asking questions about it.

Finally, to facilitate and complement the psychoeducational process, psychologists recommend read teaching manuals on certain issues (Not for the purpose of reading self-help manuals, but to better understand what is happening to them and work together in sessions). Watch movies, documentaries, etc. is also useful.

Why is psychoeducation so important?

Psychoeducation is therapeutic in itself. Some patients often report that after being 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 people who suffer from anxiety they reduce symptomatology when understanding the mechanisms and causes of the same.

This directly reduces the level of uncertainty for many people and answers typical questions such as what is happening to me ?, Am I going crazy ?, Is there a “solution” ?, That ‘s me. just happen to me or more people ?.

In addition, in some cases and depending on the capabilities of the person, just by giving some psychoeducational instructions in a few sessions the person is able to understand the mechanisms underlying their problem and to implement new strategies, which is very interesting and often positive for the person.

It is usually particularly effective in group sessions with people who have similar issues (for example, a group with panic disorder), as sharing similar experiences and feeling emotional support is a very heartwarming experience. It is a very important aid in the development of individual therapy for these people.

What types of psychological problems is it used for?

In general terms, psychoeducation can be very useful as an initial phase of treatment in most 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, anxiety disorder (hypochondria) …
  • Bipolar disorder and associated disorders.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Pathological duel.
  • eating disorders: Bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, orthorexia …
  • Sexual dysfunctions.
  • addictions.
  • Self-esteem issues: how low self-esteem is generated and maintained.

practical examples

Below, we will briefly explain the contents that could be explained during a psychoeducation session on anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Psychoeducation in anxiety disorders

It is worth explaining what anxiety is (Emotional response to danger / threat), the goal it pursues (protecting the body – at this time the use of analogies or metaphors would be positive), the relationship between anxiety and the autonomic nervous system of the system, the activation process that our body follows on the physical level in the face of a dangerous situation and explanation of all bodily sensations (muscle tension, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, dry mouth, leg tremors …) .

How does our body react to “harmless” situations in which the brain misinterprets that there is danger, how the first panic attack can happen, The role that our interpretations play on bodily sensations, etc. Obviously, depending on the anxiety disorder, we will need to focus on one concept or another.

Psychoeducation in post-traumatic stress disorder

this explanation this will vary depending on the type and frequency of the trauma that the victim suffered.

An explanation is given of typical intrusive responses (why distressing memories or nightmares occur), the function of persistent avoidance of memories or stimuli associated with the event, cognitive and mood alterations related to the episode (How exaggerated beliefs are formed about oneself), the significant alteration in activation and responsiveness associated with the traumatic event, why one feels hypervigilant all the time, to what are caused by the rages of rage, or irritable behavior, sleep disorders …).

In addition, the maintenance of PTSD must be explained, for example by a simple adaptation of the model of Horowitz (1986) or of the model of Lang (1988).

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