Psychosocial therapy: characteristics, objectives and functioning

Psychosocial therapy is used primarily in cases of people with schizophrenia. This therapy aims at the rehabilitation and reintegration of the person with mental disorders in society. It focuses on strengthening patient empathy and promoting different types of skills (social, communicative …).

In addition, it also takes into account the family, and is part of an integrative perspective, which allows to understand the subject in its entirety. In this article, we will learn about its characteristics, the techniques it uses, the goals it pursues, and how it can help people affected by schizophrenia.

    Psychosocial therapy: characteristics

    Psychosocial therapy is a type of therapy that is particularly indicated for patients with schizophrenic disorder. Part of a holistic view of the person, understanding that the disorder arises from a number of multifactorial causes, And where the genetic component also has a significant weight.

    This type of therapy, also called psychosocial and vocational rehabilitation, seeks above all the reintegration of the person with mental disorders in society. It is generally developed by an interdisciplinary team of mental health professionals (general practitioners, psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, etc.). As for its theoretical foundations, it is based on a vulnerability-stress model.

    This model of vulnerability-stress maintains that, in mental disorders, there is a vulnerability (biological, social …) prior to the person, but also a series of external events which, “in contact” with this vulnerability, trigger the symptoms.

    Applied to the case of schizophrenia, there would be a series of triggering (stressful) and external factors in the subject’s environment which are those which would trigger or cause the psychotic outbreak; this this would happen because there is a prior personal vulnerability in the patient.

    Treatments for schizophrenia

    There are different types of psychological treatments for schizophrenia. They can be classified into four main blocks: interventions aimed at organizing care (where psychosocial therapy would be found); group interventions on cognitive variables, social cognition and social skills (HS); psychoeducational group interventions and cognitive-behavioral packages (individual approach).

    In each of these blocks we would find different therapies indicated for patients with schizophrenic disorder. In turn, there are different degrees of effectiveness of therapiess, according to the reference manuals (effective, probably effective and experimental therapies). Psychosocial therapy, in particular, has been shown to be effective in the treatment of schizophrenia. This means that several controlled studies have been performed to support its effectiveness.


      Psychosocial therapy or psychosocial rehabilitation, establishes a series of customizable and adaptable objectives to each case. These are essentially:

      1. Acquire or regain skills

      These skills can be of different types: social skills (facilitating interactions with others), cognitive skills, coping with stress, tolerance to frustration, etc.

      2. Encourage social integration

      The achievement of social integration is also linked to the promotion of autonomous functioning in the patient. In other words, the two concepts go hand in hand; the patient’s integration into society (with a circle of friends, an involved family network, a job …) will promote the autonomy of the same, and vice versa.

      3. Prevent deterioration

      Prevention of patient deterioration it also means preventing their marginalization and institutionalization.

      4. Rehabilitation at work

      This objective is linked to sheltered employment (sheltered labor market). Within it are the CET (Special Work Centers) or CEE (Special Employment Centers), where people with a minimum degree of disability of 33% can work. In this case, people with schizophrenia could enter the workforce, Perform adapted work, closest to ordinary work.

        5. Advise and support families

        Families of people with schizophrenia also suffer a lot from the illness of their loved one, especially families who are heavily involved.

        This is why psychosocial therapy, in addition to providing counseling and psychological care, aims to ensure that families learn to identify the warning signs of a possible psychotic flare by their family member (child, brother , cousin …). It will be important to anticipate and be able to act sooner, by contacting a health professional.

        What is psychosocial therapy aimed at?

        The main objective of psychosocial therapy for schizophrenia is the psychosocial rehabilitation of the person and their integration into the community. That means seeks to free the patient from the social stigma associated with suffering from a mental disorder, And that he can make a life as “normal” and independent as possible, with his human rights preserved and a good quality of life.

        On the other hand, this type of therapy, as we indicated at the beginning, it focuses a lot on emotions and their perception; that is, it aims for the patient to learn to identify the different emotions and the situations that provoke them.

        It also seeks to enable the patient to understand not only himself but also others. In other words, he can correctly interpret social situations, bodily gestures, the words of others, etc. All of these elements and goals, depending on psychosocial therapy, will increase the patient’s quality of life and facilitate social integration.

        The ultimate goal is for the subject to “adapt” to the mental disorder and learn to live with it.


        The techniques and strategies used in psychosocial therapy are based above all on the promotion of the patient’s empathy through tools and tasks that allow him to work on the recognition of emotions.

        To work on empathy, therapy focuses on the well-known theory of the mind, An ability that explains the fact that we can put ourselves in the other’s shoes, and that we can understand that there are mental states (and thoughts, reflections, opinions …) in the minds of others, different from our own.

        Communication techniques

        On the other hand, in psychosocial therapy, certain communication techniques are also used, in particular, in order for the patient to learn to communicate effectively and confidently, Respect the other and respect oneself. These are therefore techniques that promote healthy communication and the correct expression of emotions.

        Behavioral techniques

        Psychosocial therapy also involves behavioral and cognitive techniques (which we will see later). Behavioral techniques, in addition to allowing inappropriate patient behaviors to function, and improving patient adaptive behaviors, aim in particular to encourage and strengthen patient adherence to pharmacological treatment.

        Pharmacological treatment (Usually antipsychotics) In schizophrenia, as well as in all mental disorders, it is essential that the patient can lead as normal a life as possible.

        Additionally, medications can significantly reduce and relieve a patient’s symptoms, helping to recover after a psychotic outbreak. In other words, the psychopharmacological treatment in this case is a basic, essential treatment that allows working with the patient at other levels (social, professional, psychological …).

        Without an appropriate medical prescription (i.e. treatment tailored to the patient’s needs and profile) and adequate adherence to drug therapy on its own, therapy psychosocial cannot “act”.

        Cognitive techniques

        On the other hand, cognitive techniques, which can also be used in psychosocial therapy (but not as common), they focus on reducing distorted thoughts of reality that worry the patient.

        However, it is true that for treating delusions and hallucinations, for example, such as paranoid thoughts, therapy as part of cognitive-behavioral packet block for schizophrenia (discussed at the start) is more indicated.

        This is so because psychosocial therapy is, in fact, more focused on the rehabilitation and reintegration of the patient into society; for this, however, it is true that it is important that both positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia are controlled.

        integrative approach

        Thus, we see how psychosocial therapy fits into an integrative approach, which aims to maintain a holistic view of the disorder and the person who suffers from it. This is why it draws on strategies and tools from different fields and theoretical orientations of psychology.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Horse (2002). Manual for the cognitive-behavioral treatment of psychological disorders. Flight. 1 and 2. Madrid. 21st century.
        • Montaño, L., Nieto, T. and Mayorga, N. (2013). Schizophrenia and psychological treatments: a theoretical review. Journal Vanguardia Psicològica, Clínica Teórica i Práctica, 4 (1): 86-107.
        • Pérez, M., Fernández, JR, Fernández, C. and Amic, I. (2010). Guide to effective psychological treatments I and II :. Madrid: Pyramid.

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