Psychoeducation refers to the process of providing education and information to those seeking or receiving mental health services, such as people diagnosed with mental health conditions (or life-threatening/terminal illnesses) and their family members. Though the term has been in use for most of the 20th century, it did not gain traction until movements addressing the stigmatization of mental health concerns and working to increase mental health awareness began in earnest.
The Purpose of Psychoeducation
Psychoeducation, the goal of which is to help people better understand (and become accustomed to living with) mental health conditions, is considered to be an essential aspect of all therapy programs. It is generally known that those who have a thorough understanding of the challenges they are facing as well as knowledge of personal coping ability, internal and external resources, and their own areas of strength are often better able to address difficulties, feel more in control of the condition(s), and have a greater internal capacity to work toward mental and emotional well-being.
One study showed psychoeducation, when administered to those with schizophrenia, helped to both reduce rehospitalization rates and decrease the number of days a person spends in the hospital. This education is also a component of most trauma therapies.
Many individuals who have a mental health condition know little or nothing about the condition they have been diagnosed with, what they might expect from therapy, or the positive and negative effects of any medications they may be prescribed. Literature on these topics given to them by medical professionals may be confusing or otherwise difficult to comprehend and thus of little help.
Offered in both individual and group formats, psychoeducation can benefit the individual diagnosed, parents and other family members, and caregivers and friends. It is not an approach to treatment in itself but represents an important early step in treatment, as it offers those individuals involved in a person’s care information on both how to offer support and how to maintain their own emotional health and overall well-being and provides them with the opportunity to develop a thorough understanding of the mental health concern(s) affecting their loved one. Participating in psychoeducation may have a positive impact on quality of life.
Understanding the Psychoeducation Process
Psychoeducation may be general or highly specified and can be provided in a number of ways, though it is broadly steered by four main goals: transfer of information, medication and treatment support, training and support in self-help and self-care, and the provision of a safe place to vent emotional frustrations.
All of the following may constitute psychoeducation:
- A therapist explaining to a person in therapy the ways a mental health condition might impact function
- A psychiatrist describing how a prescribed medication can counteract symptoms of a mental health condition
- Formal classes designed to educate the population about both specific mental health conditions and mental health in general
- Classroom behavior management assistance for students diagnosed with behavioral concerns
- Self-help and support groups designed to encourage those diagnosed with mental health concerns to share strategies and information with one another.
Some people might receive psychoeducation through online or electronic formats such as DVDs, CDs, or other audiovisual materials, though others may choose to participate in sessions with a mental health professional.
Psychoeducation, whether administered in a clinical, school, or hospital setting or through the telephone or Internet, often leads to increased compliance with treatment regimens. When people who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition are able to understand what the diagnosis means, they are more likely to view their illnesses as treatable conditions rather than shameful diagnoses indicating they are “crazy.” Family involvement in psychoeducation can also improve compliance and ensure that a person experiencing mental health concerns is given adequate support while they receive treatment.
In addition to helping those diagnosed with mental health concerns better understand the issues they are addressing, psychoeducation also plays a vital role in the destigmatization of mental health conditions. Organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) have advocated for increased psychoeducation for consumers of mental health services and their families. When people understand more about mental health concerns–that mental health conditions are not the result of bad choices and do not typically indicate a person is violent, for example—they are far more likely to accept people who have mental health conditions. As psychoeducation does much to inform about the true nature of mental and emotional concerns, it is an important aspect of this goal.