Psychoeducation Gives Sense of Control to Families Living with Mental Illness

A compliment to many treatment plans for people with mental illness is found in psychoeducation, a method for helping patients and their families understand and learn about their disease and its impact on their lives. While not a treatment itself, psychoeducation is a tool that fits within a comprehensive treatment approach. Research indicates that the more people know about their disease, the higher the feeling of having some control – which results in better quality of life and possibly even fewer bouts or flare-ups of mental illness.

Defined as educational information relating to a condition or illness provided by an expert, psychoeducation can also be utilized for a secondary condition, such as the stress and fear that comes from learning about having a serious illness. It is typically delivered by a psychologist.

Topics addressed during psychoeducation can include the specific medical issues associated with a disease, how the disease functions, any limits it may create and future outlook. The stereotypes and effects on self-esteem can also be addressed, along with ways to cope with the stress and live as healthy a life as possible. Questions about treatment can also be addressed.

Psychoeducation is not a new method, and is often combined with counseling or therapy for the entire family. Some counselors and experts have used portions of psychoeducation when working with patients with diagnosed mental illness, depending on the individual’s situation.

Some types of illness that can be addressed with group-based psychoeducation include eating disorders, anger issues or social problems. It may also be effective with children who have ADHD, especially when they can share their thoughts and feelings with the group as they learn more about their illness.

The overarching goal of psychoeducation, however, is not actually education – but rather outcomes measured in terms of fewer trips to the hospital for patients with mental illness. The next goal is often helping the family of the patient cope better and have a greater sense of well-being.

A psychoeducational group can last from one year to several years, and typically will be tailored to one type of mental illness. Lowered stress levels are another favorable outcome of psychoeducation, and healthier communication between family members and the patient is also noted.

In a proactive approach, some psychoeducation group strategies can be paired with a strategy called family-to-family education. In this setting, families of people living with mental illness can conduct the groups and the sessions may last for a shorter duration than psychoeducation. Family-to-family education sessions can take place at a community setting, removed from mental health clinics or facilities.

For some families, it is helpful to begin with a family-to-family education group and then transition to a psychoeducation strategy, or participate in both simultaneously. There are several formats available for psychoeducation, from one-on-one sessions to group settings or sessions focused on one family. Sometimes sessions are focused on people who care for patients with mental illness.

One of the chief benefits of family psychoeducation is that patients and families can learn about the condition together, in a supportive atmosphere. It can also help parents learn the tools to help their children understand an illness better.

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