Sometimes, locking ourselves into a label doesn’t do us any favours, let alone when the diagnosis is supplied by our friendly neighbourhood Dr. Google. Problems faced by us are usually highly contextual, which may or may not present as a disorder, and may or may not be clinically impairing, all of which the friendly doctor does not take into account. If the front portion of that statement sounded like legalese, then perhaps taking a forensic lens to our problems and critically dissecting what we present with, how come and why, becomes part of the resolution.
It is not just Dr. Google; well-meaning practitioners too may muddle the linkages and draw spurious relationships, simplistic linear or causal associations, if not positive correlations, where none exist. A credible intake is more than asking questions; it is asking the right ones. Questions posed and persuasive prompts ought to take into consideration empirically-established contributing, risk, and protective factors that together paint a fuller picture of the complexity of the situation.
To borrow an idea from forensic psychology, the level of service that a client receives should optimally match the level or intensity of a presenting issue. This may sound intuitive and you may be thinking, well, how else would services be portioned out or planned. But we know how uncommon common sense actually is. (For instance, in South Korea, sentencing options for mandatory sex offender treatment are meted out by judges in time chunks and not predicated on likelihood of recidivism that is based on a credible, evidence-based risk assessment.)
It follows that a course of brief therapy is proportionate and appropriate for a presenting issue of low intensity; a longer form of intervention is called for where needs are greater and more pressing. No matter which scenario, in general, psychoeducation is an important part of the therapy process, be it the bulk of a course of short-term intervention or as foundation blocks of a longer treatment plan.
“Psychoeducation is a professionally delivered treatment modality that integrates and synergizes psychotherapeutic and educational interventions” (Lukens & McFarlane, 2004, p. 206). Psychoeducation, through therapy, facilitates mental health awareness by enhancing existing knowledge with current, reliable education on pertinent psychological matters, like information about symptoms, possible triggers as well as adaptive coping strategies, within the supportive framework of a counseling exchange taking place in a safe, neutral space.
There are multiple reasons for psychoeducation to be a core component of a reasonable intervention strategy. Nowadays, misleading information abound in the seas of the world wide web and the confusedly-informed user has little to go on to gauge an author’s credibility and legitimacy.
Understanding facts on top of dispelling myths and misconceptions become a powerful combination to increase insight and awareness of one’s internal state and external reactions. When I conduct talks with lay audiences, a simple way to provide basic psychoeducation is through going over common myths and stereotypes related to the theme of the talk. Give these two a go right now. Yes or no?
- Most sex offenders reoffend.
- People with mental health issues are more violent.
How did you fare? The answers are:
- Nay: Recidivism rates for sex offenders are in fact lower than general criminal recidivism. Data from 10 follow-up studies (a combined sample of 4,724 adult male sex offenders) found that, after 15 years, 73% had not been charged with, or convicted of, another sexual offence.
- Nope: A clear majority of people with mental health diagnoses are not violent, and instead, are more likely to be victims of violence than the average person.
Imagine the amount of misinformation and prejudice in circulation. Imagine the stigma being propagated by those errors and erroneous beliefs.
Although psychoeducation is not in and of itself an entire treatment modality, empirical evidence strongly points to positive outcomes with its inclusion in treatment plans. Psychoeducation contributes to improved prognosis in clients with depression diagnoses (2013), reduced relapse rates and length of hospital stay in those with bipolar disorders (2013, 2009), reduced hospital readmission rates and length of stay in patients with schizophrenia (2006) as well as mediates stress and burnout in teachers dealing with HIV/AIDS in South Africa (2016).
Knowledge is power and getting the facts right from the onset provides a baseline for intervention, orienting the therapeutic journey in the right direction. It takes that little to steer us into a more well-informed and positive stance of feeling increased hope and control over our situation, which is empowering as it promotes the belief that our actions can influence and impact our outcomes, so much so this belief has been touted as the no. 1 contributor to happiness.
Broadening your mind and continually being curious about factors that may influence your mental health is part of a positive outlook. Additionally, keep the conversation open with your therapist to bounce off questions and thoughts. This companions a therapeutic process that keeps you abreast of and engaged with your mental health. We won’t always have the answers, and knowing that in order to keep our minds open to possibilities and our knowledge current and updated will make us learned informed consumers of the information that is floating out there. And possibly aware enough to catch Dr. Google off his/her game.