Psychoeducation For Trauma Recovery

psychoeducation

Psychoeducation can be an important and effective tool for healing from trauma. With accurate information and education, survivors of trauma are given the opportunity to learn about their natural responses to trauma. Clients can be educated on their symptoms and trauma-related behaviours, and how they can best manage and cope with their experiences. Psychoeducation serves to normalise the long-term effects of trauma and thus make them more manageable. It also serves to improve the quality of care by service providers, as care that is trauma-informed reduces the risk of retraumatisation of clients while reducing the risk of vicarious trauma in healthcare providers.

At Khiron we believe that treating trauma at its root with a bespoke combination of therapeutic modalities yields the best results for our clients. Whilst we know that trauma can have a lasting physical impact on survivors, we also acknowledge that no two trauma survivors are the same. This is why we tailor our program of trauma treatment to suit each individual client’s needs; for many of them psychoeducation proves to be a very effective way of doing this.

Characteristics of Trauma and Stress

A key characteristic of stressful and traumatic situations is a sense of unpredictability and a lack of control. Psychoeducation reduces these feelings by making clients aware of why a certain stress response may be happening, and equips them with the tools to reduce the intensity or severity of their response.

‘The ability to understand and influence one’s own responses can reduce the immediate negative impact of a highly stressful situation,’[1] says Bethany J. Phoenix, Associate Health Sciences Professor and Program Director for the Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing Graduate Program at the University of California, San Francisco. ‘Understanding the reasons for stress responses can also help to minimize inappropriate self-criticism and damage to self-esteem’.[2]

Self-criticism and low self-esteem are highly damaging to our mental health, especially to the health of those who have experienced the lasting impact of trauma. Very often, our threat responses and long-term symptoms are met with shame, mostly from ourselves. Psychoeducation is a way of lifting the shame of our responses to trauma, as it serves to assure clients that their traumatic experiences and memories do not have to define them as a person. With an understanding of how the natural threat response works, in terms of the autonomic nervous system, the amygdala, and the fight/flight/freeze response, clients can come to realise that their reactions and responses were and are natural, and need not be met with shame.

‘An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behaviour.[3]

                                                                                             – Bethany J. Phoenix

Understanding Psychological Phenomena

Psychoeducation also makes room within for self-compassion. For those whose symptoms persist and have a significant impact on their well-being, psychoeducation can make a positive difference. Clients may be educated on the ‘physiological basis for psychological phenomena’[4], which may include:

  • Flashbacks
  • Mood swings
  • Poor memory and concentration
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Dissociation

If a client can be guided towards an understanding of these phenomena as symptoms of a response that was, in context, adaptive and ensuring of survival, and not as indicators of personal failure, there is room to show oneself more compassion and help people feel less ‘crazy’.

Other than educating clients on the reasons for their particular responses and symptoms, psychoeducation also serves to shed light on the therapeutic process. Clients can be prepared for trauma-specific treatment by becoming educated on relevant treatment modalities and the rationale behind using them.[5] A client educated on how coping behaviours such as avoidance can exacerbate and perpetuate symptoms may be more motivated to engage with and commit to a certain type of treatment, with an understanding that some time is needed for the healing process to take place. With unrealistic expectations about the goals and potential results of a treatment, some symptoms may become exacerbated.[6]

Unhealthy vs. Healthy Coping Behaviours

Psychoeducation promotes resilience in clients and reduces the need to engage in unhealthy coping behaviours like substance abuse or avoidance, and instead provides healthier alternatives, such as the seeking of social support and the practice of deep breathing and relaxation exercises.

Those who have experienced trauma often engage in unhealthy behaviours to deal with their pain and suffering, Such behaviours include substance use and abuse, avoidance of others, or social withdrawal and isolation, hyper-vigilance, anger and aggression, and high-risk, behaviour, such as driving under the influence or unprotected sex.

These coping mechanisms may serve to distract a traumatised individual from their uncomfortable or disturbing thoughts, feelings, and memories in the short term, but can have a lasting negative impact on one’s overall health in the long term. For this reason, psychoeducation is provided to help clients discover and utilise healthier coping behaviours and self-management techniques.

Psychoeducation for Healthcare Staff

 Psychoeducation is not just for survivors of trauma; it is also an important tool for healthcare staff to improve their understanding of trauma symptoms and responses. This ensures that care can be provided with minimal risk of client retraumatisation and vicarious trauma in staff. Staff educated on the potential risk of vicarious trauma can develop skills to maintain their own mental and emotional health, and can provide trauma-informed treatment for clients.

With proper psychoeducation, care staff can carry out more accurate assessments of client well-being and provide more appropriate interventions where necessary. Clients who have experienced persistent, long-term adverse effects of trauma may have been on more than one occasion labelled with diagnoses that only look at surface behaviours, and don’t take into account ‘underlying pathological processes’[7] Informed staff can provide appropriate care when they recognise the deeper, root causes of feelings and behaviours and how they manifest in trauma survivors.

Psychoeducation for Personal Empowerment

‘By assisting survivors to develop compassionate self-understanding and emotional self mastery, we can help to make the unbearable bearable.’ [8]

Trauma survivors can be empowered by psychoeducation. It acts as a means of validating one’s experiences, offering explanations as to why an individual might have behaved a certain way in a given situation. The coping skills and self-management techniques learned through psychoeducation can return some autonomy to trauma survivors, allowing them to live a life significantly less inhibited by their traumatic feelings and memories than would be possible without psychoeducation.

There is also a  wealth of information available online and in print about psychoeducation and the impact of trauma on individuals. Trauma and Recovery[9], written by Judith Herman and published in 1992, is one source of valuable information on the subject of trauma and its impact. The book provides an overview of the variety of ways in which a person can be impacted by trauma. Glenn Schiraldi’s The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook: A Guide to Healing, Recovery, and Growth[10] is another example of literature that provides useful, applicable information for those  looking to educate themselves on trauma, covering available treatment and techniques for self-management. Benjamin Fry’s The Invisible Lion[11] is a source of clearly outlined and accessible information regarding the nervous system and out responses to threat, and includes a workbook section for readers to apply the knowledge gained from the main body of the book.

Get in touch

If you have a client, or know of someone who is struggling to heal from psychological trauma and could benefit from Psychoeducation, reach out to us at Khiron Clinics. We believe that we can improve therapeutic outcomes and avoid misdiagnosis by providing an effective residential program and out-patient therapies addressing underlying psychological trauma. Allow us to help you find the path to realistic, long lasting recovery. For information, call us today. UK: 020 3811 2575 (24 hours). USA: (866) 801 6184 (24 hours).

Sources

[1] Phoenix, B.J. (2007), Psychoeducation for Survivors of Trauma. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 43: 123-131. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6163.2007.00121.x

[2] Phoenix, B.J. (2007), Psychoeducation for Survivors of Trauma. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 43: 123-131. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6163.2007.00121.x

[3] Frankl, Viktor E. Man’s Search For Meaning. Boston : Beacon Press, 2006.

[4] Phoenix, B.J. (2007), Psychoeducation for Survivors of Trauma. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 43: 123-131. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6163.2007.00121.x

[5] Phoenix, B.J. (2007), Psychoeducation for Survivors of Trauma. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 43: 123-131. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6163.2007.00121.x

[6] Allen, J. G. (2001). Traumatic relationships and serious mental disorder. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons.

[7] Phoenix, B.J. (2007), Psychoeducation for Survivors of Trauma. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 43: 123-131. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6163.2007.00121.x

[8] Phoenix, B.J. (2007), Psychoeducation for Survivors of Trauma. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 43: 123-131. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6163.2007.00121.x

[9] Herman, J. (1992). Trauma and recovery. New York: Basic Books.

[10] Schiraldi, G. R. (2000). The post-traumatic stress disorder sourcebook. New York: McGraw-Hill.

[11] Fry, B., 2019. The Invisible Lion: Flatpack Instructions For Life. Independently Published.

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