I find psychoeducation to be an awkward term to learn. The simplicity of the ideas shown by the two terms ‘psychology’ and ‘education’ is somehow intellectualized and manualized into complex-sounding advanced treatment plans for mental health conditions.

The whole idea of psychoeducation came along when psychiatrists and psychotherapists needed a form of empowerment for individuals (and their close ones) who are suffering from mental illnesses. Psychological conditions can often be mysterious and daunting to try to make sense of alone. So one way of helping them make sense of their condition and cope with it is to provide them information about their mental illness.

The term ‘psychoeducation’ was coined by the famous psychiatric social worker Carol M. Anderson, who developed it originally as an intervention to support individuals with schizophrenia through having their family educated about the condition. This intervention involved a combination of briefing the patients about their illness and teaching them skills to help cope with it, which has shown to be highly effective.

Later, psychoeducation became more than just a standalone treatment for schizophrenia. It is now seen as a powerful means of preparing individuals that suffer from any sort of mental illness for treatment, by informing them about the facts of their experiencing, reassuring them that they are not alone, and how their condition may improve. This is one of the few means which allows psychological knowledge to be actively channeled to the public at large, such as knowledge of depression, anxiety, bipolar, and schizophrenia.

This is where I intend to point out that the very idea of psychoeducation does not have to stop at being a ‘treatment’ for pains or deficiency. The same effort and logic of developing manuals for psychoeducational interventions can also be used for psychology itself in its broader sense. We can have manualized psychoeducation for understanding social action and the bystander effect, placebos in alternative medicine, and the distinction between experiencing selves and remembering selves. Imagine this one day can snowball into the possibility of creating a more livable and culturally richer society.

Psychology is more than just ‘mental health’. It is also about our growth as persons (and the conditions that facilitate or hinder it), it is also about our physiology and evolutionary history as Homo Sapiens (and how we may cope with it or transcend it). Psychology is also about how we form relationships, groups, allies, enemies, and societies. How workers may work together more effectively.

As of such, psychoeducation needs to move beyond being a treatment that happens in reaction to a psychological condition, and become what it means literally: the dissemination of psychological knowledge to the public. It means making information about different areas of psychology understandable and helping laypeople recognize and be aware of psychological phenomena, which can, in turn, help them understand what they can do make life better for themselves.

While we are experiencing a shortage of mental health professionals, there are a lot of untapped talents in psychology graduates all over the world. Many of them have an adequate understanding over the topics they learned in university (many psychology graduates have to complete a research thesis) and have unique ways of explaining them to others. There are also copious numbers of books which provide ingenious explanations for psychological phenomena written by psychologists (but only read by academics, sadly), which can also be used to inform and empower the public. Somehow, we are not tapping into all these resources and letting them decay.

Psychoeducation can one day be an industry on its own if we allow it to be more than just giving information about ‘mental illness’. Psychoeducation should also mean giving psychology away to the public: handing them the fruits of our science for their own betterment.

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Anderson, C. M., Hogarty, G. E., & Reiss, D. J. (1980). Family treatment of adult schizophrenic patients: a psycho-educational approach. Schizophrenia Bulletin6(3), 490.

Jia Yue Tan
JY is a counselling trainee at Monash University Malaysia under the Master of Professional Counselling program and writes psychology articles to procrastinate from his counselling paperwork and assignments. His interests are in individual differences, psychotherapy, and helping the public understand psychology(s) as a profession. Occasionally reviews books and promote person-centered psychotherapy.

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