The purpose of psychoeducation is not to rationalise away irrational beliefs, but to encourage an attitude of willingness to explore and engage in a process of testing the reality behind the beliefs.
Psychoeducation can be provided at any point in time when it appears that negative self-defeating beliefs are making an appearance.
The first basic or general step in psychoeducation is the basic concept of the relationship between Thoughts, Feelings and Behaviours (TFBs). The idea that thoughts, feelings and behaviours all influence one another is particularly important. Thoughts can influence feelings and behaviours, but equally, how we feel physiologically can influence our thoughts and behaviours, and if we behave in certain ways this can change our thoughts and feelings.
Most of the mutual influences and interactions between thoughts, feelings and behaviours happen outside of conscious awareness. CBT teaches us to think about our thinking, and how thinking interacts with feelings and behaviours. That is, to bring autonomous processes into conscious awareness and control.
A second basic step is to explain some core cognitive concepts such as thinking styles, negative automatic thoughts, core beliefs, self-schemas and self-defeating beliefs.
An important concept in cognitive therapy is that thoughts can be grouped into three (3) types or levels (Leahy, 2003):
- automatic thoughts;
- assumptions and
- core beliefs or schemas.
If we look behind the automatic thoughts we tend to find some underlying assumptions, and behind the assumptions will be core beliefs.
Negative automatic thoughts come spontaneously and appear valid on the surface, but can involve a range of specific biases or distortions such as mind reading, personalising, or labelling e.g. “She doesn’t like me”. Emotional vulnerability to such thoughts is exacerbated by underlying assumptions or rules e.g. “If I don’t get approval from everyone then I am worthless” and underlying personal schemas e.g. “I am unlovable” or “I am worthless”. Maladaptive assumptions are typically rigid, over-inclusive rules that are impossible to attain.
A third general step in psychoeducation is to explain that negative self-defeating beliefs often persist when our experience gets narrow and biased (e.g. avoidance of stressful situations), but that if we can find a way to broaden our experience we can test our beliefs with evidence. Then we might find that some of our beliefs are not true or that our views were too extreme.
Following the general basics, psychoeducation should focus on providing information relevant to the kinds of beliefs or schemas likely to be affecting the individual client. For example young people who have a history of rejection and neglect from parents will often have self-schemas characterised by extremely low self-worth and beliefs that they are unlovable. Young people with a history of failure at school are likely to have beliefs that they are stupid and incompetent.
The material in C4i is based on Gray, Maguen & Litz, (2007) unless otherwise stated.