So my organization is teaching an online course and I’m being joined by Dr. Adam Froerer, Anna Francis, and Cecil Walker. And we have this certification program. We do it every year. It’s going great. Lots of fun. And during one of the coaching calls of this program, I said something about psycho-education, hat was a provocative. I didn’t mean to say something provocative.
I just said, kind of what I think, and what I think is important in the process that we do of psychotherapists related to psychoeducation, and it triggered some of the people in the audience. So I wanted to share what my explanation was, I want to tell you guys what I said, and I wanted to give my explanation for it, because I think it’s a really important thing that we all understand as it relates to psycho-education and Solution Focused Brief Therapy.
So what I said was, I think psycho-education is actually dangerous. I think psycho-education does not have a place in Solution Focused Brief Therapy. And everybody was like, what? Why? Like, I sometimes use psycho-education in my work. And why don’t you say such a thing?
I want to tell you why. Now, when someone says something in therapy and I’ll use just an example, like, I don’t know how to manage my anger. You have two things you can do with that information. The first thing you can do is to take that on and say like, oh, you don’t know how to manage your anger. Let me give you some tips and ideas based upon the information I know is it’s like a therapist that will help you manage your anger.
The second thing you can do, which I think is the better choice is to provide a clinical experience that will help the client get to a place where they can manage their anger. Let me give you an example. So if someone says, I don’t how to manage my anger and let’s say that person is 25 years old, 30 years old, 35 years. I know at some point in your life, you have managed your anger in a way that was pleasing to you. In a way that fit with the type of person you want to be.
I know there was a time in your life where you really felt like losing your temper and you didn’t. I know there was a time when your life, when you really felt like exploding, maybe even doing something violent and you did it. So is it true that you don’t know how to manage your anger? Because you have examples in your history that tell me, you do know how to manage your anger. So I have to ask questions to help the client remember that this is a skill they possess, and they have utilized that skill at some point in their past.
Because there’s no possible way this person has gotten 25 years old, 35 years old, 40 years old, and never successfully manage their anger. So I’m going to ask questions like, can you tell me about a time when you successfully manage your anger in a way that pleased you, in a way that fit with the type of person you want to be?
I’m going to ask some questions to help them remember that it’s in them already. And even if it’s a hard question for them to answer, once they remember, then they’ll realize the idea that they don’t know how to do it is not true. What they have to do is realize, I do know how to do it. I just have to do it more often.
And that requires practice. And if I choose the route of psycho-education, it stops all of that. And it turns my client from an exploration process, a discovery process into a process of compliance. And once I started psycho-educating people, I now introduce the idea of failure, because if I start teaching you how to manage your anger, if you get angry, you’re gonna come back to therapy and be like I failed. But we need to remember our job is to be clinicians.
We’re actually not psycho-educators. We’re clinicians think about graduate school. How many approaches said that like psycho-education is a part of the clinical experience. Very, very few, but yet we do it because it’s such an easy thing to do in session. But I want to challenge you to do the hard clinical thing, because it’s best for your clients. And that’s what we should be doing, what is best for our clients.
The second thought I had and why psycho-education has no place in Solution Focused Brief Therapy is because it goes against the assumptions of the work that we do. So if someone is to say something like, I don’t know how to manage my anger. If I believe that that’s true, then it removes my ability to look for exceptions to that problem in their past. And I can’t look for exceptions and psycho-educate.
I can’t have a deficit viewpoint of a person and also have a believing viewpoint of a person and doing Solution Focused Brief Therapy requires me to believe that at some point in their past, they’ve been able to successfully do the thing that they’re not sure they know how to do now. And I’m not saying that they’re lying. I’m not even saying that they’re wrong. But what I’m saying is there is no possible way that you have gotten into adulthood and there aren’t exceptions to the thing you’re now saying.
And in order to do Solution Focused Brief Therapy, I have to put all of my energy into believing in those exceptions and not believing the deficits that would lead to me wanting a psycho-educate. So I hope I’ve been really clear. This is something that people ask constantly. Man, I’ve been teaching this approach all over the world for 15 years and people are asking me this constantly. And I hope this explanation finally addresses this question and makes total sense to you.
I like what your saying about psychoeducation, and completely agree. I think we can treat 5 yrs in a similar fashion, assuming that people in this age group also have the experience of successful examples of instances where they’ve done what they’ve wanted to achieve.
Good reminder, really enjoy these SBFT Moments.
Pulling on past experience’s keeping yourself in the clinician space.
Thank you for this video Connie. It really helped me understand the perels of psychoeducation. What stood out for me is that SFBT is always pulling for the best in the client or what some models would call the wise adult part. Thanks!
Thank you for the brilliant clarity. There is no way a psychotherapist can effectively argue your position and be correct. Our job in SFBT is to ask questions that cause the client to think. It is not our job to tell people what to do or make the erroneous assumption that they are not capable to achieve the best versions of themselves. I agree that traditional psychoeducation is a detriment to any client seeking relief from emotional turmoil.
Another common risk that psychoeducation can bring up is that the client wouldn’t understand concepts of how psychology works, the way the therapist wants the client to understand. It can become counterproductive and harmful. It can create rifts and problems in the clients’ life because they are using the information in the wrong way.
In the case of domestic violence, shouldn’t we explain how the cycle of violence works with victims to make them aware. I thought your example of making them aware of coping with anger is great! Thanks for all you do!
Elliott, this is brilliant. I need to listen to this every single day. Twice a day sometimes!! The power of questions is so much greater than the power of advice. Resolving yet again to ask questions that evoke hope and client strength!!