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Explore the Benefits of Psychoeducation for Trauma Victims

written by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 8/10/2012

When a child goes through a traumatic experience, it can have lasting effects. A professional trained in psychoeducation can help the child understand the trauma and help her cope with her responses to the trauma. Learn about psychoeducation and trauma victims: its benefits and considerations.

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    A Look at the Statistics

    The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs notes that each year in the United States, 5.5 million children are involved in reported cases to child protection services, with 30 percent of those cases involving abuse. Of these abuse cases, 65 percent involve neglect, 18 percent involve physical abuse, 10 percent involve sexual abuse, and 7 percent involve psychological abuse.

    Besides the physical effects that these traumatic experiences can have, they may also lead to psychological issues. Between 3 and 15 percent of girls and 1 to 6 percent of boys who experience some type of trauma develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

    Children who experience trauma may need help to come to terms with what has happened. Treatment for PTSD may include psychotherapy, in which the child talks to a therapist, medication or a combination of the two treatments. Another type of treatment that can be done along with psychotherapy is psychoeducation, and trauma victims can often receive more information about their particular type of trauma through this type of treatment. Several professionals who are trained in psychology may be able to perform psychoeducation with trauma victims. These may include psychologists, psychiatric nurses and social workers.

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    How It Works For Trauma Victims

    With psychoeducation and trauma victims, the therapist will provide information to the participants, utilizing handouts or books supplemented by verbal discussions. Psychoeducation that focuses on trauma will cover different aspects, such as how prevalent the trauma is and the psychology behind a perpetrator's actions.

    An important part of psychoeducation for trauma is going over myths about that trauma, which can be very damaging to trauma victims. For example, in cases of sexual assault and rape, a trauma victim may believe that she “asked for it," which can cause re-victimization. In psychoeducation, the therapist will emphasize that sexual assault and rape are not the fault of the victim: She did not ask for it and she did not deserve it.

    Psychoeducation also explores the psychological responses to trauma. For example, the therapist may explain that the responses a trauma victim has to the experience, such as dissociation, is normal, which can provide relief. Psychoeducation can also go over future symptoms, such as those that may occur if the trauma victim develops PTSD. In cases where the trauma is ongoing, such as with domestic violence, psychoeducation can include making a safety plan.

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    While psychoeducation can be beneficial for trauma victims, several factors must be taken into consideration. For example, psychoeducation needs to be individualized for that trauma victim. SAGE's chapter on psychoeducation provides a good example:

    “For example, while information on the commonness of interpersonal violence may reduce the client's sense of being the only one who has been victimized, it may also reinforce the client's overestimation of the amount of danger in the interpersonal environment, leading to increased fear and avoidance of others (p.92)."

    As Bethany J. Phoenix, RN, Ph.D, author of “Psychoeducation for Survivors of Trauma," points out, practitioners of psychoeducation should also be aware of their own responses to their patient's trauma.

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    U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: PTSD in Children and Teens

    SAGE: Psychoeducation

    National Institute of Mental Health: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

    Phoenix, B.J. (2007). Psychoeducation for Survivors of Trauma. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care 43(3): 123-131