Mental health: New therapy technique teaches families how to cope

Family psychoeducation has been in practice in the US since the early 1990s .


Our Correspondent February 28, 2012

KARACHI: Sometimes the worst affected by mental disorders are the families of the people who suffer from such conditions. In other cases the triggers may even be in the family.

However, contrary to popular belief separating the patient from his or her immediate relations is not the answer.

But now the families needn’t worry. A well-established practice in the Unites States, called “Family Psychoeducation (FPE)” has now been introduced in Pakistan.

The therapy technique includes the families in the therapy, teaching them about the mental condition. “The basic aim is to teach the client and their families about the disorders and help them cope with it in the long term,” according to Dr Uzma Ambareen, psychiatrist and diplomat of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

The FPE was introduced by The Recovery House which is the first project in Pakistan to follow evidence-based practices, according to Ambareen.  She introduced the techniques at the Beach Luxury Hotel to an audience of mental-health professionals and families of the clients suffering from chronic mental conditions.

Explaining the recovery process, Dr Ambareen said that there are four stages. First is the onset of a psychiatric condition which emerges as a crisis not just for the patient but also for the family because no one is prepared for it. The first reaction is either of shock, denial or disbelief.

“‘What is happening?’ the people utter in shock. Then comes the denial: ‘This is not happening.’

‘I can’t believe this is happening to us,’ and then comes the disbelief,” Ambareen cited examples. The families were seen to nod in assent.

According to the psychiatrist, the state of denial and disbelief can often persist throughout the recovery process. “Not only do clients find it difficult to understand and accept a psychiatric condition, their families too, go through the same for a long period of time.”

The second stage, she said, is accepting and acknowledgement of the mental condition. But, said Abareen, it comes with a profound sense of recurring loss as the family see the affected person as they once was, and keep trying to compare the present condition with the past.

During this time the patient may keep moving in cycles, getting better and worse, all over again.

This continues till the family and the patient both realise that with treatment the affected person will get better, but the reality that he or she cannot be like they used to be sinks in.

Then comes coping with the condition, the third stage of the recovery process. “They [the family] eventually learn that they have to find their own ways of dealing with the situation and start developing them,” said Ambareen. “The understanding that life has to go on replaces grief.”

Once the family has made peace with situation and come out of it, they turn towards advocating and supporting other people who might be going through the same situation they did. They try to find avenues to personal or political advocacy and look for things they can change at the social and political level.

Recovering from the shock and coping with a mental condition of a family member is in many ways similar to recovering from any other crisis, asserted Ambareen. But each and every individual in the family do it at their own pace. “But the effectiveness of FPE has been proven to prevent the relapse of the condition and also help the family recover.”

Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2012.

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