With addiction and mental illness, one of the scariest symptoms is often a loss of control. People dealing with these diseases often feel that they are no longer able to make the decisions they want, but instead are driven by either their need to get their next fix, or the hope of alleviating their suffering, often through substance use.
Because of this, psycho-education is an important part of recovery for people at Maple Mountain Recovery, a trauma-informed treatment center outside of Salt Lake City. Most clients at Maple Mountain are dealing with mental illness and addiction. In order to regain control of their lives while living with these diseases, it’s critical that clients understand the biological and physiological aspects of the conditions, says Tina Campbell, the director of case management at Maple Mountain.
“Rather than groups where we process feelings, emotions and the underlying stuff, this is more education about what’s going on in the body and mind,” Campbell says. “Psycho-education is really about breaking down the educational pieces of what we want our clients to learn about addiction and mental health.”
Being armed with that information can help clients better understand the process of recovery, and how to cope with the different stages of managing addiction and mental illness long-term.
“I’m a recovering addict myself, and being able to understand the different stages of addiction and recovery helped me walk through them as things came up,” Campbell said. “The more clients understand what’s going on physiologically, the better they can cope. The more they understand about the emotional journey, the more they can process.”
At Maple Mountain all clients receive psycho-education each weekday. The six-week course covers a variety of topics, from how the body recovers and stabilizes physically after acute withdrawal to tactics for coping with triggers and avoiding relapse. The classes also cover spirituality, presenting different concepts and ideas about spirituality and how those can be helpful to people in recovery.
While process groups are incredibly important for people in early recovery, Campbell says that clients would be missing something if they were not getting psycho-education as well. Some clients have had similar classes while in treatment in the past, while others come into treatment knowing very little about the disease or diseases that have impacted their lives.
“A lot of people don’t understand how any of it works,” Campbell says.
Many clients find that it is powerful to see that the symptoms of mental illness and addiction can be predictable and similar from person to person. That helps them understand their experiences and can inspire them to believe that recovery is possible, no matter how bad they think their particular situation is.
“Understanding that they’re not the only person going through it helps normalize what they’re going through,” Campbell says.
Learning about the powerful physiological pull of substances also helps clear self-blame and judgement for many clients.
“At some point your body and brain take over with addiction or dependency. They learn about that and realize it doesn’t matter how much they want to stop using, their body might be in state of dependence where they can’t control withdrawals or getting sick,” Campbell explains. “If you can’t control it, feeling shame is futile.”
Much of the psycho-education class focuses on addiction as a disease that can be healed.
“A lot is focused around healing the brain, because we talk about addiction as a brain disease,” Campbell said. Because of that, teachers are always working to stay abreast of the latest research around addiction and recovery.
“We always want to present the newest information and evidence-based research,” Campbell says.
On Wednesday evenings family members of clients are invited to participate in psycho-education, either in person or through video-conferencing. At that session clients often teach their family members what they’ve learned, Campbell said. Additional information is also given to the families in order to help them understand addiction, recovery and mental illness from the perspective of someone who has never personally battled with these conditions.
“They can see from the outside what healing and recovery looks like, what to expect, and how long the process might take,” Campbell says.