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Recovery After Psychosis

Kate O'Donovan

Counsellor and Clinical Social Worker
Perth, Western Australia

What is Psychosis?

There are many different types of psychosis, ranging from brief reactive psychosis to drug-induced psychosis to psychotic depression. The symptoms of psychosis are varied and differ from person to person A psychotic episode usually involves a period of time where there are marked changes in the person's thoughts feelings and behaviour. This can include:

  • Confusion in thinking patterns and altered pace of thoughts
  • Trouble sleeping, concentrating and functioning as per usual
  • Developing false beliefs, delusions or paranoia
  • Hallucinations (visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile or gustatory)
  • Mood swings or experiencing emotions that are out of context
  • Altered or unusual behaviours often based on false beliefs
  • Trouble communicating well or responding to others

We are still learning about the causes of psychosis, however the stress-vulnerability model can provide a way of understanding psychosis. Research suggests that some individuals may be more genetically predisposed to developing psychosis or other mental health issues (vulnerable) and if these same individuals encounter numerous negative life events or significant change (stress) they may be at risk of developing symptoms of psychosis. Substance use can also place stress on the physiological and emotional system of genetically vulnerable individuals.

The Acute Phase of Psychosis

Psychosis is a mental health issue that can be treated; many people have just one psychotic episode and then go on to lead rewarding lives. During a psychotic episode, it is very important for the individual and their family to contact their General Practitioner and seek the support of a local mental health team or psychiatrist as soon as possible. Crisis intervention, psychiatric medication and a hospital admission may be necessary depending on the severity of the symptoms. It can be a confusing and overwhelming time for all those involved however it is important to follow the recommendations of mental health professionals as research suggests that the sooner a person's psychotic episode is resolved the better the overall prognosis for recovery. However, recovery from psychosis involves more than the resolution of acute symptoms or the psychotic episode.

Counselling and Recovery from Psychosis

Unfortunately, while there are many professional support services available when the symptoms of psychosis are acute, often individuals find these support services are not as readily available after the crisis of the psychotic episode has been resolved. However, counselling is an important part of long-term recovery; often individuals need support long after symptoms have disappeared, for months or even years.

A psychotic episode can be a very frightening and destabilizing experience. Individuals can benefit from talking to a professional who understands their experience and who can encourage them to slowly re-engage in their life. Often the individual's life has been placed on hold causing disruption to their employment, studies or relationships. There can be anxiety about returning to previous commitments, socializing or having another psychotic episode. The individual can also develop patterns of negative thinking and low moods that may affect their ability to re-engage with their usual lifestyle, affect their quality of life and impede recovery. The individual may need support to cope with all the changes or losses they may have experienced during the psychotic episode.

Ongoing counselling can also be important in relapse prevention as the individual can learn to manage their stress more effectively, make necessary lifestyle changes and keep an eye out for early warning signs. Research suggests that the fewer episodes of psychosis a person experiences, the better their overall recovery. The person may also want the safe space to debrief and share what it was like for them to go through this life changing experience, to learn more about psychosis and to make sense of the experience.

How can Counselling Help?

Counselling can assist individuals to:

  • Prevent relapse and avoid having another psychotic episode
  • Monitor early warning signs of relapse
  • Address life stressors that contributed to the psychosis
  • Learn to manage stress more effectively
  • Reduce substance use as this increases risk of relapse
  • Recover from the often traumatic experience of being hospitalized
  • Improve self-esteem and confidence
  • Increase social supports and reduce isolation
  • Address issues of shame, embarrassment or self-blame
  • Resolve secondary anxiety or depression
  • Tackle issues related to common weight gain from medication

How Family and Friends Can Assist

  • Take care of yourself and seek support for yourself
  • Get professional help for you loved one as soon as possible
  • Learn more about psychosis and treatments available
  • Do not argue with the person about their beliefs/current reality
  • Listen to their unusual experiences as they are frightening
  • Be available for emotional support and practical assistance
  • Promote hope for recovery in the individual
  • Provide support, love, reassurance and safety
  • Work with professionals to keep an eye out for early warning signs
  • Stay calm, provide support but also encourage independence
  • Attend appointment with your loved one as needed
  • Encourage them to engage in counselling and to take their medication

If you would like further information on psychosis or would like to make an appointment for counseling, please refer to the contact details below.

Kate O'Donovan

Counsellor and Clinical Social Worker
Telephone: 0414 509 155

Mt Lawley Counselling Centre
13 Alvan Street
Mount Lawely (Perth), WA 6050

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