What Is Psychosocial Rehabilitation?

Holistic, Person-Centered Approach to Mental Health Care

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People with mental illness and other psychiatric concerns sometimes need help in different aspects of their lives—including work, living, social, and learning environments. One approach that can help these individuals manage symptoms and improve functioning is known as psychosocial rehabilitation.

Psychosocial rehabilitation is a treatment approach designed to help improve the lives of people with mental illness. Its goal is to teach them emotional, cognitive, and social skills to help them live and work in their communities as independently as possible.

Psychosocial rehabilitation

Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

History of Psychosocial Rehabilitation

Prior to the 1960s and 1970s, it was not uncommon for people with serious mental illnesses to be institutionalized. The approach to the treatment of mental health issues has changed considerably since that time and has led to de-institutionalization.

Today there is an emphasis on helping people with mental health conditions live as independently as possible and become fully integrated into the communities in which they live.

While the stigma surrounding mental illness still exists, psychosocial rehabilitation strives to help reduce prejudice and foster social inclusion. This approach uses what is known as the recovery model of mental illness.

Full recovery is frequently the goal, but it is seen as a process rather than an outcome. Psychosocial rehabilitation is centered on the person's potential for recovery. It is focused on providing empowerment, social inclusion, support, and coping skills.

Everyone's journey is individual and unique, and psychosocial rehabilitation can help people with mental illness find meaning, hope, and growth no matter their abilities or the effects of their condition.

Goals of Psychosocial Rehabilitation

Regardless of what form psychosocial services take, core goals include helping people feel:

  • Empowered: Each individual needs to feel that they are able to set their own goals and have the power and autonomy to pursue those aims.
  • Hopeful: People may be left feeling demoralized as a result of their condition. Rehabilitation focuses on helping clients feel hopeful about the future.
  • Skilled: Rehabilitation aims to teach people skills to help them manage their condition and live the life they want to live. This includes life skills, work skills, social skills, and others.
  • Supported: Mental health professionals offer support and help clients build relationships and social connections in their community.

Psychosocial Rehabilitation Principles

There are a number of key principles of psychosocial rehabilitation that help guide how mental health professionals working in this field approach their work. These principles include:

  • All people have potential that can be developed.
  • People have a right to self-determination.
  • The emphasis is on the individual's strengths rather than their symptoms.
  • Each person's needs are different.
  • Professional services should be committed and take place in as normalized an environment as possible.
  • There is a focus on a social model of care (as opposed to a medical model).
  • It is centered on the present rather than fixated on the past.

Psychosocial rehabilitation treatments are multidisciplinary and often biopsychosocial in nature. This perspective recognizes that mental illness impacts multiple areas of life, including the biological, social, and psychological systems.

Not only are each of these systems affected by mental health, but they are also inextricably interlinked. When something affects one area, it is bound to have an influence on other areas as well.

In light of this, psychosocial rehabilitation takes a whole-person approach and recognizes that other mental health professionals and physicians may be needed to make contributions to the treatment process. Individual care may require a mixture of services and effective treatment.

For example, a person with a mental illness may need psychosocial rehabilitation services that target basic living and social skills, but they might also need treatment involving medication and psychotherapy. The treatment of their condition targets the person’s specific symptoms, while rehabilitation focuses on the recovery and reintegration process.

A team approach ensures that the person has access to the tools and resources needed to achieve their goals.

Who Can Benefit From Psychosocial Rehabilitation?

Many people can benefit from psychosocial rehabilitation, but not all people with mental illness require it. For some, medication, therapy, or a combination of the two may be sufficient to restore functioning. Rehabilitation can be useful when people need additional recovery assistance to help them restore functioning.

Those who might benefit from psychosocial rehabilitation include:

  • People who need help restoring their full functioning after treatment
  • Those who are disabled and need ongoing assistance in multiple life domains
  • Individuals who, while functional, feel that they need a boost of support and assistance
  • People who lack the supportive environment and resources they need to achieve full functioning

People with chronic and severe psychiatric conditions can benefit from psychosocial rehabilitation services. It can help them learn basic skills that allow them to function and cope with their condition. People with intellectual and cognitive disabilities can benefit from gaining life, social, and self-care skills.

The time following the diagnosis of a mental health condition is a period of major transition. Patients may lose some functionality but new approaches may allow them to manage their condition better. Their illness may have made it difficult to go to school or work, or to maintain supportive relationships with others. Many aspects of life can be affected, including the person's employment status, housing situation, and family life.

Once the underlying condition has been addressed through treatment, psychosocial rehabilitation focuses on helping people find the skills and support they need to live full, satisfying lives.

Approaches Used in Psychosocial Rehabilitation

Psychosocial rehabilitation is based on the idea that people are motivated to achieve independence and are capable of adapting in order to achieve their goals.

To achieve this, psychosocial rehabilitation uses a combination of evidence-based best practices and emerging, promising practices. No matter what the specific strategies are, the focus is on restoring social and psychological functioning.

Specific psychosocial rehabilitation treatments can vary considerably from case to case depending upon a person's needs and the resources available. The process is highly individualized, person-centered, and collaborative.

Effective rehabilitation involves a comprehensive plan that addresses the client’s life and functioning. A psychosocial rehabilitation professional is usually only one part of the process. The plan is often overseen by a psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, or licensed counselor and typically involves working with the client individually and in community settings.

Builds on Strengths

Rather than simply focusing on areas of weakness, psychosocial rehabilitation focuses on empowering clients and building on their existing capabilities. These abilities help form a foundation upon which other important life skills can be developed through observation, modeling, education, and practice.

Some specific areas that psychosocial rehabilitation might address include skills, training, and experiences designed to boost:

This might be accomplished through one-on-one educational sessions that focus on specific skills, or it might involve incorporating training and experience in other life domains such as cooking or recreation. Such experiences allow people to practice their abilities in a safe environment, with supervision and support from a psychosocial rehabilitation professional.

Is Holistic

This type of rehabilitation strives to address areas of the person’s life that contribute to their overall physical and psychological well-being. Professionals who work in this field provide a range of individual and community-based psychological services.

In determining each patient's needs, mental health professionals look at the physical and social environment, develop a service plan, and collaborate with other professionals.

Psychosocial rehabilitation providers look at each client's situation and help determine what they need to live and function as independently as possible. This frequently involves locating those services in the community and coordinating their delivery.

Is Person-Oriented

The client plays a role in setting goals for what they hope to accomplish in psychosocial rehabilitation. Each client’s goals are individualized based upon their specific needs or concerns.

The rehabilitation process is not about the therapist deciding what the client's goals should be. Instead, the client determines what they want to achieve. The focus is then on providing the support and resources they need to make these goals a reality.

Psychosocial Rehabilitation Activities

Psychosocial rehabilitation activities include those related to basic living skills, family relationships, peer and social relationships, employment, education, recreation, health, and wellness.

Work

Working is beneficial for mental wellness and can help people feel productive, which is why vocational assistance is an important component of psychosocial rehabilitation.

Finding and maintaining work can often improve social connections, boost self-esteem, and improve one's overall quality of life.

Psychosocial rehabilitation workers can assist clients with finding and maintaining employment. This might include helping clients develop vocational skills, connecting the client to employment services in the community, assisting with career planning, and providing transportation assistance.

Another activity related to this aspect of the psychosocial rehabilitation process is assistance with filling out job applications or practicing job interviews. In other instances, clients may work in temporary or supported work settings where they are able to develop and practice skills.

Housing

Psychosocial rehabilitation may involve connecting clients with safe, affordable, and appropriate housing. Clients may live independently in their own homes or in family homes. Other housing situations may include group homes, residential services, and apartments.

Depending on the client's needs. housing support exists on a continuum. It ranges from fully staffed, round-the-clock supportive care to minimally staffed or fully independent living.

Relationships

Social skills and interpersonal functioning are important parts of psychosocial rehabilitation. Skills training may focus on activities designed to help clients better function in their social worlds, including family, work, school, friendships, and romance.

This is accomplished by teaching skills related to emotional understanding, interpersonal problem-solving, verbal and conversational abilities, and nonverbal communication.

Community Functioning

One of the overriding goals of psychosocial rehabilitation is to help those with mental illness become better integrated within their community. Rehabilitation professionals often work with clients in community settings and locations.

For example, a child receiving psychosocial rehabilitation services may work with a mental health professional in school settings, but also spend time on social outings to local businesses, doctor's offices, libraries, and other locations. Practicing social and life skills in these settings allows the child to gain experience and rehearse interactions they might face as part of daily life.

Effectiveness of Psychosocial Rehabilitation

Research investigating the outcomes and effectiveness of psychosocial rehabilitation treatments is still ongoing, but there is evidence indicating these approaches have an overall beneficial effect.

Can Improve Life Skills

A study of patients with schizophrenia and affective disorders found that psychosocial rehabilitation was linked to significant benefits in a variety of areas—including family relations, communication, community participation, self-care, money management, transportation, and vocational abilities.

Can Benefit Overall Wellness

Research has also shown that psychosocial rehabilitation can be helpful for improving a client's well-being and outlook. In one study published in Research on Social Work Practice, 78% of children with serious emotional disturbances showed significant improvements in psychological symptoms and psychosocial functioning after 13 months of psychosocial rehabilitation.

May Help With Serious Psychiatric Conditions

A review of psychosocial treatments suggests that these approaches also show promise in schizophrenia recovery. Strategies such as social skills training and cognitive remediation, which are often used in psychosocial rehabilitation, were found to be helpful in addressing important areas such as social functioning, work recovery, and independent living.

A Word From Verywell

The goal of psychosocial rehabilitation is to help clients engage in their communities as fully as they possibly can, and many of the strategies used in the process are aimed at helping clients become fully integrated. Doing this not only improves a client's quality of life but also helps create a network of ongoing social support.

Psychosocial rehabilitation is not always necessary, but it can be a helpful part of a comprehensive treatment program. By promoting recovery, improving quality of life, and fostering community integration, this approach can be an essential resource for those who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition.

Such services can help these individuals develop skills, identify strengths, and improve their capacity to be successful in their life, work, and relationships.

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8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading
  • King R, Lloyd C, Meehan T, eds. Handbook of Psychosocial Rehabilitation. John Wiley and Sons.