What is "PsychoEd"?

    The Psycho Educational model is a humanistic approach to changing the behavior patterns, values, interpretation of events, and life outlook of individuals who are not adjusting well to their environment(s) (e.g. home, school, workplace).  Inappropriate behavior is viewed as a person’s maladaptive attempt to cope with the demands of that environment.  Appropriate behaviors are developed by helping the individual to recognize the need for change, and then helping that person to display better behavior choices.  In essence, and often in practice, a “teacher” is helping a “student” to more accurately understand oneself (and others), the futility of the present pattern of behaving, and the need to adopt prosocial alternative responses.

    Psychoeducators believe that this positive behavior change is more likely to occur when the teacher is able to develop and maintain a positive and mutually respectful interaction with the student.  Interventions based upon the Psycho Educational model rely heavily on the teacher's ability to develop a trusting and accepting relationship with the student.  The teacher’s style is empathetic and supportive, while still maintaining appropriate boundaries in the relationship.  Limits are also placed on the student’s behavior.  Consequences occur when the student displays unacceptable behavior.  However, the teacher continues to encourage the pupil, and works closely with him/her to develop more socially acceptable (re)actions.  While expressing displeasure with the behavior, the teacher continues to express confidence in the student’s ability to change for the better.

    As one would expect from the name of this orientation, this approach involves a combination of both psychology and education.  While the influence of life experiences and feelings are considered, “psyched” practices go beyond “psychotherapy” which delves deeply into one’s remote  past.  While recognizing the influence of past events, psychoed interventions focus primarily on the present (and future).  The emphasis of this orientation is not only on observable changes in behavior (as is the case in behavioral model).  In addition, psychoeducators are concerned with the individual’s mind, perceptions of reality, and feelings.  Psychoeducational practices and procedures consider emotional and psychological influences and outcomes.  When engaging in the process of behavioral change, the professional  must consider the psychological state and emotional issues of the student or client, and actively involve that person in the development of better actions.  According to psychoeducators, behavioral change comes not just from the manipulation of environmental variables (as with the Behavioral Analysis model), but from the development of a better understanding oneself and others (the “psycho” part), and the practice of new ways of reacting (the “education” part).  The student is taught new ways of responding, and the self control to refrain from using the former inappropriate actions.

  The roots of the psychoeducational orientation can be found in the humanitarian writings of the early  to mid 1800's by individuals such as Pestalozzi, Itard, and Howe, among others.  However, it was the “mental hygiene” movement in the early 1900's that strengthened and promoted this humanistic approach for the treatment of those who experience psychological and behavioral disorders.

Freud and His Followers
    While the theories of Sigmund Freud have been questioned, his early writings did  provide many of the foundational supports for the psychoeducational orientation.  His recognition of the importance of childhood experiences on one’s psychological development, the influence of unrecognized motivations, and his practice of listening closely to what individuals have to tell are important components of today’s psychoeducational practice.  His recognition of the importance of trusting relationships for good mental health is another foundational pillar.
    The followers of Freud, such as August Aichorn, H. Stack Sullivan, Karen Horney, and Carl Jung contributed much to our understanding of human nature as they created the “psychodynamic” viewpoint (an orientation that focused primarily on psychiatric analysis and treatment).  However, it was Erik Erikson (1902-1994), and Freud’s understudy, Alfred Adler (1870-1937) who made significant impacts on the future formation of the psychoeducational model.  Adler believed that individuals attempt to achieve desirable goals, and that behavior is heavily influenced by one’s social relationships with others.  He was highly involved with mental health issues as they pertained to children.
    Erik Erikson developed a theory of “stages of human development” that placed childhood and adolescence within the larger context of the life cycle.  In each of the stages of life were tasks that needed to be addressed.  Depending on the life experiences of the individual at that stage, certain outcomes became important influences on that person’s personality and view of the world.

Jean Piaget
    Piaget (1896-1980) also developed a stage theory in which children form their social and cognitive skills by testing their assumptions about the world and how it works.  He, like Erikson, had a major impact on educational theory and practice.

Fritz Redl and David Wineman
    Modern psychoeducational approaches developed in response to juvenile delinquency issues that increased following the industrial revolution and large-scale immigration.  At the forefront during the mid 1940's to 1960's were Redl (1902-1988) and his former student, Wineman.  They believed in the inherent goodness of children, and sought to help them cope with the unfortunate negative events that had damaged their emotional growth.  Redl and Wineman developed caring, realistic, and sophisticated interventions for working with troubled youth who often struck out verbally and physically at those who tried to help.  Perhaps the best known of their practices is the “Life Space Interview” (LSI), a menu of related strategies for helping youngsters reflect upon and learn from important interactions and crises.  The selection of the LSI strategies depended on the staff member’s assessment of the student’s needs at that moment during an impromptu counseling session.  Redl and Wineman saw a crisis as an opportunity for the individual to learn life lessons, develop self understanding, and move toward self-regulation of one’s behavior.  Their books Children Who Hate (1951) and Controls from Within (1952) are classics in the field.  These texts were later combined into a single volume titled The Aggressive Child.  They believed that residential settings for troubled youth should have therapeutic environments staffed with skilled and supportive personnel.  While that approach seems standard today, at the time, it was novel and controversial.

Modern Psychoeducational Leaders

    The modern Psychoeducation movement derives from the work of Fritz Redl.  Today, his original work is undergoing refinement by others.  Psychoeducational strategies have been reformulated by a string of professionals descending from Dr. Redl.

William Morse
    Dr. Morse met Redl while serving as director of “The Fresh Air Camp” where Redl’s youth from the “Pioneer House” residential facility went to summer camp.  Dr. Morse later extended Redl’s treatment strategies into the schools, and co-authored a classic textbook titled Conflict in the Classroom with his student Nicholas Long.

Nicholas Long
    Dr. Long re-structured Dr. Redl’s LSI procedures into an counseling process known as “Life Space Crisis Intervention” (LSCI).  His training materials and workshops have helped to make the use of this procedure widespread.  He also developed a model to explain why it is that teachers often find themselves in escalating battles with their students.  Known as “The Conflict Cycle”, it provides and understanding of conflict among individuals so that differences in opinion can lead to productive outcomes. 

Larry Brendtro
    Dr. Brendtro, a protege’ of Nick Long developed a group procedure revolving around the development of a positive peer youth culture.  He co-authored a book with his colleagues Martin Brokenleg and Steven VanBockern that combined this group emphasis with a model based on Native American values.  Reclaiming Youth at Risk described the “Circle of Courage” model for promoting feelings of belonging, a sense of mastery in life, functional independence, and generosity toward others.  In collaboration with Nick Long, these authors have produced a psychoeducational journal, Reclaiming Children and Youth.

Mary Margaret Wood
    Dr. Wood originated the “Developmental Therapy” model for helping young children and adolescents who have emotional disturbance and behavioral disorders.  In this approach, positive psychological and behavioral change is promoted by taking advantage of the naturally occurring developmental processes of human development.  Environmental factors that effect the development of children are given emphasis and attention.

Tom McIntyre
    Dr. McIntyre has focused on the use and modifications of psychoeducational approaches with populations not previously addressed in the professional literature, such as culturally diverse youngsters, gay/lesbian/bi-sexual youth, and students with gender identity disorder.  He also devised a sequential counseling process for teachers known as “classroom counseling”.  His web site (http://www.behavioradvisor.com) offers instruction and guidance in psychoeducational procedures.  It has been influential in disseminating psychoeducational procedures worldwide.  McIntyre’s book, The Behavior Survival Guide for Kids: How to Make Good Choices and Stay Out of Trouble guides students in the use of psychoeducational techniques to develop self control, positive self image, and good decision making.

Richard Curwin and Allen Mendler

    Drs. Curwin and Mendler developed a popular and effective program of techniques and strategies as described in their book Discipline with Dignity.    The interventions, as with all psychoeducational practices, emphasize mutual respect between teacher and student.  Well adjusted, supportive teachers help students to develop respectful behavior and internal control over actions.

Assessment of Behavior
    The psychoeducational version of behavior assessment is comprehensive in nature.  Known as “ecological” assessment, it considers all aspects of a student’s life that might have an impact on the his/her behavior.   Multiple perspectives are considered.  It evaluates both the environment(s) and the individual’s behavior within numerous social contexts.  Essentially, the assessment team observes how the student behaves in different places and situations, noticing both the behaviors, and the influences upon those actions.  The evaluation attempts to determine to what extent behaviors are adaptive to a particular setting.   It also assesses whether the setting or ecology  is “polluted”, exerting a psychologically toxic effect on the mind of the student.
    The psychoeducational viewpoint seeks to understand the student who is engaged in a failing struggle to adequately handle life situations.  In doing so, it looks at both individual and social explanations for inappropriate, anti-social, and otherwise unacceptable  behavior patterns.
    The psychoed assessment process is dynamic and ongoing, not a “one shot”, one time procedure that ends in a committee meeting.  Psychoeducators continually track the progress of students as interventions are implemented.  Assessment and instruction continually interact and influence one another.  In addition to tests and surveys, information gained from talks with the student (perhaps in the form of an LSCI), analysis of drawings or writings, and other creative works are analyzed.
    Psychoeducators place great emphasis on the affective, or emotional workings of a student’s mind.  Behavior is viewed not just as a response to a stimulus that brings about a certain consequence (although that information might also be considered in assessment), but additionally as a form of communication of one’s emotions or thoughts.  Psychoeducators attempt to translate the language of behavior into it’s emotional or cognitive equivalent.
    Typical behavior assessment procedures found in schools and clinics tend to focus on weaknesses and what is wrong behaviorally.  A full psychoeducational assessment also identifies strengths that can be used in behavioral remediation.  In addition to pointing out obvious positive assets such as humor, academic talent, good grooming skills, high reading level, creative thought, etc., this strength based approach might also find admirable qualities in what might initially seem to be negative behavior.  For example, a defiant youngster displays the fortitude to defend his view under intense pressure.  The head of a group of anti-social youth has leadership skills (however distorted they may be).  The who physically pummels the tormentor of an acquiantance is showing a (distorted) sense of justice and loyalty to friends.   These strengths would be considered in development of a behavior change program.
        By understanding the influences of the environment on behavior, and the strengths as well as weaknesses of the student, professionals can better develop a positive behavior change program.  The goal of treatment is to promote a better understanding of oneself and others, and well managed self-regulation of behavior.

    Psychoeducational interventions tend to be “packaged” plans that are spontaneously implemented and  modified to the needs of the student at that particular moment in a crisis.  To the psychoeducator, “One size fits all” is a lie in fashion, and education.  Individualized approaches are necessary.  However, using complex prepared procedures flexibly and effectively requires persistent, self-confident, knowledgeable, trained, and empathetic professionals.  The psychoeducator must be able to resist displaying punitive or rejecting reactions when the student engages in the inevitable testing of his/her patience and commitment.  Unshakeable optimism and professionalism are required of those using psychoed practices.
    Psychoeducators must be astute to students’ needs and emotions, and sensitive to their interactions with them.  Awareness of one’s own psychological issues, and good communication and listening skills are a prerequisite for success with these procedures.  An effective psychoeducator, in addition to possessing the traits identified above, must be trained and competent in, among other interventions, the following procedures:
1. Surface management techniques (a form of LSI/LSCI involving strategies that are designed to
         quickly calm a crisis situation)
2. Clinical exploitation of life events (a form of LSI/LSCI that addresses behavior in a more in-
        depth manner)
3. Classroom counseling (a sequential counseling process for teachers)
4. Bibliotherapy (the therapeutic use of literature)
5. Play therapy (for professionals working with young children)
6. Respectful ways of phrasing statements when first attempting to direct behavior
7. Development of a comprehensive classroom management plan that involves limits,
     consequences, supportive procedures, and consistency
(A description of these procedures can be found at http://www.behavioradvisor.com)

    The Psychoeducational perspective and it’s practices, while acknowledging the influence of past events on a student’s psyche and behavior, does not dwell on them.  Actions are dealt with in the present context.  The psychoeducator does so in a caring, intensive, and realistic manner.  S/he is supported by an environment that consistently enforces clear limits, and helps students to meet those expectations.  S/he promotes change by helping the student to want it.  The result for the student is better personal and social adjustment, prosocial behavior, self regulation of behavior, and good choice making.

The Psycho-Educational school of thought with regard to reaching and teaching youngsters… those in who we wish to instill moral and ethical principles (and the resultant good behavior choices) AND errant youngsters who we wish to reclaim from negative lifestyles, relies on positive relationships.  Adults arrange for a positive history of interactions with the youngsters as we build trust bonds that allow us to be influential in their lives.  If they’re going to listen to “the message”, they have to like the messenger.  It is through trusting relationships that kids learn the value of respect, and the appreciation for the opinions and feelings of others.  Kids will work toward positive behavior change when they know that they can trust the adults to always support them and keep their best interests at heart.

We see the PsychoEd emphasis in programs as diverse as “The Circle of Courage” for kids whose behavior is highly defiant, aggressive, and anti-social, to “DIR/Floortime” (Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-Based ) model for children who are autistic.  No matter what the program within the PsychoEd model, the emphasis is on helping kids develop insight into their behavior patterns through solid, positive, appropriate child-adult relationships.  A description of the many programs and practices that are subsumed under PsychoEd can be found at www.PsychoEd.net

One note: It takes a special adult to be a PsychoEducator.  S/he must avoid rejecting youngsters when they test him/her.  Kids who have had previous bad experiences with adults are distrustful of well-intended adults.  They “poke around”, looking for that adult’s “soft spot” (Now I’m not going to mention anything about your bald head, big butt or yellow teeth, but these kids will).  They will continue to test the adult to see if s/he really is different from those others who promised to help them and support them, but then failed them or rejected them.  PsychoEducators can work well in other orientations (ABA, Cognitive Behavioral, etc.), but few from the other orientations can work well as PsycholEducators.  It takes a strong, resilient, unswervingly supportive adult who sets limits and talks with kids in authentic ways, but does so in a therapeutic manner.  One must be able to relate well to “tough” kids, and maintain those relationships while also supporting society’s social and legal boundaries.  They hate the behavior in the kid, but they work with the youngsters to help them rid themselves of those aberrant actions

    *It is important to note that Psychoeducational interventions may not be appropriate for some students.  Young children may lack the developmental prerequisites and cognitive ability to analyze situations and engage in self-reflection.  Those students with severe cognitive impairments might also lack the mental capacity to benefit from psychoeducational interventions.


Brendtro, L., Brokenleg, M., & VanBockern, S. (199 ). Reclaiming children and youth at risk. National Educational Services.
Curwin, R. & Mendler, A. (19  ). Discipline with dignity for challenging youth. National Educational Services.
Long, N.J., Morse, W.C., & Newman, R.G. (1996). Conflict in the classroom: The education of at-risk and troubled students. Wadsworth.
Long, N.J., Wood, M.M., & Fecser, F.A. (2001). Life space crisis intervention: Talking with students in conflict.
McIntyre, T. (1993 ). Classroom counseling.  Reprinted at http://www.behavioradvisor.com
McIntyre, T. (2005). The behavior survival guide for kids: How to make good choices and stay out of trouble.  Minneapolis: Free Spirit Press.

Morse, W.C. & Long, N. (19   ). Conflict in the classroom.
Morse, W.C. (1985). The education and treatment of socioemotionally impaired children and youth. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.
Morse, W.C. (Ed.) (1991). Crisis intervention in residential treatment: The clinical innovations of Fritz Redl.
Redl, F. & Wineman, D. (1962). Children who hate.: The disorganization and breakdown of behavior controls. Collier Books.
Redl, F. (1965). Controls from within: Techniques for the treatment of the aggressive child. Free Press.
Redl, F. & Wineman, D. (1972). When we deal with children: Selected writings. Free Press.
Redl, F. & Wineman, D. (1967). The Aggressive Child. Free Press.
Wood, M.M. & Long, N.J. (19  ). Life space crisis intervention.  Austin, TX:Pro-Ed.

Web Sites
Dr. Mac’s Amazing Behavior Management Advice Site.   http://www.behavioradvisor.com

PsychoEd.net.  http://www.psychoed.net

Click here to access audi and video podcasts on the "Circle of Courage model"

(Inside the BehaviorAdvisor home page button that reads: "Free podcasts and videos"... then scroll down)

Click here to read about "The Circle of Courage", a popular psycho-ed model for explaining why students have emotional and/or behavioral problems.

Click here to go for a description of "The Conflict Cycle".  It's a model that explains how behavioral situations escalate (and how to de-escalate them).  It helps us assess our role in a "bad situation". (Courtesy of PsychoEd.Net   Once you get there, go to page 16)

Click here to read one of Dr. Mac's keynote addresses pertaining to psychoed, defiant kids, and the conflict cycle.



I used to teach a kid known to all other teachers and students as "Crazy Eddie".  I objected to them using this nomer, so the teachers, in deference to me, named him after my classroom approach.  Hence forth, he would be known as "Psycho Ed".  See what advocacy on the part of your students can accomplish?

Fetch Dr. Mac's Home Page


Author: Tom McIntyre of www.BehaviorAdvisor.com