Group therapy can help with a variety of concerns including addiction, anxiety, depression, self-harm and grief.
It aims to help individuals identify maladaptive thought patterns and behavior, cope with emotional difficulties and offers a supportive environment in which people can grow and develop the skills needed to overcome their struggles.
Many times, the therapist or group leader uses group therapy activities that are specially designed to achieve these.
Group therapy activities
There are many types of group session therapy activities that therapists can use, depending on the needs of the group. Here are some that you may come across if you attend a group therapy session.
Most group therapy sessions start off with an icebreaker. These are activities that are used to help group members get to know each other better. It ‘breaks the ice’, resulting in members feeling more comfortable.
Icebreakers can be as simple as going around the circle and introducing yourself and explaining the reason for attending group therapy. These can also include fun games or activities that help you feel more at ease.
Example activity: Two truths and a lie
This is a fun icebreaker that gets group members to share something about themselves and learn something interesting about others in the group.
All group members are instructed to take a few minutes to think and write down three ‘facts’ about themselves. Of the three ‘facts’, two are true and one is a lie. Each person then takes turns reading their ‘facts’ and the others guess which are true and which one is not.
In addition to being a great way for group members to warm up to each other, this activity encourages creativity and positive social interaction.
Trust building activities
Trust is important in group therapy because members will need to share their struggles (and triumphs) with each other.
These activities encourage members to begin trusting each other as well as develop mutual respect, and empathy towards each other. Trust building activities are also helpful for group members who have difficulty forming deep relationships because they are unable to trust others.
Example activity: Trust Fall
This classic trust-building activity is still used, simply because it works. Each member takes turns to climb on a table, fold their arms across their chest and fall backwards into the arms of the other group members without looking behind.
Group members need to believe that those who are behind them will be there to catch them as they fall.
Introspective activities encourage group members to gain insight into themselves at a deeper level. The increased self-awareness enables connection with oneself on a personal level.
Although introspective activities are usually done solo, group members will find a better connection with each other as they share and realize that they are not alone in their struggles.
Example activity: Journaling
Putting things down to paper can help one to process thoughts and feelings. During group therapy, the therapist might give the members certain topics to think and journal about, depending on the needs of the group.
Journaling is also a cathartic activity that allows group members to be aware of their thought patterns and behavior as well as to track how far they have come since starting therapy.
Interconnected activities require group members to work together to achieve a goal. These activities can be a fun bonding experience that helps to build trust and respect among members. Interconnected activities will also build confidence and give members an opportunity to improve their communication skills.
Example activity: Cooking
Cooking can be a therapeutic activity that brings people together. It helps those who are shy and anxious to open up as they focus on putting food on the table, rather than worry about what people could be thinking about them. Members will likely start to form relationships when working together on a recipe to put together a meal. And the best part is everyone gets to eat once the session is over!
Skill development activities
Skill development activities allow group members to learn coping skills that will help them in real-life scenarios. Sometimes, certain skills are needed to help cope with triggers or stressful situations.
Example activity: Basic anger management skills
Group members are taught basic anger management skills such as:
- Positive self talk
- Picking up the phone to call someone who can help you calm down
- Distraction (watching a movie, listening to music, taking a walk)
- Stop from playing the victim
- Give others the benefit of doubt
- Delay your reaction
- Write down your feelings
- Putting things into perspective
- Prayers or chants for those who like it.
Goal setting activities
Goal setting is important in group therapy. The therapist may want the members to set group goals as well as individual ones for each participant. Setting and working towards a goal can be incredibly challenging for those who are struggling with mental health issues or addiction.
However, goal setting activities help members to learn how to set positive and achievable targets as well as boost their commitment and motivation. It is a tool that they can use in real life to work towards success.
Example activity: Goal identification
Each group member draws a short-term goal (a few months), middle-range goal (one year) and long term goal (a few years). The goals are displayed on a paper and group members offer comments, suggestions and doable steps on how the goals can be accomplished.
The additional insight from group members makes the goals seem more attainable.
Motivational group therapy activities
The journey to recovery can be a long one for some. As such, it is important for therapists to keep their clients motivated to continue working towards change.
Motivational group therapy activities can help members to focus on their goals and grow despite the challenges that they have to work through.
Example activity: Sustaining Motivation
Based on the cliche ‘life is a marathon, not a sprint, this activity helps group members to sustain motivation in their journey towards recovery. Group members discuss questions such as:
- What drains your motivation?
- How can you avoid motivation killers?
- What do you need to keep you moving forward?
- How can group members inspire each other?
- How do you stay focused and not lose sight of your goals?
Discussions are used to get group members to give thought to certain topics during group therapy. It helps members to process feelings, thoughts as well as break down their destructive ideas.
Discussions also open the way for members to share opinions and experiences. In addition to its therapeutic benefits, they can also help members to improve their communication skills. Discussions are sometimes paired with worksheets for clearer direction and understanding.
Example activity: Exploring gratitude
The therapist facilitates a discussion on what gratitude is, how it is felt and how it is expressed. Group members are encouraged to share their thoughts on this topic and how they can put it into practice.
Group therapy can be an effective treatment for those who are struggling with mental health conditions as well as other life issues such as divorce, grief and loss. If you or your loved one is considering group therapy, check with your mental health practitioner for the types of group therapies that are available near you.
The article is a part of our comprehensive series on “What is group therapy and what to expect?”
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