Alternative Group Therapy Activities

Group therapy is a common treatment method for a range of psychological conditions.

It involves a group of individuals meeting to discuss their thoughts and emotions under the guidance of a medical professional. While the premise is simple, group therapy can look very different from session to session.

A wide range of activities can be employed to reach the goals of each group. Which ones are used depends on the personalities and experiences of the participants involved.

Some of the activity categories include:

  • Cognitive behavioural
  • Social
  • Educational
  • Support

1. Cognitive behavioural activities

These kinds of activities look to teach participants to identify harmful patterns in their behaviour and develop alternative ways of thinking.

Individuals with addictions are taught to recognise the situations and emotions which tend to lead them towards abusing a substance, and then develop other ways of responding to them.

Activities within this category aim to present a participant with an untinged picture of their behaviour, allowing them to see why it is damaging and in need of amending.

2. Role-playing

This is a popular activity which aims to present a participant with their behaviour and its effects.

Under the direction of the group therapist, participants of the group will act out a situation or conversation which mirrors the experiences of a certain member.

When the short performance has ended, the emotions of the individual will be shared and discussed. How the scene made them feel will be of importance, and the events and behaviours of the scene will be analysed.

The emphasis will be on identifying the obscured perception the individual has of the event and encouraging them to see it in a healthier way.

Here, they will be shown the impacts of their behaviour, what events led them to behave in that way, and how they might respond differently in the future.

3. Trigger conversations

Triggers are the things that cause an individual to think or behave in a negative way. They can be people, places, or possibly certain smells which provoke them to abuse a substance.

In this activity, members of the group are encouraged to talk about the triggers in their lives, exploring where they come from and what emotions they evoke.

With everyone sharing their experiences, the goal is for the group to learn about the experiences of one another and challenge the power of their triggers.

If an individual is able to identify the irrational beliefs and reactions of others, they will gain a greater understanding of their own triggers, and learn to challenge their own behaviour.

4. Social activities

A large part of recovery involves an individual’s return to social life.

Group therapy can often incorporate a lot of activities designed to improve participants’ communication skills and prepare them for situations in which they will need to interact with others.

5. Music therapy

A lot of therapies incorporate music, and this is because it is a great way of using different parts of the human brain.

Encouraging participants to play musical instruments, write songs, and perform together can promote teamwork and interpersonal skills. It also allows them to practice communicating without the focus being on their condition.

The act of producing music can also allow individuals to express emotions to one another that they otherwise would not be able to [1], allowing them to be creative and let others know how they really feel.

6. Cooperative games

Activities that allow participants to compete against one another and have fun can be a great way of getting them to work together.

Games that see which team can build the tallest paper tower, or which can solve a puzzle the fastest, encourage effective communication where participants listen to one another, compare and discuss ideas, and think beyond themselves.

These kinds of activities can boost confidence, and help the process of a participant working towards a return to the workplace.

7. Educational activities

The purpose of educational activities is to teach participants about their condition and help them better understand themselves.

They can relate to the biological processes going on within participants’ brains, the behavioural theories about why they act as they do, or the cognitive patterns related to their condition.

When an individual learns more about themselves, they are better able to apply the skills learned through other activities.

8. Tell me about your partner

In this exercise, participants are split off into pairs to talk for a few minutes. They are usually given things to finds out about one another, or a certain topic to speak about, so that they can share with the group afterwards.

This is designed to get individuals to learn about one another’s experiences, and therefore one another’s conditions. Group members usually share common experiences and issues, and so when participants learn about each other, they will be indirectly learning about themselves.

When each pair is asked to share, the group leader might provide some background information about the topic being discussed, allowing each participant’s experiences to be touched on or explained.

9. Checking in/Updating the group

At the start of each session, a group leader might ask participants to share something that has happened since their last meeting. This could include both positive and negative experiences.

When someone has shared, the leader will then speak on it – either explaining the science of a certain thought process or explaining why a particular response was healthy or harmful – and enlighten the group.

By doing this, participants pick up information by having the science of their condition explained through everyday scenarios.

If they can directly apply a theory or explanation to something that has happened to them, they will have a better chance of understanding and remembering it.

10. Support activities

Therapy is a lot more than teaching an individual to cope with a specific condition. It is also a way of helping them develop healthy routines and improve their quality of life.

Support activities aim to benefit participants on an emotional level by helping them become calm and showing them ways of staying calm when the stress of their day-to-day routines gets too much.

11. Mindfulness

Promoting mindfulness has become very popular over recent years. The act of becoming aware of oneself, without judging or thinking too much about what one notices, can help ease and refocus an individual’s mind.

This might take the form of everyone within the group focussing on their breathing, taking a mental note of how different parts of their bodies feel within that moment, or maybe repeating a calm, rhythmic mantra.

Afterwards, the group leader might ask how everyone felt or what they may have noticed. The aim is to reacquaint the group with the present and their immediate surroundings, lifting the pressures of their condition for a short while.

Research shows that mindfulness-based therapies are effective in reducing the symptoms of many psychiatric disorders, including substance abuse [2].

Participants are encouraged to turn to mindfulness in their normal lives as a means of distancing themselves from negative emotions or triggers.

12 Story sharing

While simple, getting participants to share humorous or peculiar stories with one another can be very beneficial to their well-being. By hearing and offering personal anecdotes, they can develop bonds and feel at home within the therapy environment.

This can enrich the effectiveness of other activities, as participants will be more relaxed, but it can also make them feel heard and boost their self-esteem. Helping an individual feel like a valued part of the world can do wonders for their mental health.

Laughing and joking is good for the brain, so if a group of people can come together and share a funny story, everyone will benefit.