Over my near decade of experience with facilitating groups, I've had the opportunity to try out some great and some not so great ideas.
For the next couple of weeks I'll give you the do's and don'ts for how to lead a successful group therapy session. I'll also go into detail about some must try activities!
The best part about these activities is that you don't have to be a counselor or leading a group to benefit from them. They can all be individualized exercises that you can do on your own or as a family at home, at a Bible study, a women's retreat, etc.
I've personally tried these in a women's inpatient addiction rehabilitation setting. If you try them in a different setting leave us some feedback and share your experience. Whatever your setting, it's important to know your audience and use your best judgement as to whether or not you feel the activity would be well received.
That's Tip Number One: Know Your Audience
Before trying the first activity that we will discuss. It's important to get to know your audience. I have the benefit of spending 8 hours a day with a group of 8-12 women for their 30 day stay in our program. This allows me to have a good idea of how they would respond to this activity.
If your counseling in a different setting, say outpatient or perhaps haven't met your audience prior to facilitating their group, don't worry, that's nothing a good ice breaker can't solve.
Tip Number Two: Everyone Hates Icebreakers!
UNLESS, they're really good! Don't go with an ice breaker that puts a lot of pressure on the person sharing or makes your audience uncomfortable. Instead ask a simple question, play a short game or make it a team effort. Always use yourself as the initial example to help ease any anxieties your group may be experiencing.
Here are my favorite icebreakers:
Two Truths and a Lie -
This icebreaker consists of exactly what the title suggests. You share two truths and one lie about yourself. The rest of the participants try to guess which one is the lie.
My go-to example:
"I've been to jail. I'm a twin. I've been married three times."
It's the group's job to determine which one is the lie. Allow them to converse amongst themselves and as they do so, play along with them. There's going to be at least one person who thinks they know which one is the lie right off the bat. If they're right, don't just give in. Question their certainty. Make them work for it!
It's priceless to watch my client's shocked faces when I tell them the lie isn't that I've been to jail. For some reason that one always blows their minds. They're like, "What?! No way! You?" And then they want to hear the story, which gives me the opportunity to share the gospel and give God all the glory for turning my life around.
I am a twin. I've only ever been married one time. So the lie was that I've been married three times.
Next, it's their turn to come up with two truths and a lie. I just start at my left or right and say we'll go around in a circle.
Pro tip: Tell them they can take out a piece of paper if they'd like and give them some time to write down their two truths and a lie. I always tell them that they don't have to write it down, but the second they hesitate we're going to know which one is the lie.
This is a great ice breaker because it's fun, light-hearted, and gives us the opportunity to learn about one another.
If they're having a hard time coming up with something you can throw out more examples: What's your favorite color, where were you born, how old are you, do you have any pets? It can literally be anything.
Another ice breaker that tends to go over really well is:
Tell us Something Quirky about Yourself-
This one will bring some laughs. Again, make sure to use yourself as the example first and it has to be something super quirky so that when they share their weird stuff they feel comfortable in comparison.
I sleep with a blankey AND I smell it. Omg that's embarrassing just to type, but true story lol The toilet paper roll HAS to roll from the top. If it's upside down I have to change it - even if I'm at someone else's house, but don't worry, I change it back when I'm done.
I'm right-handed with everything, except shooting pool. I play left-handed and absolutely cannot shoot right-handed.
I typically share all three of those just to get the wheels turning in their head and then we go around and share.
Next week I'll share a few more ice breaker ideas, but for now let's get into our exciting group activity!
Thinking Errors Exercise
If you are a counselor, have attended counseling or have been in rehab, chances are you have heard the term thinking errors. Thinking errors are also referred to as thought distortions, cognitive distortions or unhealthy/unhelpful thoughts.
Click here for the thinking error handout from www.drjanebolton.com.
Start your group with reading through the handout. Ask participants to identify any thinking errors that they engage in.
Use yourself as an example. Let them know which ones you struggle with to show that we all experience thinking errors to some extent.
Encourage participants to think of their most common unhelpful thoughts. Oftentimes in rehab there are a lot of women that struggle with feeling like a failure or a bad mom. So I use those as examples.
I remind them that they are the only ones that know the negative thoughts in their mind, so this is an individual exercise. Your neighbor's thoughts are not your thoughts.
Next you are going to pass out the construction paper. You will want to cut three strips of each color, about an inch or two wide. They don't need to be perfect. There just needs to be enough space to write their thoughts. Like below:
Give each participant six strips of paper and encourage them to number them as shown below. Numbering the paper is helpful. Participants that skip this step tend to get mixed up.
Then instruct participants to write three unhelpful thoughts on the brown sheets of paper and three helpful thoughts on the pink piece of paper.
(The paper can really be any color or like I mentioned, even white computer paper would work, but I tend to say brown for "bad thoughts" pink for "positive thoughts" just to help with the understanding of how to keep it organized.
Have participants lay their papers in two columns, as pictured so they can ensure they match up. The goal is to combat each irrational thought with a rational thought. Or each negative with a positive. Each unhelpful thought with a more helpful thought. You can say this all kinds of ways to help them better understand the activity.
Now here's where the fun begins!
Ideally, you would like to have seven participants, but this can be done with five. If you have seven people you will have three people line up on each side and one person stand in the center. The X representing the person in the center will hand out their sheets of paper. They will give their negative thoughts(N) to one side and their positive thoughts(P) to the other side.
If you only have five people you will just have two people on each side.
They will join hands with the person across from them.
The first person on the side with the negative thoughts will read the thought out loud. Then the person with the corresponding positive thought will read her paper out loud. The person in the center will repeat the positive thought. If she does so with confidence they will let her break through their hands. If she isn't confident they will not let her break through and she will have to continue repeating the positive until she does so to their satisfaction.
The same instructions will continue down the line.
So if you only have five people two thoughts will be read out loud.
If you have seven people, all three thoughts will be read out loud.
If you have more than seven people you just take turns being the person who is reading the thoughts, the person walking through the line or sitting out.
Keep in mind
This exercise can be difficult for some people. It may be hard to say your most negative thoughts out loud, let alone share them with a group of people, so make sure you leave time to debrief.
After everyone has had their chance to break through the line ask that we all take a few minutes to apply the exercise to real life.
Pose the question:
What did it feel like to read someone else's negative thoughts?
They typically respond with, "I could relate." "It was hard." "I can't believe they think that about themself."
Then elaborate... Exactly! We don't see each other as failures or bad moms or ____ fill in the blank, but all throughout the day we are labeling ourselves these names in our own heads.
Explain that if we leave our irrational thoughts unchecked then we start to live in that reality. Just as our handout pointed out, there may be some truth to our automatic thoughts, but we can choose to make improvements and we can absolutely counter the untruths in our cognitive distortions. So while I haven't been the "best mom," I can be a better mom! While I may not have graduated high school, I am working on my resume to gain valuable on-the-job experience. And when my mind tells me I'm worthless, I listen to God who tells me I'm worthy!
For the next 24 hours, pay attention to your thoughts. When you take something personal or catastrophize a situation, write it down. Record five irrational thoughts and actively work to challenge and replace each one with a rational thought in that moment.
Explain that this was a fun exercise, but without real life application, our thoughts won't change themselves.
End with prayer
Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Dear Heavenly Father,
We thank you for bringing us together for this group today. We ask that you would touch our minds and help us to think clear, rational thoughts. Make our thoughts align with your thoughts. When the devil tries to tell us who we are, remind us Whose we are. We belong to you, Lord.
Let us not be prideful or conceited in that identity, but humble and grateful that we have an almighty father, who loves us enough to correct us.
We are so thankful that you do not leave us how we are.
Guide us and direct us as we work to make improvements in our way of thinking, our choices, our behaviors, the way we treat ourselves and others.
God you are so good to us.
We thank you and praise you!
In Jesus Name,
We hope you found today's exercise helpful and we look forward to hearing how you utilized it in your group. Don't forget, this would be an applicable activity to do on your own without the group exercise. Just try the homework portion of today's post and then come let us know how it turned out for you!
Until Next Time,
Your Praying Friend
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Substance Abuse Counselor