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What Are Therapeutic Group Activities?

By Jan Fletcher
Updated Feb 29, 2024
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Therapeutic group activities are a treatment modality that involves individuals participating in various social exercises within a group setting. Icebreakers, role playing, and constructing group stories may be used in support group therapy. Recreational activities may also be organized to provide therapeutic relief to patients suffering from stress. Therapists use a wide range of activities within a group setting to provide relief to those suffering from a variety of mental and physical ailments.

Various treatments involving therapeutic group activities have been used for centuries, as people have long understood that the social aspects of the human experience can be channeled to apply relief from mental anguish and trauma. Storytelling and sharing personal experiences helps many people to process grief, resolve conflicts, and seek and offer forgiveness in pursuit of closure of painful experiences. Role playing, which involves participants pretending to fill another role they are not currently filling in real life, is often used in family therapy, to provide participants with insight on family dynamics. Switching roles is usually done to help the participant gain insight into his or her standard responses to problem solving. Role playing is one of the most common therapeutic group activities.

Icebreakers are those activities that help participants feel more comfortable sharing personal details. Many therapists employ this technique to overcome reluctance to address painful experiences in front of strangers. An example of an icebreaking activity would be to have participants take turns describing a humorous episode they experienced with a family pet. The therapist will typically choose a safe subject that will likely not be emotionally charged, and as a result, defeat the purpose of the ice breaker.

Constructing group stories may also be used in therapeutic group activities. Usually this involves positioning people in a circular manner, with one person starting the story with a beginning statement, and the next person adding the next sentence, and so on. This technique helps break down barriers to successful group therapy by providing a less threatening way for people to share what may be troubling them.

A basic activity common to most group therapy settings is allowing participants to share painful experiences with each other. Using this form of therapeutic group activities, the therapist may encourage the person sharing to view other participants as partners in healing. He or she may foster a social atmosphere that helps those who have been traumatized to share painful memories with those who will likely be sympathetic.

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