Human beings have evolved to live, work, and relate to each other within a collective group. For this reason, the social support component embedded within group therapy is a key ingredient in its effectiveness. Unlike individual therapy, group therapy taps into the power of community, providing opportunities for self-acceptance and growth that are difficult to achieve using individual therapy alone. In fact, group therapy is commonly used alongside individual therapy as a complementary intervention.
Whether used alone or in conjunction with another form of therapy, group therapy has proven over decades of research to deliver measurable improvements for a range of issues including depression, anxiety, panic disorder, substance abuse, and more. In this post, we take a look at why group therapy works so well and how it can help children and adolescents tackle difficult issues. We also share eight of our favorite group therapy techniques.
Why Group Therapy Works So Well
Group therapy’s success is founded on the powerful social dynamic at play during group sessions. Under the guidance of a trained group therapist, participants create a safe, open space to discuss their individual struggles and solicit ideas and social support from other members. A well-managed group offers access to others who are struggling with the same issue. Group members serve as problem-solvers by providing possible solutions to other members’ difficulties. They also serve as a built-in support network. Especially for older children and teenagers who may be more hesitant to take advice from an adult, group therapy offers a venue to learn from peers experiencing similar struggles.
How Children and Adolescents Can Benefit From Group Therapy
The benefits of group therapy are many. Here are six advantages that group therapy offers.
- Gaining acceptance from peers — Especially for children and teens struggling with significant behavioral or mental health issues, acceptance by peers may be something they’ve seldom experienced. Participating in group therapy gives them an opportunity to experience social validation and support that may be lacking in their home and school environments.
- Strengthened social skills — As you the therapist teach and model healthy social interactions, group members have opportunities to put newly learned skills into practice in a safe space. Children with poor social adjustment particularly benefit from this aspect of group therapy.
- Improved supportive listening and empathy skills — As group members share their experiences, other members learn how to become a supportive listener. When peers share their struggles with the group, empathy skills can be taught and practiced.
- Realizing they’re not alone — Children and adolescents can be sharply self-critical. For young people experiencing acute life challenges, feeling alone and socially isolated is common. Group therapy highlights that others have similar struggles too.
- Access to a network of support — For struggling children and adolescents, group therapy offers a ready-made support network. Sessions can be a lifeline for youth with poor access to other supportive settings. Group members learn to validate each other’s experiences and offer creative suggestions to help solve the problems of peers.
- Practice makes perfect — Group sessions provide an ideal venue to practice what they’re learning in therapy. Through role playing exercises, group members get to put strategies and skills into practice within the safety of the group before having to use them in daily life.
Child Group Therapy Activities
Group therapy can be fun as well as beneficial. Here are seven easy and effective ideas for group therapy activities you can use in your practice.
- Stand Up, Sit Down — With this activity, you make a statement that could be true or not true of each individual in the group. You instruct each group member to stand up if the statement is true of them, or stay seated if the statement is not true of them. If everyone then stands up, the group engages in a brief, five-second dance party! It’s perfect for breaking the ice, building healthy group dynamics, and learning about other individuals in the group.
- Feelings Hot Potato — Run just like the popular children’s game of hot potato, this activity is enjoyable and insightful. As the music plays and the potato makes its rounds, kids tend to get pretty excited. When the music stops, the person left holding the potato shares something about themselves. The shared information can be customized to the day’s topic.
- Trace And Draw — With this activity, each child is given a large, body-size piece of paper. Each group member takes turns laying down on their paper while the other group members help trace out their outline. Once everyone has had their outline drawn, children take turns writing something nice about the other group members inside their outlines. This is a great activity for building self-acceptance.
- All-in Obstacle Course — Create a small, safe obstacle course for the group. Divide the group up into teams. As the children navigate the course, they must hold hands without letting go. If the chain is broken, that team has to start again from the beginning. This activity is perfect for teaching teamwork and emotional regulation.
- Friendship Mural — As the children enter the session, the therapist hangs up a big paper banner reading “A true friend is…” During the session each group member gets to fill in their response to the statement. Once everyone is finished, the children take turns sharing their answer.
- Inside-Outside Boxes — Everyone shows a certain side to the outside world and keeps another part hidden. This activity gives children a chance to concretely represent all sides of themselves. To begin, the therapist gives everyone a small cardboard box. The children decorate the outside of the box with aspects of themselves that they project to others while the inside of the box is decorated with things about them they feel most closely aligns with their true selves.
- Fear In A Hat — Use this activity in a group that’s already well-established. Instruct each member of the group to write down their deepest fear on a small piece of paper and toss it into a hat. Group members then take turns pulling a fear out of the hat and reading it aloud. Then they try to successfully guess who the fear belongs to.
There’s power in numbers. For children and adolescents, group therapy fosters a strong sense of community among those experiencing similar challenges. As young people learn from each other, social skills are strengthened and a newfound confidence is formed that comes from realizing they’re not alone in their struggles. The benefits of group therapy make it one of the most indispensable pediatric mental health interventions in use today.
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