Therapy Activities for Teen Clients
Keeping teenagers engaged in therapy can be a difficult task–getting them to open up can sometimes even be near impossible. Thankfully, you’re not the first therapist who has had to deal with a disengaged teen and there are plenty of resources out there to help you get your young client to talk.
We’re going to dive into a few therapeutic activities that you can use in your therapy sessions with teens to encourage them to open up. These activities center around a few different mediums ranging from art and writing to movement and meditation.
These activities can be done during a session or assigned to be completed between sessions. They are designed to help encourage teenage clients to open up about themselves in ways that may feel less intrusive to them than a direct conversation in therapy.
1. A Letter to Myself
Writing activities are a great way to get teenagers to open up about how they feel. Writing can be a powerful tool for teenagers to express emotions they might not be comfortable saying out loud. Therapists can use writing activities to help teenagers explore their feelings and as a way to build up their confidence and self-esteem.
In the Letter to Myself activity, ask your teenage client to imagine themselves in the future as an adult. Now ask them to write a letter from their future, adult self to their current self. Talk with them about what they would say. What advice would they give their current self? Guide your client through the letter to help them hit on issues they are experiencing now and how they would like to feel about those issues in the future.
This letter will help clients gain perspective about how they are feeling currently versus how they would like to feel in the future. By working their thoughts on paper, they can build confidence and open up about their emotions. If they would like, clients can decorate and frame the letter to refer back to as a motivational and positive daily reminder.
Walking is not only good for your clients’ health, but it is also a great therapeutic activity that can help teens open up. Rather than having your therapy session in your office like you normally do, suggest that you and your client take a walk around the neighborhood or meet in the park instead.
This practice (often referred to as ‘talk and walk” therapy) encourages clients to open up about their feelings by allowing them to move freely and therefore share more freely as well–it can help clients become “unstuck” in their thoughts. It allows clients to avoid the feeling of being confined to the office space, instead, the open space of the outside world can encourage clients to open up internally as they expand their therapy space externally.
The change in scenery can also help teens talk more freely about their experiences since walking and talking elicits a more informal interaction than being in an office setting. This will also allow teens to become more comfortable with you as their therapist and allow you to build a stronger, more trusting relationship.
3. My Life as a Collage
Collages are a great therapeutic activity to do with your teen clients because collaging is often perceived as less threatening than other traditional art therapy activities such as painting and drawing. Clients may not think they are “good” at art and therefore may not want to participate in such activities. However, collaging has a low barrier to entry and is easy to participate in even if your teen client does not think they’re an “artist.”
For a collaging activity, you should save magazines, newspapers, advertisements, and any other type of recyclable paper products you may have on hand. To get started, you may want to have some images cut out already for teens to use easily. Use one of the following prompts to get started:
- Make a collage representing a timeline of your life.
- Make a collage feature three images that describe who you are.
- Make a collage that showcases your inside and outside identity (fold the paper in half).
- Make a collage about your family.
Collages can help you understand a teen’s life from their perspective. It also gives teens the freedom to organize their thoughts in a way that makes sense to them.
Additionally, collages can be used as a way to spark dialogue with your teen client–ask them why they chose to include the picture they did–what does the picture say about them, why did they choose that one over all the others? Images can have multiple layers of meaning and asking questions such as these can lead to a meaningful discussion around issues that are at the forefront of your clients’ mind.
Meditating allows teens to build a better mind/body connection. It also allows them to filter their thoughts and focus on those that are most salient while ignoring the distractions.
Meditation is a powerful tool because it gives teens the ability to take control of their mind, even when they are in stressful situations. Teens are commonly placed in situations where they may feel as if they have no control, meditating allows them to refocus and regain control over their emotions and thoughts. It also serves as a great way to stop negative thoughts from infiltrating.
Meditating activities for this purpose are easy to facilitate. Focus on this simple breathing technique to get started. Ask clients to draw in a breath through their nose to a mental count of 4 and then exhale their breath through their mouth to a count of 4. Repeat this process for 5 minutes (timing can be adjusted as needed).
Teaching teens to meditate arms them with a powerful tool they can always have at their disposal. Meditating is a great therapeutic activity for teens because they can use it both in session and outside of sessions.
In the session, meditation can bring to head the most important issues that a client needs to work through. The meditation can then be used to guide the conversations. In between sessions, meditating can allow teen clients to regain clarity, composure, and calmness when they are stressed.
Writing can have immense therapeutic benefits for teens. A great practice to introduce teen clients to is journaling. Keeping a journal can help clients practice self-expression, grow personally, and feel a sense of empowerment which allows them to take control of their lives.
Journaling as a therapeutic activity is valuable because it is an extremely versatile activity. You can use journaling as a part of individual and group therapy sessions and it can be done with or without you guiding the writing session–making it a great activity to refer clients to in between sessions.
With journaling, teen clients can reflect on their emotions and articulate how they feel before they have to say it out loud. In guided journaling, clients are encouraged to think about, interact with, and analyze thoughts, feelings, and events they may have recently experienced. Writing about these key situations can bring teen clients more clarity and understanding. Some potential ideas for journaling prompts include:
- Finish the sentence, “Right now, I am…” Then finish the sentence, “I want to be…”
- Describe in detail an activity that makes you feel better when you are anxious. What do you do? Why does it make you feel better?
- What was your happiest memory? Describe it. What emotions did you feel? Where were you? Why does this make you happy?
- Use ten words to describe yourself.
6. Extra, Extra! Read All About It
This is another writing activity that allows teenagers to share how they feel about themselves, even when they might be hesitant to open up verbally.
Take a newspaper and glue white black sheets of paper over the headline and text area–creating a blank newspaper for your clients to work with. Next, ask your client to write a headline that describes themselves best. Allow your client to have creative license when coming up with their headline.
After creating the headline, ask your teenage clients to now write the story behind the headline. Have them use paragraphs to explain and elaborate on the headline they created–mimicking an actual newspaper story.
This activity will allow teens to express themselves and help you better understand how they see themselves. It will offer you as a therapist a better perspective on how your client sees themselves. It will also help your client articulate how they see themselves as well.
Completing therapeutic activities with teens in session and encouraging self-care in between sessions can help you create treatment plans that lead to your young clients achieving the therapy results you both want to see.
If you’re also looking for a way to make tracking client progress (and creating treatment plans) easier, check out how TheraNest’s treatment plans and progress note templates can save you time.