7 Group Therapy Activities for Adults & Teens (+PDF Guide)

Group Therapy Activities

While it’s sometimes thought of as a more recent technique, group work has a long history in psychotherapy and health care, dating back as far as the early 1900s.[1]

Decades of research have shown that group therapy activities for adults and teens can be effective in treating a wide range of mental health conditions. Plus, groups can also help people manage medical conditions, deal with relationship issues, and learn new skills.[2]

To help you utilize group work in your therapy or coaching practice, we’ve outlined 7 activities for group therapy that are suitable for adults and teens.

Choosing Activities for Group Therapy: 3 Tips

Because group therapy can be used in so many different ways, it can be a challenge to choose the right activities for your clients.

The best approach to choosing activities for group therapy is to first ask yourself three questions:

  1. What challenge or problem am I trying to help my clients with?
  2. What style of group would be best suited to my practice style and business setup?
  3. What type of group is likely to appeal to my current clients or new clients I might market to?

When you have an answer to these questions, you can match evidence-based group therapy activities to the needs of your clients. You can then also decide on the type of group you are going to run.

Common Types of Group Therapy

Being clear on the type of group will help you decide on things like your therapy schedule (frequency and duration of sessions,) and which clients you might invite to participate. It will also help with marketing efforts, as you will have a clear message to share about the purpose of your group.

Some of the most common types of therapy groups are:[3]

  • Condition-specific groups: Such as for anxiety, depression, addictions, or a physical health issue. These groups typically have clinical, therapeutic, and educational components.
  • Interpersonal groups: Where participants work on understanding and improving certain aspects of relationships and social skills.
  • Support groups: Focused on bringing people struggling with a common challenge together so they can support each other.

We’ll get into the group therapy activities and PDFs now. But if you want to skip straight to instructions on how to run online group therapy sessions, you can find everything you need to know in our free 30-page guide to online coaching.

3 Mental Health Group Therapy Activities for Adults

No matter what type of group you’re running, it’s a good idea to be familiar with a few good mental health group activities for adults.

The reality is, issues like boundaries, self-compassion, and goal-setting are likely to come up for participants of all backgrounds. So if you’re prepared ahead of time, you can run activities like the ones below on a set schedule, as a group therapy check-in activity, or as a group therapy closing activity for the end of a session.

Learning to Say “No”

Many adults struggle with setting boundaries.

When left unaddressed, this can lead to problematic patterns of behavior like excessive people-pleasing, constantly putting the needs of others first, and taking on so many obligations that a person feels stressed and overwhelmed.

In the Quenza app, we have a seven-step activity for group therapy to help people learn to say “no”, which is one of the core skills in boundary setting. We teach the lessons with educational slides, like the examples below, but you could also do them with an in-group discussion.

A customizable, pre-made template of this worksheet is available in Quenza’s Expansion library, along with many other mental health group therapy activities for adults PDFs and printable group therapy activities. You can get full access right now with a $1 Quenza trial.

Each client goes the following as they work through the Learning To Say “No” Expansion pictured below. First, they learn to tap into their values.

screenshot of quenza learning to say no activity in desktop
Quenza’s seven-step Learning To Say No activity can help clients learn to say “no”, a core skills in boundary setting and healthy relationships.

In Steps 2 and 3, they learn to separate their request from the relationship and say no without saying the word “no.”

desktop view of quenza group therapy boundary setting Expansion activity
This CBT group therapy activity helps clients focus on what they will gain by saying no, rather than what they will gain.

Steps 4-7 are as follows:

  • Focus on what you will gain by saying “no”
  • Recognize the personal cost of saying “yes”
  • Opt for being respected over being popular
  • Be clear rather than vague and non-committal
screenshot of quenza learning to say no activity in desktop
You can use Quenza’s Learning to Say “No” activity to provide your group therapy clients with general guidelines and practical advice on how to say no in the service of personal values.

To find more group therapy activities for relationships, click for our full resource on couples therapy worksheets and exercises.

Your Personal Self-Compassion Box

For clients who tend to be overly critical of themselves, gathering a collection of reminders for when they need to show themselves kindness can be one of the most powerful self-compassion and self-esteem group therapy activities.

A simple way to do this is to guide group members through completing a self-compassion box.

After introducing the benefits of self-compassion to your clients, here’s a suggestion from the Your Personal Self-Compassion Box Expansion for how you might introduce the activity.

screenshot of self-compassion activity for therapy in quenza
Your Personal Self-Compassion Box is a customizable Quenza activity that you can share with groups as a single exercise or as part of an automated treatment plan.

And more specific instructions for group members to start putting together their self-compassion box.

image of self-compassion box activity instructions
Ideas and examples of items that clients can include in their self-compassion box as a reminder to practice self-kindness.

It can be helpful to have clients complete a life satisfaction assessment before and after your self-compassion intervention. There’s an Expansion for this, too, or it’s easy to design your own with the Wheel of Life tool.

Goal Setting

Behavioral activation is one of the best group therapy activities for depression, with evidence suggesting it can be as effective as other forms of therapy and medications.[4]

Utilizing motivational group therapy activities involves supporting clients to schedule and complete rewarding activities, which helps to reconnect with the positive environmental reinforcement that people suffering from depression have often lost touch with.

A great way to incorporate behavioral activation into mental health group therapy activities for adults is through habit creation and goal-setting exercises.

A great way to incorporate behavioral activation into mental health group therapy activities for adults is through habit creation and goal-setting exercises.

To do this, first get your group members to each set a goal.

desktop view of habit creation plan activity in quenza expansion library
Quenza’s Realizing Long-Lasting Change by Setting Process Goals can be used to help clients design a plan of action for creating habits in support of their goals.

Then, ask them to identify what actions they need to complete the goal. This might include celebrating little wins or using motivational incentives as external reinforcement.

desktop view of Realizing Long-Lasting Change by Setting Process Goals expansion in quenza
Turning positive, goal-oriented actions into habits can support clients in achieving their goals long-term, as outlined in Realizing Long-Lasting Change by Setting Process Goals (pictured).

Finally, over a series of sessions, you can then guide and support group members to follow through on their actions.

Fun & Motivational Activities for Teens

Group therapy activities for teens are often best if they’re engaging and focused on strengths. This allows teens to see that the therapy process is approachable and non-threatening, making it more likely they will ask for and engage in support when needed.

If you work with teens, try these fun group therapy activities in one of your upcoming sessions.

Draw Your Social Support Network

Understanding how to reach out for support is a valuable skill for all teens to develop.

To teach this, you might like to first guide youth through identifying a difficult situation they’ve faced in the past, using a prompt such as the one below.

client view of quenza coping skills expansion activity in desktop
Quenza’s Coping Skills and Social Support Inventory can help clients appraise their coping skills and the social support systems they rely on to deal with life’s setbacks.

Then, ask them to make a list of anyone who has supported them in the past or may be able to provide support in the future. This works best when approached as a group therapy art activity, where teens draw a map of their support network in whatever style is most appealing to them.

Once group members have their support maps drawn out, encourage participants to share them with the group, focusing on how they can utilize their support networks in the future.

Strengths Spotting by Exception Finding

Because they don’t yet have the years of life experience of an adult, teens can sometimes have difficulty seeing problems with a balanced perspective.

Exception finding is a group therapy activity for teens that helps develop a more balanced perspective about problems while also learning to identify (and build upon) strengths.

In the Strengths Spotting by Exception Finding Activity in the Quenza app, we ask teens to identify a problem, then guide them through spotting exceptions from the past and present.

screenshot of quenza strength-spotting activity
Acknowledging and analyzing times when our problems did not occur can be a helpful way for clients to understand their personal strengths, as the Strengths Spotting by Exception Finding Expansion shows.

Finally, we ask teens to identify their personal strengths that could be used to manage this problem in the future.

This personalizable Expansion can be used to assess a client’s ability to deal with challenges and problems. By focusing on these exceptions, a client can build their awareness of and confidence in their own ability to create solutions for themselves.

Best CBT Exercises & Techniques for Anxiety

CBT group therapy activities for anxiety and other mental health conditions have several benefits, such as:[5]

  • The opportunity for peer modeling and shared learning experiences
  • Preventing mental health issues from reaching problematic levels in youth
  • Social support for people struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions

Here are some CBT group therapy examples from Quenza that can be used by therapists and coaches, either alone or as part of a treatment plan.

Unhelpful Thinking Styles

Learning about cognitive distortions is central to online CBT.

Activities for group therapy about cognitive distortions would usually introduce the distortion in question, like this slide about magnification in Quenza’s Unhelpful Thinking Styles- Magnification and Minimization Expansion.

picture of quenza cognitive distortions Expansion for therapy groups
Magnification is a common cognitive distortion underpinning depression and anxiety. This Quenza Expansion can be used to help groups identify and challenge this unhelpful thinking style.

Then, group members are guided through activities to better understand and modify unhelpful thinking styles. As a last step, group members are guided through activities to better understand and modify unhelpful thinking styles.

If you deliver CBT online to groups, here are more helpful CBT Worksheets and Tools for Anxiety and Depression.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

When it comes to group therapy activities for anxiety, it’s hard to beat progressive muscle relaxation (PMR).

Not only is PMR clinically proven to reduce stress and alleviate anxiety, but it’s also a technique that can easily be taught in an online group setting.[6]

All you need to do is explain the technique (as we’ve done below), then teach group members the technique with a shared audio recording.

screengrab of progressive muscle relaxation mindfulness activity in Quenza
Quenza’s Progressive Muscle Relaxation Expansion includes a meditation that you can play to your group to guide clients through this calming exercise.

How to Deliver Online Group Therapy (+PDF Guide)

Many practitioners are hesitant about delivering group therapy. Most often because they’re unsure of how to get started and don’t have access to a physical location to run a group.

In the pre-digital era, these were legitimate concerns.

But now, with innovative digital therapy and coaching solutions like Quenza, it’s never been easier for practitioners to run online group therapy sessions.

Our intuitive web and app-based software, Quenza Groups™, includes a fully customizable suite of digital therapy tools that allows you to scale your business and help more people in less time.

You can choose from dozens of pre-made Activities and group therapy examples to share with your group, streamline your administration with digital progress notes, and seamlessly communicate with group members.

To find out how, download our free 30-page online coaching guide PDF: Coach, This Changes Everything.

blue cover image of online life coaching guide pdf

Final Thoughts

Group therapy isn’t right for every client (or practitioner). But there are many situations in which it can be a useful addition to individual work or may even be a more effective option as a stand-alone therapy.

For clients, the shared experience of undertaking therapy activities in a group can offer new perspectives and much-appreciated social support as they work through their challenges. And for practitioners, group therapy allows you to positively impact more clients’ lives and grow your practice.

To experience how Quenza can help you deliver group therapy, sign up for a one-month full-access trial of the Quenza app for only $1.

References

  1. ^ Ezhumalai, S., Muralidhar, D., Dhanasekarapandian, R., & Nikketha, B. S. (2018). Group interventions. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 60(4), S514–S521.
  2. ^ Rosendahl, J., Alldredge, C. T., Burlingame, G. M., & Strauss, B. (2021). Recent Developments in Group Psychotherapy Research. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 74(2), 52–59.
  3. ^ Cherry, K. (2022, Nov 14). What Is Group Therapy? Very Well. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-group-therapy-2795760
  4. ^ Ekers, D., Webster, L., Van Straten, A., Cuijpers, P., Richards, D., & Gilbody, S. (2014). Behavioural activation for depression; an update of meta-analysis of effectiveness and sub group analysis. PloS one, 9(6), e100100.
  5. ^ Wolgensinger L. (2015). Cognitive behavioral group therapy for anxiety: recent developments. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 17(3), 347–351.
  6. ^ Toussaint, L., Nguyen, Q. A., Roettger, C., Dixon, K., Offenbächer, M., Kohls, N., & Sirois, F. (2021). Effectiveness of progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and guided imagery in promoting psychological and physiological states of relaxation. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2021.

About the author

Eamon is an ex-social worker turned freelance writer, from Perth, Western Australia. Eamon has worked as a clinical social worker for 15 years, in several positions across the healthcare, justice, disability, substance misuse, and mental health systems.

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