Activities for Mental Health Groups

Updated on December 20, 2016
Blake Flannery profile image

Blake has worked in the mental health field since 2002 educating and inspiring hope on the journey toward recovery.

Choosing the Best Activity for Your Mental Health Group

When choosing the best activity for your population of clients, take into account where the patients are currently. Build the clients to where you want them to be by choosing activities in the best order. For example, discussion groups work best once clients are comfortable talking with each other and are functioning well as a group. Games can help break the ice if you need help getting them to that point.

If your population is unable to focus for long periods of time, using an activity that demands less attention is best. Or, using a highly engaging format will give the clients the extra focus you need to teach them. Choose the mental health group topic and then choose the best activity for your group.

Activities for Kids

Games, crafts, and role-playing are a few of the best activities for kids. Within just these three types of activities, you can do many different variations. These activities can also be useful with adults in some circumstances.

Games:

  1. Board Games: Order one or make up a board game. There are many different ways to modify board games to be therapeutic. The easiest way is by creating your own cards with questions to replace the cards that come with the game.
  2. Cooperation Games: Cooperation activities include problem solving and team building tasks. Gym activities allow cooperation activities to be conducted on a large scale.
  3. Trivia Games: Trivia games are great for learning information or memorizing. Use a trivia game if you need kids to learn something well at a shallow level.
  4. Pictionary or Charades Games: Getting kids to draw or act out things includes their motor movement into the learning process.

Arts and Crafts:

  1. Create a Book or Brochure: Split the kids into small groups to work on a book about any topic. Provide them with reference materials in needed, but set clear guidelines for the quality of work.
  2. Coloring: For very young children, coloring is a great way to get them focused on therapy topics. Have pictures of good behaviors and bad behaviors, and then ask them to color all the pictures of good behavior.
  3. Collage: A collage can be created individually or in groups. The variety of topics you can use is wide. Family therapy group collages can help clients and family members identify strengths and commonalities.
  4. Origami: Young kids love folding paper. While you are folding with clients, it's a great time to talk about what to do when mistakes are made or how to deal with frustration. Origami takes patience, having a vision and following directions.

Role Playing:

  1. Anger Coping Skills Role-Play: Before doing the role-play, have the kids identify a real anger trigger that can be part of the role play. Then ask them to identify warning signs for their anger. Finally, ask them to put it all together with the coping skills that they want to practice. So, they will role play in this order... Anger Trigger -->Anger Warning Signs -->Anger Coping Skill.
  2. Role Play Communication: This one works like the coping skill role-play, only the clients will practice using communication with others to handle the problem. Teach the kids to use humor or assertiveness to communicate calmly. This is a great way to get kids to practice using "I Statements."

Health and Wellness Activities

  1. Nutrition Activities: Clients often struggle with appetite changes. This is sometimes due to a disorder and other times due to medication side effects. Create a calorie guessing game where the clients try to match a meal with the correct amount of calories based on pictures of different foods.
  2. Exercise Activities: Exercise activities should be simple and fun if possible. You can use videos on YouTube to help you lead exercises or play games in the gym. Invest in a toss game for patients, which can be used inside if needed. Physical activities can be used in conjunction with learning other topics.
  3. Self-Care: Self-care activities teach people how to spend time improving themselves. Paint fingernails, cut hair, clip coupons, or go for a walk. Learning something new is self-care. Any of these types of activities gives clients the message to prioritize their own personal improvement.

Self-Control Activities

  1. Breaking Bad Habits: Once a bad habit has been identified, filling time to replace the time spent on that habit supports a change. Have clients create a schedule of their time, replacing the bad habits with more healthy activities.
  2. Anger Management Activities: Anger management activities are great for teaching coping skills and allowing your clients to practice the skills. There are many activities that work well for anger management. The best activities involve practicing anger control in the face of a trigger. Getting deeper, you can do forgiveness letter writing. Or you can get clients to create a journal that they will carry around and write in when they get angry.
  3. Paying Attention and Following Directions: Games like Simon Says teach kids how to listen and pay attention in order to follow directions. Make sure to follow up with a discussion about ways to listen, pay attention, and follow directions better. Also include questions about what kinds of bad things can happen if you don't listen well.

Music Therapy Activities

Music and emotions are closely related. Music activities are a great way to engage people who love music, which is just about everyone. This is a list of some activities that involve music.

  1. Mental Stimulation: For an aging population, singing and playing music can stimulate the mind. This is also helpful for depressed patients who might otherwise keep quiet during groups.
  2. Emotional Awareness: Play clips of different songs, asking your clients to write or draw thoughts and feelings. After the series of songs, discuss the fluid nature of emotions, the difficulty of identifying emotions, and the way thoughts lead to emotions.
  3. Relaxation Groups: Music is historically one of the most effective non-medicine prescriptions for relaxation. Choose some music with calming properties. Play it for patients as they practice relaxation skills such as deep breathing, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, or imagery.
  4. Insight Building: Lyrics are simply poems set to music. Many songs can be used therapeutically by dissecting and discussing the meaning of the lyrics. You can even ask patients to change the lyrics of a song to fit themselves. One great song to use for this is "What a Wonderful World."

Relaxation Activities

  1. Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and relaxing muscles in a successive way throughout the body. Usually, a script is read as the patients follow the directions of the leader. Starting with curling and releasing toes is a simple way to start. Eventually, you will get to the point where clients are tensing and relaxing face and scalp muscles.
  2. Guided Imagery: Guided Imagery is a way to take everyone on a field trip to a relaxing place. Keep room for clients to interpret and create within your guided imagery script. For example, if you choose a beach, then allow them to come up with the sounds, smells, and animals. Give them some examples to spark their imagination, and ask a couple people to share what details they are including.
  3. Pet Therapy: Pets have a way of relaxing people. If you can get a pet therapy dog or other animal, use them to lower the anxiety of patients. Sometimes a client will get engaged in talking more about issues when a pet is involved because it normalizes the environment.

Discussion Activities

Discussion activities are useful if these are your goals:

  • Increase interest in the topic
  • Assess prior knowledge and understanding
  • Improve communication skills about difficult topics
  • Create curiosity around a subject
  • Improve readiness to change

The purpose of having a discussion activity is to give structure and guidance to clients while allowing them to think for themselves and express their thoughts. As the facilitator of the group, you should give guidance without giving all the answers. Your job is to ask the questions that lead the clients to the correct understandings.

Use these tips to ensure a successful discussion group:

  • Explain the purpose of the discussion before beginning
  • Limit monopolizers from doing all the talking
  • Build your way up to difficult or deep topics
  • Set clear limits and do not allow disrespect in order to create a safe environment
  • Structure the discussion around relevant topics
  • Model the behavior you want
  • Use a marker board or visual aid when possible

Best Formats for Group Activities

What Group Format and Resources do You Think is Most Effective?

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