As a therapist in private practice, one of my favorite aspects of my job is running groups. I learned the skill while working in a psychiatric hospital and became very practiced, as the day program I worked in was group-based.
Running groups is definitely an art form.
There are several aspects to master: making sure you have relevant content, making sure the content is covered, making sure there is adequate discussion, making sure everyone feels heard, and making sure one person does not dominate the discussion.
No matter how small the group is, there is always ONE person who dominates the group. One trick I use with redirecting is to wait for a natural pause, then redirect back to the topic at hand. Another trick is to find something in their comments that relates to the topic and state that they have provided a good example of what you are trying to demonstrate, then redirect back to the topic.
As far as finding relevant content, you do not need to buy a lot of workbooks to find great worksheets to use in group.
My favorite method for creating great content is to find a good article that has a relevant and specific topic, then create my own worksheet to assist group members with exploring and further incorporating the concept.
I find great articles at the Psychology Today website and at GoodTherapy.org. On the Good Therapy site, click on “Learn”, then click on Good Therapy Blog for lots of great articles.
An article that would be appropriate for group should be based on several factors.
- The length of the group. My depression and anxiety group is 90 minutes long. I find articles that are between 3 and 5 pages long. A one page article would be too short to fill a 90 minute group. If your group is shorter, such as 30 minutes, you will need to choose a shorter article. I have group members take turns reading, then we work on the worksheet and have a discussion.
- An appropriate topic. A depression and anxiety group is fairly broad, so many articles are appropriate. Many of my group members are older, so I avoid articles about the anxiety of getting started in a new career, or anxiety and finances, as they are not appropriate for the group members. If your group is substance abuse oriented, articles about substance use will be appropriate. A domestic violence survivors group will need articles specific to their issues (boundaries, self-esteem, safety, etc.).
- An appropriate level. Groups in an inpatient setting will need help with more basic skills (generally), compared to an outpatient setting. Also, some groups may be more high functioning, such as a group for gifted students, which would require higher level material. I conducted a homeless parenting group series where we covered basic parenting skills, budgeting skills, communication skills, and emotional regulation skills.
Next, I read the article. I identify ways in which the concepts can be reinforced and use examples to practice the concepts.
Here is an example: I found information about 13 patterns of automatic thought distortions. Each pattern had a brief explanation and an example. I created a simple worksheet of 3 columns. The first column listed each thought pattern.
The second column was titled “Example.” In this column, the group member identified an personal example of the thought pattern (if it applied).
The third column was titled “Replacement.” In this column, the group member identified a way to replace the unhealthy example they identified with a healthier thought pattern.
Here is an example of what a member would create:
|Assuming||My friend is mad at me.||My friend is at work and can’t text back quickly.|
This article and exercise is an excellent group topic because each member most likely has several thought distortion patterns and it makes for extensive discussion.
Here is another example about an article about the power of not taking things personally. With this worksheet, I thought about a process to incorporate the concept by using some cognitive behavioral therapy techniques of assisting the client with identifying unhealthy thoughts and emotions and replacing them with healthier ones.
|SITUATION||HOW I FELT||MY INTERPRETATION/ HOW I TOOK IT PERSONALLY||NEW INTERPRETATION/ HOW IT WAS NOT PERSONAL||NEW FEELING|
|Example: My sister got a new car when she graduated from college and I got a card.||Humiliated
|They love her more than they love me. I’m not worth the financial sacrifice of a new car. I’m not worthy of love.||My sister is spoiled and I am better off as an adult because I was not spoiled. My worthiness and lovability does not depend on how my parents treated me.||Worthy
Still a little sad about my rough childhood.
Once you practice this method of creating mental health group materials, it gets easier after a few times. With this method, there is an endless supply of group topics and you will always be able to whip something together quickly that is sure to be helpful.
Kristin Stonesifer, LCSW