Coping skills are important life skills that can help us manage an array of situations in life. More times than not, we talk about coping skills when we talk about coping with emotional distress. In this resource, I highlight 15 Group Therapy Coping Skill Activities you can use in your practice.
Common distressing emotions include sadness, loneliness, hopelessness, guilt, shame, and anger. Distressing emotions can be experienced by individuals of all ages and can be a topic of conversation in treatment with all populations.
It is important to understand the difference between healthy coping skills, and unhealthy coping skills. As an example, using drugs or alcohol to cope with distress is considered an unhealthy coping skill. It may feel effective at the moment, however, it often does more harm than good.
Healthy coping skills such as journaling, calling a friend, listening to music, and going for a walk can help us manage our distress in a productive way. Coping skills are not designed to take away our discomfort, but rather help us learn to be okay with our feelings and emotions. Over time, we can learn to manage and respond to our emotions which can decrease the overall level of distress that we experience in our lives. The coping skills that you discuss with clients will depend on characteristics including their age and the presence of other mental health concerns.
There are many reasons that adults do not use healthy coping skills. One of which is a lack of knowledge surrounding healthy coping skill options, and different ways to apply skills. As an example, someone may find yoga to be a helpful exercise, and not know that there are other forms of meditation that they can use to cope when they are upset.
Additionally, not understanding coping skills means that there is room for misunderstanding of the time needed for coping skills. Some individuals may believe that healthy coping skills are time consuming, and cannot be added to their daily routines easily.
Our knowledge of coping skills begins in our childhood from observing those around us. If we are in an environment where adults do not know how to respond to and cope with emotional distress, it is unlikely that we would learn these skills at home. Adult group therapy coping skill activities can help introduce new behaviors that can be used in our everyday lives.
How Does Group Therapy Help Improve Coping Skills?
Coping skills group therapy exercises can help group members learn about healthy options for coping with their distress. Counselors can discuss coping skills for group therapy to address real situations that group members are experiencing or something that they have found challenging to cope with.
Struggling to have coping skills is common among adults, and seeing how others can relate to their difficulties can help normalize group members’ experiences. Additionally, group therapy sessions can provide a safe place for group members to learn about, practice, and evaluate various coping skills.
Coping skills group therapy for children can be helpful in situations where children struggle to manage their own emotions, have experienced abuse or neglect, and have recently experienced a major life change. Children can feel validated when they learn that others can relate to their struggles.
List of Group Therapy Coping Skill Activities
Group activities for coping skills can be in a variety of group therapy sessions. As an example, coping skill group activities can be appropriate for a variety of settings including grief support groups, addiction treatment groups, young adult groups, groups for veterans, and groups for members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Here is a brief list of group therapy coping skill activities:
- Provide group members with strips of paper and ask them to write down the top 2-3 challenging emotions to cope with. Collect the strips and create a list of challenging emotions, tallying common answers. Spend the remainder of the group reviewing a list of coping skills and identifying what skills could be used for group members challenging emotions.
- Spend a group talking about the use of meditation practices, including the benefits associated with the regular use of meditation. Spend time talking about the different forms of meditation and allow for time to practice various forms of meditation. Process the group member’s experience, and encourage them to engage in at least one meditation practice at home before their next group session.
- Talk about the use of breathing as an emotion regulation skill, and allow for time to practice various breathing exercises. Spend time talking about real-life situations where group members could use breathing exercises to cope. This would be an appropriate group activity for children and adolescents.
- Spend time explaining the connection between our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Review that using healthy coping skills can have a positive impact on our behaviors. You can then review various CBT practices that are relevant to your group members, such as thought challenging.
- Ask the group to share characteristics they associate with a supportive friend or family member, followed by characteristics of someone that they do not feel supported by. Spend time exploring the social support that group members have, and gauge their comfort reaching out to their support when they are struggling. Explore any barriers that keep them from reaching out, such as embarrassment, shame, and guilt.
- Spend time talking about self-care, and correcting any misunderstandings. Self-care is often associated with behaviors or activities that are time-consuming, or expensive. Provide the group with a list of self-care practices, and ask them to identify 2-3 practices that they can try adding to their routine before the next group session. Allow for time to follow up on this homework assignment in your next session.
- Spend a group session talking about different forms of coping skills, and explore the benefits of each. This group can talk about diversion skills, spiritual skills, physical or movement skills, tension-releasing activities, and social activities.
- Spend a session exploring resilience. This can include what resilience means to your group members and their experience with resiliency. This can be a way to help group members see their strengths in moments that they find the most challenging.
- Spend time talking about the use of our 5 senses with grounding skills. Explore ways that group members can introduce grounding skills into their routine to respond to emotional distress.
- Ask each group member to share a coping skill that they find helpful and use more than others. Ask them to give a situation where they benefited from the use of the coping skill, and explain why it is their favorite.
- Create a game, similar to Pictionary, where group members need to draw a healthy coping skill on a sheet of paper for other group members to guess. In order for the group members to successfully win, they need to name the drawn coping skill and share 2 examples of when it can be used.
- Provide the group with materials needed to create a coping skills toolbox. Ask the group to include effective coping skills that they use. Once the group has completed their toolboxes, ask them to share if there is anything they feel they are missing that would be helpful to add to their toolbox. Encourage group members to offer suggestions.
- Spend a group session talking about healthy boundaries. This can include physical and emotional boundaries that they need to maintain mental wellness. Explore situations where group members struggle to maintain their boundaries. Break the group into pairs and have them roleplay to practice establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries.
- Develop a coping skills jeopardy game. Topics can include challenging emotions, distress tolerance skills, emotion regulation skills, forms of meditation, mindfulness strategies, and self-care practices.
- Have the group work together to develop a list of coping skills that start with the letters a-z. You can provide the group with suggestions if they are stuck on letters. This activity allows them to work together, practice problem-solving, and use their creativity.
Final Thoughts on Selecting Group Therapy Activities for Improving Coping Skills
Group activities that focus on coping skills should be tailored to your group members. As an example, if you know that there are group members who struggle with the same emotion or trigger, you can include this information as a focus for a group therapy session.
For counselors who prefer to utilize worksheets or hand-outs in their group sessions, there are a variety of professional resources that can be used to guide and reinforce information covered in your group session. TherapyByPro offers several coping skills worksheets that can be used for coping skill group activities. This can include their challenging negative thoughts worksheet, the CBT triangle worksheet, and their DBT self-soothing worksheet.
Learning new coping skills is something that most of us can benefit from. This is a topic that counselors should be well versed in as it will be relevant to their work, no matter the population that they work with.
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