A vital component of healthy relationships is being able to establish and maintain boundaries. But what exactly are boundaries within interpersonal relationships? Boundaries are limits within relationships that keep both individuals safe. This can include emotional boundaries and physical boundaries.
While that may sound simple, boundaries are a complex topic. Boundaries are impacted by our culture, previous relationships, who the other person is, and the setting that we are in with that person. As an example, you likely have boundaries with your coworkers or colleagues that differ from boundaries you have with your close friends and family members.
It is understandable that individuals may have different expectations of what boundaries should be within a relationship. If we do not talk about what our expectations are for boundaries with others, we are not giving ourselves the opportunity to set boundaries with them. This can cause damage within the relationship, or lead to unhealthy relationship patterns. Keep reading to learn 20 group therapy activities for setting boundaries you can use in your therapy practice.
How Does Group Therapy Help Individuals Set Boundaries?
Group therapy can be an effective tool for individuals who struggle to establish and maintain healthy boundaries. We initially learn about boundaries from the adults in our lives as we are growing up. As we age, we practice establishing and maintaining boundaries. This is an important life skill that is a continuous growing point for many of us.
Group therapy can provide you with an opportunity to recognize signs of unhealthy relationships, communication skills that can help you verbalize your boundaries, and skills to help you maintain and reinforce your boundaries. Boundaries group therapy activities can help normalize the personal struggles that individuals have and provide them with a safe environment to practice new skills.
List of Group Therapy Activities for Setting Boundaries
Group therapy activities on boundaries provide Counselors with an opportunity to provide psychoeducation about healthy boundaries and a safe space to practice relevant life skills. Teaching boundaries activities for group therapy can be modified for each group to address common experiences among group members. Below is a list of group activities that can help individuals struggling with personal boundaries:
- Come to the group session with a large piece of paper, and ask the group to identify characteristics of a person they feel safe and supported by. Ask the group to discuss how these characteristics influence their ability to set and maintain boundaries with these individuals. As an example, if we feel that someone is understanding, we may feel more comfortable talking about our needs for boundaries.
- Ask the group to identify a situation where they were able to set a boundary, physical or emotional. Spend time exploring what helped them in this situation, and how they can use this success in other situations where they establish boundaries.
- Provide the group with a sheet of paper and ask them to identify barriers that keep them from establishing boundaries. This can include a lack of confidence, uncertainty about how to do it, fear, worry, guilt, etc. Place the sheets in a bowl to draw them randomly. Spend time exploring how group members can relate to the identified barriers, and what they can do to work past these barriers. Follow up in the next group session to see if group members were able to work past any barriers since the previous session.
- Using a large piece of paper, ask the group to identify the characteristics of a healthy relationship and of an unhealthy relationship. Spend time discussing the group member’s ability to pick up on these characteristics in real-time, and how they can respond to them.
- Ask the group members to identify a boundary that they would like to establish. Allow time for members to engage in a role-playing exercise where they practice establishing their boundaries. At the end of the exercise, talk about the thoughts and emotions that came up during the exercise, and what the group members can do to cope with them as they arise in real-time.
- Spend time discussing how our values are connected with our boundaries. Ideally, our boundaries would support and encourage the values we have. Spend time exploring the values that group members have and how they relate to their boundaries. Ask if there are any values that could be supported by new boundaries. An example would be establishing boundaries that promote a better work-life balance so individuals have an appropriate amount of family time.
- Spend time providing psychoeducation about healthy boundaries, rigid boundaries, and porous boundaries. Allow the group members to share which they feel they currently belong to, and what changes they can work towards to have healthier boundaries.
- Focus a group session on the act of setting a boundary. This can include how to clearly communicate your boundary, communicating your needs in a way that keeps the focus on your needs, and stating your follow through. Ask a group member to volunteer with you while you engage in a role-playing exercise modeling the skills you discussed. Allow time for the group to break down into pairs to practice their own boundary-setting skills.
- Spend time exploring concerns that group members have about setting boundaries. This can include fear of losing the relationship, fear of angering the other person, fear of being lonely, guilt, wanting approval from the other person, or feeling as though they “owe” the other person for previous actions. Ask the group to discuss their concerns, and validate their reasons. Spend time discussing how they can work towards addressing their reasons in a way that feels safe to them.
- Spend time discussing how our thoughts impact our emotions which lead to our behaviors. Provide the group with an understanding of cognitive distortions, and explore any cognitive distortions that impact group members’ ability to establish and maintain healthy boundaries.
- Spend time discussing the benefits of mindfulness practices. Explore different mindfulness practices that group members can use to keep themselves in the present moment. This can include practicing various forms of meditation such as guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation exercises. Grounding exercises can also be introduced as a tool to keep group members in the present moment.
- Spend time discussing unhealthy relationship patterns, and explore group members’ experiences with them. As an example, this can include being too dependent on someone, being too independent, and not being able to communicate your thoughts and needs.
- Spend time providing knowledge about codependency. This can include what it can look like, the prevalence of codependent relationships, and the consequences that can occur. Spend time discussing what group members can do to break the patterns associated with codependency, and how they can work towards having healthier boundaries.
- Spend time exploring the different areas of a group member’s life where boundaries are needed. This can include boundaries with their emotions, time, mental health, and physical space. Ask the group to identify one new boundary that they could work to establish that would improve their overall well-being.
- Ask the group to identify behaviors, thoughts, or feelings that indicate that they are in need of new boundaries. Are there any behaviors that others show them that act as a red flag? Have they ever had a gut feeling indicating that something needed to change? If so, were they able to act on that feeling?
- Spend time talking about assertiveness. What does assertiveness mean to group members, and do they feel it is a skill they have? Assertiveness can be associated with being mean or disrespectful. Explore how group members can practice being assertive while being true to themselves. Allow for time to practice this in pairs or groups.
- Spend time exploring how a person’s self-talk impacts their ability to set and maintain boundaries. Talk about encouraging and supportive self-talk patterns that group members can use in regard to their personal boundaries.
- Talk about the importance of self-care and the impact it has on our mental health. Explore what group members do for self-care. Counselors can provide the group with a worksheet listing different self-care ideas, and ask the group to identify 2 new behaviors that they can try adding to their routine. Allow time to follow up on this in the next group session and process their experience.
- Spend time reviewing healthy and effective communication patterns, such as the use of “I Statements”. Since communication plays a pivotal role in establishing and maintaining boundaries, explore concerns and barriers that members experience regarding being able to communicate their thoughts and emotions. Allow time for roleplaying the use of communication patterns discussed.
- Allow the group to identify their group rules and norms. Spend time discussing that the group rules and norms are boundaries within the group that members will be held accountable for. Use this as a time to model effective communication, and discuss what the follow-up would be if the group rules or norms were broken.
Final Thoughts on Selecting Group Therapy Activities for Setting Boundaries
When you are searching for group therapy activities for setting boundaries, keep in mind the individuals that you are working with. If you recognize a pattern of codependency within your group, spend time focusing on the concerns that this relationship pattern can bring, and what can be done to decrease codependent behaviors. Similarly, if you become aware of physical or emotional boundaries that can be improved, this can be a topic for group discussion.
If you prefer to run your group sessions with handouts or pamphlets, TherapyByPro has Setting Boundaries Worksheets that can be used for group sessions that focus on boundaries.
Lastly, group members can benefit from witnessing their counselor establish and maintain their own boundaries. This can include establishing and reinforcing group rules and norms, as well as being consistent in your therapeutic approach. Being mindful of our own experience in our group can support the knowledge and skills we provide our group members.
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