When someone is looking into mental health treatment for trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder, there are a variety of factors that should be taken into consideration. This includes cost, frequency of visits, and if it could improve their mental health symptoms. Group therapy is typically more affordable than individual therapy sessions which can be an appealing factor to many. Group therapy sessions can vary in frequency, however, groups for individuals with PTSD can occur on a weekly basis. Groups for PTSD and trauma can focus on a specific treatment modality, such as DBT or CPT, which are empirically supported approaches for these mental health concerns. Keep reading for PTSD and trauma group therapy activities for your clients.
How Does Group Therapy Help Individuals with PTSD and Trauma?
There are a variety of benefits that clients can experience with PTSD group therapy activities. Here are a few benefits of group therapy for clients struggling with PTSD and trauma:
Sense of Validation
Group therapy can provide group members with a sense of validation, regardless of what brought them together. This benefit can occur in any group setting, when given the right environment. Validation can help individuals see that they are not alone, and give them the opportunity to learn from others who have experienced similar challenges. Counselors can use group therapy activities to normalize trauma and subsequent challenges group members experience.
Learning from Others
Learning from others is another benefit of participating in a PTSD group. The PTSD and trauma group therapy activities listed on this blog can help explore what has worked for group members, and what hasn’t. Helping others with their struggles can also be a rewarding benefit to participating in PTSD group therapy.
Group therapy can also provide social support that group members may not be receiving elsewhere. Individuals who are living with PTSD may find themselves withdrawing from social events and their interpersonal relationships. Social support can have a positive impact on our lives, including our overall mental health. As an example, Counselors can use unique group activities for teen trauma groups. Having a customized approach to your group sessions allows you to focus on the needs of your group members.
List of Group Therapy Activities for Clients with PTSD and Trauma
Group therapy activities can be an effective tool for treating clients with PTSD and trauma. Group activities can provide education and promote group engagement among group members. Below you can find a list of group therapy activities that can be used with clients in a PTSD or trauma group setting.
- Spend time reviewing the “PAUSE” skill and explore its use as a de-escalation skill.
- “P”- Paying attention to our body, thoughts, and feelings
- “A”- Assessing what is activating our responses
- “U”- Understand the roots of our feelings
- “S”- Set boundaries, separate, and ensure safety
- “E”- Empathise with those involved
- Provide group members with a worksheet that identifies the different ways emotions can impact our bodies. As an example, someone may feel nauseous when they’re disappointed or weak if they’re feeling abandoned. Ask the group to share what they identify with, and review different coping skills that can be used to cope with their emotions.
- Develop and play a jeopardy game that focuses on helpful topics such as mindfulness, coping skills, social supports, and healthy behaviors.
- Provide group members with a worksheet that is used to identify a crisis plan. This can include identifying known triggers, useful coping skills, helpful boundaries, healthy distractions, safe supports in their life, emergency hotline numbers, and other resources that can be used in moments of distress.
- Spend time talking about different healthy and unhealthy coping skills. As an example, healthy coping skills can include talking to a friend, playing a game, or painting. Unhealthy coping skills can include yelling or screaming, threatening others, and engaging in reckless behaviors. Ask group members to identify one unhealthy coping skill that they would be willing to try replacing over the next week. Allow for time to follow up in later group sessions to assess progress.
- Provide the group with materials needed to create a “Tree of life”. Group members can be encouraged to decorate their tree to represent the different areas of their life. Allow for time to explore each member’s tree. Topics within this activity can include:
- Tree roots: can be used to identify their roots and where they came from
- Ground: Can include their current life (important loved ones, interests, favorite place to be, etc.)
- Trunk- Their strengths and skills that help them when they struggle
- Branches- Their goals and hopes for the future
- Storm clouds- Challenges they experience
- Provide the group with the materials needed to create a drawing that shows what a safe space looks like for the group members. This can be a real place, or a fictional location. Direct group members to identify characteristics that are linked to their five senses so that grounding skills can be used to help them envision being in their safe place (sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and touch). Spend time talking about how envisioning their safe space can help cope with emotional distress.
- When you begin your group, have group members participate in a check-in. This can include rating how they feel on a scale from 1-10 regarding their mental health at that moment, and answering a thoughtful question. Additionally, group members can ask for time to talk in the group session. Examples of questions are:
- Tell us a healthy risk you took this week
- Tell us about a time you were happy (at any point)
- What is the scariest, or hardest, part of being in this group?
- Describe yourself in three words
- Spend time discussing cognitive distortions, and normalize their existence in our day-to-day life. Ask the group to identify cognitive distortions they experience, and how it impacts their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
- As a follow-up to learning about cognitive distortions, spend time discussing the process of thought challenging. Ask the group for examples of cognitive distortions they experience, and walk through a healthy thought challenge by looking for evidence supporting the thoughts and evaluating their accuracy.
- Spend time talking about positive reframing. Group members are asked to identify self-sabotaging thoughts, and work together to create a positive reframe.
- Provide the group members with the materials needed to create a “self-esteem bucket”. Group members should identify what builds their self-esteem, such as enjoyable activities and self-care practices. Ask the group to identify what drains their bucket; examples include unhealthy relationships, negative self-talk, poor boundaries, etc. Follow up with a discussion about what changes could be made to decrease the number of drains they have.
- Spend time discussing the differences between thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and events. Educate the group about how they are intertwined and impact each other. Provide the group with a list that includes all four, and spend time differentiating which is which.
- Spend time discussing the benefits of mindfulness. Focus on meditation practices, and allow time to walk the group through various meditation practices such as a grounding exercise and a progressive muscle relaxation exercise. Spend time processing group members’ experiences and if they see themselves using these practices.
- Spend time talking about the use of breathing exercises as an emotion regulation skill. Allow time for group members to practice different breathing skills, such as box breathing. Spend time processing group members’ experiences and if they see themselves using these practices.
- Spend time talking about the use of grounding skills as an emotion regulation skill. After talking about it, ask the group to identify something in their environment that they are experiencing in regard to their senses (sight, touch, hearing, smell, and taste). Explore how this practice can be applied to their own struggles.
- Provide the group with materials needed to develop a self-care plan that addresses their mental health, physical health, emotional health, and spiritual health needs. Ask the group to identify 2 new behaviors that they can engage in to promote self-care before the next group session. Allow for time to follow up in their next session.
- Ask the group to think of a song that they relate to for the next group session. Allow time to listen to the song in the group session, followed by the group member sharing how they identify with the song. Time can be spent talking about the use of music as a coping skill for uncomfortable and distressing emotions.
- Ask the group members to write a letter to themselves when they are struggling. This letter can include encouragement, suggestions for coping skills, or other helpful comments. Members can keep the letters in a safe place to review when they find themselves struggling.
- Provide the group with a large list of emotion regulation skills, or coping skills. Ask them to identify 5 skills that are helpful, and 5 new behaviors they will try to use before their next session when distressed. Allow for time to review their experience in the next group session.
Final Thoughts on Selecting Group Therapy Activities for Your Clients with Past Trauma
Group therapy activities for PTSD provide counselors with an opportunity to have an engaging and educational group session. As an example, if you recognize that group members are struggling to cope with distress, establish or maintain healthy boundaries, or engage in self-care practices, you can tailor your group activities to focus on these topics.
For counselors who prefer to use handouts to guide their group activities, online resources such as our Trauma Worksheets can provide you with informational handouts that can support you while you facilitate your PTSD group therapy activities.
While individual therapy is commonly used for clients who struggle with PTSD, it can be beneficial for clients to engage in group therapy. Together, group members can establish a safe, supportive, and encouraging environment where they can grow together as they work towards living their best life.
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