Approximately 21 million adults living in the United States experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2020 according to the National Institute on Mental Health. It is estimated that 17% of these individuals fell between the ages of 18 and 25 years old, and were more likely to be females than males.
While the prevalence of depressive disorders may not be surprising to mental health professionals, what you may find more concerning is that only 66% of the individuals who were experiencing a depressive episode in 2020 sought treatment. This statistic shows the importance of using effective treatment approaches when we work with individuals who struggle with depressive disorders.
In this post, I review 35 group therapy activities for depression you can use in your practice’s group sessions.
Find worksheets for your clients struggling with depression
How Does Group Therapy Help Individuals with Depression?
Research has shown that group therapy for depression is an effective treatment approach, and can reduce depressive symptoms among members (McDermut,W., Miller, IW., & Brown, RA. 2001). Cognitive- Behavioral Therapy was found to be an effective treatment approach for group therapy (McDermut,W., Miller, IW., & Brown, RA. 2001).
Group therapy can help members feel connected to others, and decrease isolation. This also provides them with an opportunity to receive social support for concerns that they may not be sharing with others in their life. When in group therapy, members will receive feedback and encouragement from their group counselor.
Additionally, group therapy for depression can be a more cost-effective treatment option for individuals compared to individual therapy. Research has shown that individuals can save between 25-41% when they use group therapy instead of individual therapy.
Counselors who provide group therapy for depression and other depressive disorders can use group activities to provide education about depression, encourage group participation, and utilize effective treatment interventions.
List of Group Therapy Activities for Treating Depression
When Counselors are deciding on which group therapy activities for depression they would like to use, there are a variety of options. Activities can be tailored to specific populations and concerns that members have. Here is a list of some group therapy activities for depression that can be used:
- Ask group members to describe someone that they feel supported by. Spend time talking about the characteristics and behaviors that this person exhibits that make group members feel supported.
- Spend time talking about isolation and the negative impact that this can have on depressive symptoms. Ask group members to share their experience with isolating behaviors, and talk about what steps they can make to decrease the prevalence of isolating behaviors.
- Provide education about the use of psychotropic medications for depression. Talk about the benefits that individuals can experience, and provide appropriate referrals for those who are interested in speaking with a medical provider about their options.
- Spend time talking about group members’ experience with hopelessness; spend time talking about what has helped them in those moments when they feel hopeless, new skills they would be willing to try, and identify local resources available to help them.
- Provide education about different depressive disorders including symptoms and prevalence.
- Provide education about mindfulness practices including the benefits that they can have for individuals who struggle with depressive episodes.
- Discuss different forms of meditation and lead group members through different exercises. This can include guided meditations and progressive muscle relaxation practices. Allow for time to process their experience and discuss if they see themselves using these practices.
- Provide education regarding the role that our thoughts have in our feelings, and how our feelings impact our behaviors. Ask group members to identify thoughts that lead to feelings that they struggle with such as sadness, anger, and loneliness. Explore how these feelings impact their behaviors.
- Spend time providing education about thought challenges. Walk through examples relevant to group members’ struggles. This can be an effective activity to use after providing education about CBT approaches.
- Spend time providing education about cognitive distortions and ask group members to share which they find themselves relating to. Educate the group about using thought challenges when they notice the presence of cognitive distortions.
- Spend time discussing social skills and practicing skills that could help group members
- Spend time discussing communication skills and practice skills that could help group members
- Spend time discussing boundary setting and have members practice these skills in pairs in a role-playing exercise.
- Play a game of charades that covers healthy coping skills for distressing and uncomfortable emotions.
- Develop a Jeopardy game that covers topics such as depression symptoms, coping skills, useful resources, and appropriate use of medications.
- Practice problem-solving in situations to help members feel confident about their ability to maintain control in challenging situations.
- Ask members to identify a joyful memory and share what was special about that moment in their life.
- Provide a large banner for the group to write down coping skills that they use when distressed. Ask group members to identify 3 new skills that they can commit to trying before their next session.
- Provide group members with paper and colored pencils and ask them to identify 3 challenging emotions for them to cope with. Provide a list of coping skills and ask them to draw different coping skills for each emotion that they can use.
- Ask the group to write a letter to their younger self. Spend time exploring themes present within group members’ letters.
- Discuss the difference between short-term and long-term goals. Ask the group to identify goals that they have for themselves.
- Ask the group to draw a timeline that shows important experiences in their life. Spend time exploring what made these experiences memorable and if they are related to any mental health concerns.
- Provide the group with a worksheet that provides a list of coping skills for mental health concerns. Spend time exploring what has worked well and what was ineffective for group members. Ask the group to choose 2 new coping skills that they can try the next time they are distressed.
- Spend time providing education about self-care and the impact it can have on our mental health. Ask the group to identify 1 to 2 new behaviors that they can really add to their routine to improve their self-care practices.
- Ask the group if they were an animal, what they hope to be and why. Explore the characteristics that they like about their chosen animals.
- Spend time exploring what group members’ needs are within relationships. This can include trust, honesty, and support. Allow members to talk about relationships that have these characteristics and ones that do not. Provide support for members who talk about challenging relationships that they have.
- Provide the group with a piece of paper, decorating supplies, and colored pencils. Ask the group to fill the sheet with positive affirmations and words of encouragement that can help them when they are struggling.
- Spend time talking about the impact that music can have on our emotions and mood. Ask group members to bring a song to the group that they feel they can relate to at this moment, listen to the song, and allow the individual to share how they relate.
- Ask the group about what they do for themselves when they are sick with a cold or physical illness. This can include eating well, drinking water, resting, taking it easy, avoiding stress, seeing a doctor, and taking medication. Ask the group to share which of these can be helpful when they find themselves struggling with their mental health. What are some barriers that they face when they struggle emotionally to use these same strategies?
- Ask the group to describe what their life would look like if they did not struggle with depression. Explore if there are any aspects, they talked about that they can work towards.
- Ask the group to share how they respond to their friends when they are struggling. Do they provide encouragement and support? Then ask the group to share how they treat themselves when they struggle with their mental health. Spend time talking about showing ourselves compassion and having patience, and explore barriers that the group experiences when trying to show themselves compassion and patience.
- Provide the group with a copy of the Serenity Prayer. Ask the group to separate their current worries and stressors they are facing into the categories of things they can change, and the things they cannot change. Spend time exploring what would be different for them if they let go of what they cannot control, and focus their energy on what they can control.
- Spend a group focusing on gratitude. Explore the role that gratitude can have on our aspirations and goals. How can group members practice gratitude throughout their day?
- Ask group members to write a letter to their depression. Allow the group to share, and explore common themes.
- Provide your group with an outline of a jar. Ask group members to share emotions that they have experienced within the last day or two that they pushed down, or avoided coping with. Write the emotions in the jar. Once the jar is full, ask the group to share what happens to their emotions when their jar gets full. End the group by talking about healthy ways to cope and process emotions and challenges that group members experience, as well as the dangers of bottling up emotions.
Final Thoughts on Selecting Group Therapy Activities for Your Clients with Depression
There are so many options that Counselors have for group therapy activities for depression groups. For Counselors who like providing their group members with worksheets and handouts, you can use resources, such as Therapy by Pro, that can provide you with resources.
Group activities can be used as a helpful tool to encourage participation in group sessions. This can be helpful with groups that are reluctant to share and engage in the sessions. Group therapy has been proven to be an effective treatment option for individuals struggling with depression, which demonstrates the importance of creating a safe and engaging environment for group members.
McDermut W, Miller IW, Brown RA. The efficacy of group psychotherapy for depression: a meta-analysis and review of the empirical research. 2001. In: Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE): Quality-assessed Reviews [Internet]. York (UK): Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (UK); 1995-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK68475/
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