How to get teenagers in a therapy group to talk

neli1 asks: I am a student social worker. I have a therapeutic group with teenagers who have behavioral problems. We are currently having our third session and now getting to the purpose of the group. I’m stuck and I don’t know what to talk about!! Can you help?

Hi neli1 –

I don’t know the subject of your group, but from what I’ve heard about such things, the goal of most therapy groups is to get the members to talk freely among themselves, without prodding from the leader.

It makes sense that it’s too early now for that to have happened, but I think what you need to look for is ideas of ways to move closer to that.  Here are a few that might help.

1)    Create a Questionnaire.  Come up with a list of twenty or so questions, to find out about each person in the group.  The questions can be as silly and fun as “who’s your favorite performer” and “who’s the worst performer ever,” or a bit stronger like “Who was the worst teacher you ever had,” or as personal as “What do your parents do that irritates you the most,” “What is your religion,” “What was the worst nightmare you ever had,” etc.  I like the idea of mixing them up, but generally leading from easiest to toughest.  If you do that, and have them tell their answers out loud when they’re done, they’re going to learn a lot about each other, and get talking.

2)    Do something active.  Get them out of their chairs.  Have them make masks or act, pretending they’re other people in their lives, or even just draw pictures of things that have happened to them.  If they all have behavioral issues, get them behaving, one way or another!

3)    Bring up a problem of yours, and ask for their help.  They’re being told what to do all day – give them a chance to feel smart and in charge for a change; also they get to experience being helpful and kind, which feels really good.

4)    Do a potluck.  Have them all bring in food they like.  If they’re from different cultures, maybe have them bring in food from their specific backgrounds.

5)    And of course my favorite, have them bring in pictures of their pets!  Nothing gets people talking faster than different tastes in animals – whether a debate about cats vs. dogs or the surprise at the odd lizards people own… or you could even have an election in the group for cutest pet, coolest pet, etc.

I hope those help, neli1.  Overall, though, I’d emphasize – the more fun that group can be, the more communication you’ll get.  So have FUN!!!





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