Group Therapy Activities for Adults: Examples and How-To Guides

Updated October 15, 2022
Multi-ethnic group of women sitting in a group therapy session

Have you ever wanted to explore therapy but were concerned that you might not find the right fit? Maybe you were worried about finding the right type of therapy or about finding a therapist that you connect with. If so, don't worry. You're like many other people who want to take care of their mental and emotional health, but aren't sure where to begin. Sometimes, people choose group therapy as an easy place to start.

If you're curious about therapy but aren't ready for one-on-one sessions or just feel more supported when being around others, then group therapy might be a good option for you. Group therapy allows people with similarities to come together to share life experiences, work through challenges, and learn coping strategies. Together, these elements can help many protect their mental health and find strength through community. You can look to these adult group therapy activities to explore techniques that might work for you.

4 Sample Group Therapy Activities for Adults

There are many different types of lessons and activities that you might take part in as a part of group therapy. Use these examples to consider what might happen in your group session. Or you can also suggest them when you attend your next meeting. Not part of group therapy yet? You can also gather people together and use these activities to generate conversations and support.

1. Share Your Fears

Group therapy challenges individuals to be vulnerable, honest, and forthcoming about numerous sensitive subjects. In therapy, people are often invited to share difficult aspects of their past, struggles in their present day, and challenging thoughts they face. This can be daunting to do with even your closest of friends, which is why it's important to develop trust among group members.

When a bond of trust is established, people feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings, which can have a positive impact on the group as a whole and encourage others to share, as well. Trust-building games, such as the one below, allow group participants to begin to form that imperative bond.

You Will Need

The materials needed for this game are fairly simple and cost-efficient, you'll need the following:

  • A bag, bucket, hat, or anything else that can be used to collect responses
  • Pieces or strips of paper
  • Writing utensils

How to Play

This activity can be played with any number of people in a group. However, the more people present the better to make sure that responses remain anonymous. The instructions for this activity are as follows:

  1. Make sure you have enough paper and writing utensils for everyone present. If you use full pieces of paper, instruct everyone to fold them into smaller squares that they can tear apart.
  2. Ask everyone in the group to write one thing they are anxious about or afraid of. You can also ask members to write one secret they haven't told many people, or a negative thought they often have. The facilitator should write a response, as well, to help the group build trust with them, too.
  3. Make sure that the responses remain anonymous by asking group members to not write names on the paper, and to fold their responses after they have finished writing. You can ask participants to write more than one response, however, challenge everyone to write the same number that way no one feels upset that they are being more vulnerable than others.
  4. After you have given the number of prompts you have decided on for this lesson, walk around the group and collect everyone's paper.
  5. Once you have collected all of the responses, mix them around to ensure members that responses will remain anonymous.
  6. Then, walk around the room again and have every group member pull a response from the hat. The facilitator should also pull a response to demonstrate how the rest of the activity will flow.
  7. Explain to the group that each person will read the response they have pulled out loud. Remind everyone that the responses are anonymous and that each person present has chosen to be vulnerable.
  8. The facilitator should read the first response out loud. Then, prompt other members of the group to share their thoughts by asking questions. Can anyone relate to the message? What does the response make you think of? How do you feel after hearing it?
  9. Then, continue around the circle until everyone has read the response from their slip of paper. Take pauses in between each share to ask members how they feel.

You can facilitate this activity several times in a group therapy setting. Each time, you can focus on a different prompt with group members to encourage them to be more vulnerable and build their trust among other group members.

2. Goal Identification

Goal setting is an important part of group therapy because each member has chosen to attend in order to improve their mental health, as well as other aspects of their life. In order to change, it can be helpful for people to set goals to give them an idea of where they hope to see themselves in the future.

Activities that are focused on goal setting also help group members keep track of their own growth, as well as help support other group members as they work towards their personal goals. Some people might also find it helpful to set a goal as a group, where everyone attempts the same challenging task. It can seem less daunting when members know that others are going through it, too. Overall, goal-setting creates a sense of solidarity and allows members to reflect on what they want out of therapy.

You Will Need

To play this game, you will need the following:

  • Colored pens, markers, or pencils
  • Paper

How to Play

This is a game that has the potential to be fun and optimistic, and you can play it with any sized group. The instructions are as follows:

  1. Pass out three pieces of paper to each group member. Or, have each group member fold their paper in thirds.
  2. Make sure there are markers, colored pencils, etc. placed around the area where the group members will be drawing.
  3. Instruct each member to draw a short-term goal (that takes a few months to accomplish), a mid-range goal (about one year in the future), and a long-term goal (that may take a few years to achieve). The facilitator can also participate in the exercise alongside the group members to help build rapport.
  4. Give participants about 15 minutes to work on the exercise.
  5. After the time has ended, ask each group member to share their goals with the group one by one. The facilitator can go first to kick things off and give members an example.
  6. Once a participant shares a goal, you can start a dialogue about it with other members of the group by asking questions. Does anybody have a similar goal? What's one challenge a person might run into? What are some steps the person can take in order to accomplish their goal?
  7. Continue sharing goals and facilitating dialogue until each group member has had a turn.

Some group members might find it silly or intimidating to draw out their goal, and that's okay. Encourage them to simply write down their goal on paper if they don't feel like drawing. What's important is that they reflect on what they want and set a goal for themselves to work towards.

3. Not So Different After All

This particular activity might be more helpful to newly-formed therapy groups that haven't yet established a strong bond among members just yet. However, it can also be used to reaffirm bonds between groups that have been working together for longer.

When someone is struggling with their mental health or certain aspects of their life that are challenging, it can make people feel overwhelmed and isolated. This is why group therapy can be a good option for many because participants have the opportunity to help one another and offer support. However, before people can look to others, it can be helpful to establish a sense of solidarity and bonding through shared struggles.

You Will Need

To play this game, you will need the following materials:

  • Paper
  • Writing utensils

How to Play

This activity can be done with a group of any size. The instructions are as follows:

  1. Make sure everyone in the group has at least one piece of paper and a writing utensil.
  2. Inform group members that this activity is focused on finding similarities. Each group member will have 3 to 5 minutes to talk to another member and discover things they have in common. Members must write these qualities down and they cannot leave the pairing until they have found at least one similarity between them.
  3. If time allows, encourage each group member to pair up with all of the other members in the group.
  4. Afterward, gather group members together and facilitate a discussion about the activity. What were some of the challenges people faced? What did members learn from the activity? How has the activity changed the way people feel about sharing with others?

The facilitator can help members find similarities through prompts that they ask out loud or write on a whiteboard or paper at the front of the room. These similarities can be simple. For example, do you both have the same eye color? Do you both have kids? The same favorite color? Or, they can be more complex, such as do you have the same reason for coming to therapy? Similar goals? Similar fears about facing challenges.

4. The Self-Compassion Pause

Compassion is an essential component of group therapy, relationships, and life in general. However, oftentimes participants might find it easier to offer compassion to others than to be compassionate towards themselves.

This exercise allows individuals to practice self-compassion and mindfulness with the encouragement of their peers. It also encourages participants to take time in their daily life to check in with themselves and their own needs, and take steps towards meeting themselves wherever they may be.

You Will Need

To play this game, you will need the following:

  • A large paper or a whiteboard
  • A marker

How to Play

Any sized group can participate in this activity, and the instructions are as follows:

  1. Set up two large pieces of paper at the front of the room, or divide the whiteboard into two different sections. Label one side "What I say to myself" and the other side "What I would say to a friend."
  2. Next, have a member in the group share a challenge they faced recently or something that happened that was stressful. For example, maybe someone was running late to work, spilled coffee on their shirt, or got into an argument with a loved one.
  3. Ask the group member to share what thoughts were running through their mind at the time. Maybe they thought "I can't do anything right," "I'm going to get fired," or "I'm not a good person." You can also ask other group members to share what thoughts would pop into their heads during the specific situation, as well.
  4. Then, ask the group member that shared what they would say to a friend that was going through the same situation. Would they say the same thing? How would they change the sentence to comfort a friend?
  5. Write down the new sentence the member shared under "What I would say to a friend."
  6. Go around the room and ask other group members to share some of the negative thoughts that pop up for them when they are in difficult situations. Continue to reconstruct them into more compassionate sentences that members would share with friends.
  7. Once several people have shared. Reflect on the differences between the two categories. Ask group members what they notice is different, and why they wouldn't say some of the things to friends that they would say to themselves.
  8. Encourage group members to talk to themselves the way they would a friend, and note how those thoughts might be more comforting, constructive, and compassionate.

This activity can be a helpful visual aid that can show group members the differences between the way they talk to themselves versus the way they talk to others. It can also demonstrate to group members that they aren't alone in slipping into patterns of negative self-talk. Finally, it can encourage members to shift the way they talk about or to themselves.

Why Group Therapy Activities Work

It can be intimidating to join a therapy group, especially if you don't know what to expect out of the experience. But group therapy activities like these create community. You can look to these activities to gain insight into what a group therapy session could look like, as well as how the group explores different activities and topics. If you facilitate group therapy sessions or support groups, you can use these activities to create a sense of belongingness among group members, and allow participants to take a step toward improving their mental health together.

Many new experiences can be challenging simply because you haven't faced them yet and don't know how to navigate them. However, you can look to your facilitator, mental health provider, and group therapy members to give you the support you need to find your footing and create a sense of belonging.

Group Therapy Activities for Adults: Examples and How-To Guides