Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Just Do It (Already)

To get started: Consider some of the following scenarios –

Suzy has been on Methadone which has helped her tremendously with regard to staying away from heroin. However, when Suzy’s counselor challenged her by asking what else she is working on to get better, Suzy replied “I go to the Methadone clinic every morning first thing, isn’t that enough?”

Darrell has been staying away from substance use and when his counselor asked him what’s working, Darrell said that he goes to meetings every day. Darrell’s counselor commended his efforts but then asked him to talk some more about what has been going on at the meetings. Darrell responded by saying “Oh, I just go to the meetings, I don’t share or talk to anyone, I just show up, keep quiet, then leave as soon as its over”

Fred has been making progress as he has some time without using substances. Fred’s counselor asked Fred what has helped, and Fred talked about how he has a good job that has been keeping him busy as he is working regularly and making advancement in the company. Fred’s counselor was glad to hear Fred was doing well working but then followed up by asking if anything else is helping and Fred replied, ‘That’s pretty much it, I just stay busy working whenever I can, then I go to bed and get up and go to work again the next day, and that’s how it goes…”

What do all three of these stories have in common? Before answering, break it down:
What is positive about all these examples? 
(In each example, the person is doing something helpful)
What seems to be missing in all of these examples?

It is likely that you saw that in each example that each one of those people are doing something beneficial to help improve their situation and make progress. Suzy goes to the Methadone clinic, Darrell has his meetings, and Fred is working

Still, what is missing in all three examples is that in spite of what is going right in each case, that alone is not enough to sustain long term progress and prevent setbacks or relapse. Getting some daily structure is great, but much more is often needed to maintain positive change.

The long-term goal should be to avoid just “going through the motions”

What comes to mind when you think of the idea of “going through the motions”?

Can you think of what “going through the motions” could look like in your life personally?

Positive change is an ongoing process, not an event

What specifically does that mean to you personally?

What is involved in your process of positive change?

Monday, March 2, 2020

The Garden of Good Health

The Garden of Good Health – 
(An illustration about mental health and substance use treatment) 

Anyone who has taken care of a grassy lawn knows that weeds may grow at times. One quick way to get rid of the weeds is to mow the lawn really low so that you cannot see them anymore.

Group Question: This is a quick solution, but what almost always happens over time?

Yes, the weeds grow back with time and eventually they are back again. Therefore, the only way to really deal with the weeds is to pull them out by getting to the root. This may require more effort up front, but in the long term, the grass will grow much healthier when the time is taken to deal with the weeds properly.

Comparing this with mental health and substance use:  If a person has mental health or substance use issues, that person may attempt to conceal or ignore those issues temporarily (like cutting the lawn really short in the illustration) and it may work for a short time. However, in the long run, like the weeds in the illustration, mental health or substance issues that have not been properly taken care may grow back.

Neglecting your mental health or substance use issues may end up resulting in negative impact in other life areas including family, work, education, financial, physical health, etc. So, it really makes sense to be proactive and take care of these issues rather than ignore them.

Group Questions:

Does this make sense?

Has anyone ever seen or heard of a story where neglect of caring for mental health or substance use issues resulted in other life problems down the line (like in this story)?

When should someone seek help for a mental health or substance use problem?

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Four Year Prediction Time Capsule (aka The Leap Year Special)

Four Year Prediction Time Capsule (aka The Leap Year Special)
This is a fun activity to do any time of year, but it can be especially interesting around Leap Year because it is based on a four-year time period.

Intro: READ - Think about how much you might have changed from your first year of high school until your graduation for example (or for kids think of 4th-8th grade). Surely a lot of the changes you experienced at that time were a direct result of going through puberty and growing physically and mentally. Still a lot of what happened during those 4 years also depended upon your goals and your life choices. Thinking about four years of school puts in perspective the idea of how long, and also how short, a four-year time period is in life. For this group activity, we are going to focus specifically where you and others in the group see yourselves four years from now by making some predictions.

Directions – Fill out the four-year prediction grid according to the following directions.
There should be one prediction in each box. This activity is supposed to be fun and encouraging so please refrain from any negative or hurtful predictions such as “End up in jail…” or anything like that. Also, be realistic:  It may be fun to predict something like “Will rule the world!” but that is unrealistic and unlikely. Try to focus on positive and hopeful possibilities for the next four years.

Next follow these steps:

First, each person should get a copy of the Four Year Prediction Time Capsule Grid

Next, each person should write their name at the top of their grid to identify it as their own

Then fill out Row 1 with three predictions about yourself and your own life in the next four years. Come up with one for each category: Probable (Good chance it will happen), Maybe (It might happen) and You Never Know (There is a shot at it coming true if things work out right)

Next fill out Row 2 with any prediction for the next 4 years about anything in the world. For example: “So and so will be president in 4 years” or “My team will finally win the championship.”  -  Anything goes in this row…

When Rows 1 and 2 are complete, everyone should stand up. Group members should leave their grid in a visible place and everyone else in the group should walk around with a pen and write predictions on one another’s grid in the boxes in Rows 3 through 6 – Again remember to be positive, encouraging and realistic. Some examples are below to provide ideas:

“I see you living in a house of your own, married and starting a family”
“You will own your own successful marketing business and live in an apartment in the city”
“You’ll be in college studying to be a counselor at a place like the one we are in now”

Row 7 is open for however the group decides to use it. You may want to expand one of the existing ideas or come up with a new and unique way to use it, or just leave it blank. The group can decide

Have fun! – (You don’t need to fill every single box, depending upon the group size and level of participation but everyone should try their best) When everyone’s grid is done or close to it, everyone should sit down again with their own grid and go around the room sharing some of the interesting predictions as time permits. If the group is large or time is short, it may be better to just highlight a few from everyone’s grid.

FINALLY: THE TIME CAPSULE CHALLENGE – When closing, everyone should put their grid in an envelope. Write the date for 4 years from today on the envelope. Everyone should take their grid home and put it somewhere (like a sock drawer) and hopefully open the time capsule up in four years to see what came true!


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Saturday, February 15, 2020

HP Squared

Hurt People Hurt People

Almost everyone has heard the phrase "hurt people, hurt people" - This group activity examines this concept further and discusses breaking the cycle of hurt and instead focusing on the healing process

HP2 = Hurt people x Hurt people – The answer to this equation is exponential because if a person feels hurt enough, that person may choose to hurt several other people. Those hurt people may proceed to hurt several others more and so on. This can cause an exponential growth in the number of hurt people out there unless people decide to BREAK THE CYCLE

Breaking the Cycle - First, it is important to recognize the fact that many people who are hurt, do not end up purposely hurting others. Some people learn to heal from past hurt and move on without acting out later. Still, no one has had a perfect life, so everyone has been hurt at one point or another. Therefore, everyone should be able to benefit from this exercise on some level regardless of whether or not they have hurt others. Below we will discuss the process of breaking the cycle of hurt.

Do you feel annoyed or angry more often than you would like too?

Would others who know you say that you seem to be irritable or stressed out?

Do you find yourself getting into arguments or disputes or having interpersonal difficulties?

Do you find yourself feeling angry at yourself or thinking bad thoughts about yourself?

Do you find yourself thinking about/feeling resentment, revenge, regret, depression or self-doubt?

Overcoming Lies and Excuses – There are a number of lies and excuses that we may tell ourselves which can perpetuate negative behaviors and attitudes that may be fueled or triggered by hurt. Consider a few:

“Hurting other people makes me feel better” – People can spend a lifetime fighting, arguing, yelling, etc., with the false hope that this will result in self-healing. The truth is that aggression toward others may bring a temporary rush of adrenaline that may feel good, but the problem is that this is only temporary. What often happens is that a person may need to keep on fighting and hurting others to keep experiencing the same temporary relief, which is not a long-term solution. Rather it is a recipe for ongoing pain

“I was hurt, so it is ok to hurt others” (Justifying) – It can be a mistake to fool yourself into thinking that being hurt yourself justifies hurting others. This just perpetuates aggression and violence in the world

“Nice or kind people are weak- I need to be tough” – This is also another lie. To the contrary, there is great strength in being able to walk away from a fight or an argument. At times the world promotes the idea of the need to step on others to get ahead. The truth is that a peaceful life is more likely to lead to real success.

Heal by Changing Hurting Behavior - Healing from hurt can take a long time. Some people are able to make progress on their own with support from friends and loved ones. Others need additional professional help and therapy. It’s a process. The truth is: Everyone Can Improve:  As stated earlier, regardless of whether you have identified this as a problem or not, there are things that everyone can work on to be less hurtful. Review the following list and pick some items that stand out to you as areas you could benefit by working on

Give people the benefit of the doubt – Rather than jump to conclusions and get angry at people without knowing all the facts, try not to make assumptions and instead drop it when possible

Patience – A lot of arguments and fights can be avoided by just being patient and waiting to speak or act

Empathy- Practice putting yourself in other people’s shoes. This can help with understanding and make it easier to give other people a break or to just let it go

Lower your “offense radar” – If you are looking to be offended hard enough, you will find it. It can be helpful to overlook smaller, more innocent mistakes and misunderstandings without turning to anger or aggression

Turn it over – Rather than act on anger, turn the anger over to a more positive source. Try to speak to a close friend, support group or a therapist rather than acting out when you feel hurt. If you are spiritual then you can pray to let go of your anger.

Improve your surroundings – If you find yourself feeling hurt often, perhaps you need to look at who and where you are spending your time. Sometimes you can put yourself in more positive surroundings. If you hang out with angry or aggressive people, that can be contagious. Instead look for peaceable easy-going associates

Therapy – If you feel like you suffer from deeper hurt or trauma, therapy may be needed and it can be very beneficial

Focus on the present – This means learning to let go of the past. If your past is hurtful, it may be time to start working on letting it go.

Positive Self Talk – If hurtful messages are running through your brain, it can be helpful to fill your mind with positive thoughts about what you are grateful for, what you love and appreciate, and ways you can feel the joy of helping others which will in turn help you help yourself

Forgive, live and love – Use the energy you might have wasted on revenge, depression, aggression or pain instead toward something positive like helping others or doing your part to make someone’s life a little better

Forgive yourself- Sometimes hurt stays active because of resentment toward ourselves for not doing something different in the past. Letting go of any negative self thoughts and feelings is essential to healing. Healing often starts from within

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Parenting - Taking a Look at Skills


This activity can be used in any type of group whether it be substance use treatment, mental health, or both; Good parenting is global across all types of situations. However, parenting struggles are often linked with substance use issues because substance use, when it progresses to addiction, often has a negative impact on parenting just like any other disease. The degree can vary from one situation to another as no two situations are exactly the same, however two things that almost every parent can agree on are:

Being a parent is challenging (for anyone – regardless of addiction)

Everyone can improve their parenting skills in some way as no one is a perfect parent

Group question: Based on your experiences does everyone agree with the above two statements?

“Selfing” – If for some reason you are participating in this group and you are not a parent, you can look at the skills that are going to be discussed in terms of “selfing” instead of parenting. Selfing would involve looking at these skills from the perspective of how you can better manage your self and your own life. Although this list of skills is specific to parenting, many of these skills are effective for anyone when it comes to improve their life. So, if you are participating as a non-parent, simply think about how you can help yourself with the following skills:

Parenting Skills List - Review and discuss the following list of parenting skills as a group. Think about your areas of strength and areas you need to make improvement

Building Bonds – A bond is a close relationship created by spending quality time with someone resulting in a connection. Ask yourself: As a parent do you feel a strong connection with your children? Do you think that they feel a strong connection with you?

Being Available – You may need to work, do household chores and other important things which is important – However, is there time in your schedule when your children can count on you being there?

Meeting Needs – “Wants” are things like gifts and presents which are nice for children. But needs are even more important as meeting needs helps a child to thrive long term. Are your kids physical, mental, social, educational, emotional and spiritual needs being met?

Setting Limits and Boundaries – Kids of all ages from toddlers to teens need parents to help them learn boundaries and rules which would include how far to go or not to go with things. This can be a challenge but are you doing what you can to set limits with your children whenever needed?

Decision making – As a parent, do you make the kinds of decisions for your own life that you would want your kids to imitate? Are you teaching your kids how to make good decisions for themselves?

Teaching Skills – The older a child gets the more life skills they need. Even toddlers can learn basic skills for managing the challenges of life and this gets even more important as kids get older.

Focusing on the Positive (over the negative) – Growing up in a negative or critical environment is not a constructive situation for children. Even if life has struggles, (which it often does for most people), are you doing your best to keep the focus on the positive?

Teaching Empathy – Caring about others and taking the time to understand where others comes from is essential to positive human relationships. Ask yourself: Am I teaching my child not only to care about him or herself but to also care about others and to try to understand different people?

Communication – A child’s primary source for learning how to communicate is through parents or caregivers. You might ask yourself if you are doing your best to teach your children to express themselves openly and assertively?

Modeling Positive Relationships – It can be tough to expect your children to learn to develop friendships with positive peers if your own friends or romantic relationships are with others whose lives may be a wreck.

Resilience – It is a sad reality that disappointment, hurt feelings, loss, mistakes, and failures happen to everyone. As a parent, are you helping your children to develop the skills to bounce back when things do not go as expected?

Respect – To get ahead in life, a person needs to know how to respect themselves and how to respect others. Parents/caregivers are usually the ones who teach this deeply personal but vital quality

Emotional Security – There is a lot to teaching children to be emotionally secure. This includes teaching kids to identify and express emotions, anxieties, and fears as well as hopes and dreams. Skills for managing difficult emotions and anxieties are also an important part of this

Meaning and Purpose – Life is much more than seeking fun and pleasure. It is a parent’s job to teach their children to set goals for a meaningful life and to guide them as they search for answers to life’s big questions

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Breaking the Ice

One of the goals of group therapy is to allow the opportunity for group members to get into deeper issues so as to increase self-awareness and promote positive change. However, in order to do that successfully it may be essential to "break the ice" and provide people in the group the chance to share freely their views on various topics.

With that in mind, through this blog, Taking the Escalator has added two new icebreaker activities. Click to view either or both of these easy to use group therapy icebreakers which are sure to inspire interesting group discussion and thereby build group trust and cohesion.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020


Motivated – adj. - having an incentive or a strong desire to do well or succeed in some pursuit

Perhaps you are in a substance use treatment program and you feel that you are motivated and you truly want to make changes and achieve goals with regard to any substance use or coexisting issues that you may be working on. You may find yourself in a program where your primary reason for being there is for your own personal good yet others in the program may seem that they are only attending because they are mandated. If you believe that you have a good degree of self-motivation for positive change, it may feel frustrating at times when others in the group appear to be less motivated. If you find yourself in this situation where you are one of the more motivated people in the group and there are others who are less serious, does that mean that all is lost and there is no way to benefit? No, you still can benefit from a group program even if others in the group have questionable internal desire for change. This activity is focused on making the most of your own motivation no matter what the situation may be.

“There will be obstacles. There will be doubters.
 There will be mistakes.
But with hard work, there are no limits.”
-       Michael Phelps

*One thing to note before moving forward is that it is important not to be judgmental of others during the following discussion and group exercises. This is not about pointing a finger at anyone else and labeling them as “unmotivated” or “wasting time” as that does not help anyone. Each person should focus on themselves including trying to be self-aware about your own desires, goals, and motives rather than assessing those things in other people. Motivation is great but keep in mind it can be dangerous to be overconfident and simply conclude that you have things all figured out just because you are motivated. To the contrary, sometimes people who struggle at first with motivation eventually end up doing well in the long term. Again, the point is to focus on yourself and not to judge others in the group in order to get the most out of this. Everyone can benefit from looking at their own motivation

Some Things to be Aware of When it Comes to Motivation
(Discuss as a group: Can you identify with any of these ideas or examples?)

Motivation is not a constant (it can vary with time and situation) -

Charlie – “I feel so motivated when I am on probation but once probation ends and I feel more freedom, that little voice inside my head that tells me to go back to my old lifestyle starts getting louder”

Kira – “When I am sitting in treatment during the day, I feel so motivated and determined to do what is right, but sometimes later at home when things around me are less positive, my motivation dies down”

Motivation can be deceiving especially when it is based on emotion

Karl – “When that amazing guest speaker came in and told his inspirational story I felt a powerful surge of motivation - but I have to admit, over time it wore off”

Trish – “When my fiancĂ©e broke off our engagement because of my drinking, I felt super motivated to finally stop drinking and change my life. But eventually after my emotions changed from inspiration to depression and guilt, my motivation took a nosedive”

Epiphanies, “spiritual awakenings” and magic moments do happen sometimes, but many people cannot afford to sit around and wait for that to happen.

Jemila – “I kept hearing about other people’s amazing stories where they hit bottom, they had enough and then it all came together for them. However, that never seems to happen to me, instead I just keep waiting and waiting for it…”

Scott – “I keep on thinking that one day it will all come together for me and I will finally get it, but in the meantime, I keep racking up new charges, problems and consequences of my while I’m waiting”

Stories of quick inspirational turnarounds may make the headlines, but more often “slow and steady wins the race”

Ruby – “The reason that I am still standing here is because I didn’t give up. I had my share of ups and downs, successes and relapse but no matter what I just kept pushing forward”

Frank – “I now know that I am never going to be that guy who blows everyone away with a sudden and drastic life change. Rather, I know that I can do this if I stay consistent and persistent – little by little”

If a person is not careful, feeling motivated can lead to overconfidence which can lead loss of focus which can lead to setbacks or relapse

RJ – “I was so motivated that I was taking the world by storm with my amazing progress. The only problem was that I was doing so well that I got cocky and I thought I could start going back to clubs without getting high or drunk. That didn’t last too long unfortunately…”

Tara - “I was doing so well for so long that got overconfident and I started focusing more and more on telling other people in my program what I thought they should do. Meanwhile, I lost focus on myself and started sliding backward with my own progress as a result”

FINALLY – Everyone has the ability to increase their motivation. Motivation is a lifelong process

DISCUSS – What else have you learned that you can you do to increase your motivation?