Friday, September 25, 2020

Hello Neighbor

This is a simple interactive group therapy activity that can get people talking and interacting either in person face to face, or via telehealth (virtual). The directions may sound a little confusing at first, but they really are simple:

The counselor/group leader should pick a phrase from the list provided (or else come up with your own phrase). One group member should volunteer to go first. That person should pick a “neighbor” and complete the phrase that was selected by the group leader, with the focus toward their selected neighbor. This pattern should then continue with the person who was selected as neighbor taking the next turn to then pick a new neighbor. Continue this for several rounds until it feels like it is time to pick a new phrase. To clear up confusion, see the example below:

Example: The counselor starts by picking the phrase “I thought it was good when…” and John volunteers to go first. John looks at his group neighbor Leslie and tells her “Leslie, I thought it was good when you admitted to the group that you relapsed last week but you kept coming to group and now you are doing better”. Leslie then picks her neighbor Sam and says “Sam, I thought it was good when you told that story the other day about how you dealt with that angry customer at your job without getting angry yourself” Sam then picks neighbor Jim and so on….When it looks like the phrase “I thought it was good when…” has been maximized, the counselor can switch to another phrase such as “I hope it works out for you…” and then continue – Of course no insults or negativity allowed

What defines a “neighbor” for this activity

If done in person a neighbor is someone else in the group sitting next to you on your left or your right or the person sitting directly across from you

On telehealth (virtual) a neighbor is someone else in one of the boxes (on grid view) to the left, to the right, directly above, or directly below you

Recommended Phrase List

I thought it was good when…

I hope it works out for you….

I am pretty sure that I feel the same way as you about….

Neither of us….

Both of us…

I understood you when…

One thing I can appreciate about you is…

It took courage when you…

In my opinion, one thing you bring to this group is…

If I were in your situation, I would consider…

I remember when you…

If I could make one wish come true for you, I would pick…

When you are done with this program, I hope you remember…




Sunday, September 13, 2020

Coping Circle

Coping Circle

Introduction: This exercise is an interesting and interactive way to discuss a wide variety of coping skills as a group. The expected outcome of this exercise is for group members to help one another by sharing how to use various coping strategies while learning about new skills for areas where one may be lacking and need improvement. This is done through an open interchange of ideas as a group. This group can be done in person or virtually through telehealth. Also, this group can be done repeatedly over time because when clients come up with new problems to discuss, the outcome of using this group format changes from one time to the next.

Directions: First, everyone list a few stressors in their life to potentially discuss. Two or three is good for each person, but if someone is struggling, they should be able to try to contribute at least one. In person, the group leader can track the list of stressors on the board to make a master list. Done virtually over telehealth, everyone should message their ideas to the rest of the group using the chat feature. Everyone then can access the list by viewing the group chat box on telehealth

There are two recommendations for coming up with stressors to discuss:

Be specific – For example, don’t just say “Anger”, but instead elaborate specifically about what makes you angry, for example “Dealing with anger and frustration when my parents constantly nag me and make false accusations about me”


Format the wording of your stressor so that the group is prepared to discuss coping skills. Some suggested phrases for stressors are:

Coping with ______(Stressor)

Dealing with______


Finding ways to _____

Getting help for _____

Learning to cope with _____


The counselor/group leader and others in attendance (co-facilitators/interns, etc.) should be invited to add to the list as well with some of their own ideas which will help the list grow so there are plenty of choices

Next, after everyone in the group has added at least 1 to 3 stressors to discuss to the overall group list, the group should begin discussing these issues in the following manner:

Everyone in the group is encouraged to participate and take their turn when it comes around. Start with a volunteer who is willing to go first. When it is someone’s turn, that person should review the overall group stressor list carefully and choose one that he or she feels proficient at using in their own life. Keep in mind what it means to be proficient. (Review this as a group)

Proficientadj – Skilled, advanced, competent

If someone is proficient in an area, then he or she should be able to explain it in simple terms so that others can understand it. Einstein said it well with the following quote:

Once the group member who has their turn has chosen a stressor to discuss, the floor is theirs and that person should be given a few minutes to explain how they cope with that stressor by describing what skills and supports they use and how they use them personally. Again, be specific and everyone should do their best to explain the coping skills that they use for the stressor in a way that others in the group can learn.

The counselor/group leader has the right of “Counselor Redirection” – This would only be necessary if someone gives unhealthy or unsafe advice to the rest of the group. An example of something unsafe: “I cope with work stress by drinking a pint of vodka then get on my motorcycle and go 100mph down the highway – The adrenaline really helps me get my mind off of things”. Another example of an inappropriate answer: “I deal with my emotions when my family is getting on my case by going out and either picking a fight with the first person who looks at me funny and beating them to a pulp or by randomly vandalizing peoples cars or houses”

Finally, it would be helpful if someone played the role of “tracker” by keeping track of some of the coping skills and supports discussed by the group. Also, it would be helpful to note which areas no one picked as areas of proficiency as possible areas for future group education

When enough people have had a turn sharing in the Coping Circle the group can process the following discussion questions at the end as a group:

First, the person who was tracking coping skills and supports discussed by the group should review the list with the group so the group can again get an overview of all the good skills everyone is already using effectively. Then answer the following questions as a group with everyone encouraged to share and participate:

How did it feel to share your expertise when it was your turn?


Did one of your personal stressors get picked as an area of discussion? If yes, what do you think about the feedback and advice given for that stressor? What did you appreciate?


What are some coping skills that you heard about today from anyone else in the group, that you may like to give a try yourself in the future?


Finally, what stressors did not get picked by the group. Discuss as a group how perhaps some of these areas can be future topics of education and discussion for the group



For more group activities like this

visit Taking the Escalator

Friday, September 4, 2020

Stability and Setback Prevention Self-Awareness Checklist

Being self-aware is key when it comes to staying on the right track in order to prevent relapse and setbacks when coping with substance use and coexisting mental health issues. To be truly self-aware, we need to be able to honestly ask and answer questions of ourselves and to objectively assess our true progress, insight and motivation. When we are honest and open our minds, we can learn where we need to make the improvements and adjustments needed to stay on a positive course and avoid going down the wrong path.

Setbacks, Relapse and The COVID Factor

Preventing relapse and setbacks any time is a challenge. The COVID pandemic has changed things a great deal. For this exercise we will call these changes ‘the COVID Factor” There are many challenges due to COVID factor when it comes to staying on the right path with substance use and mental health. However, there are some things that some individuals may find to be easier as well. This exercise is focused on making an honest self-assessment of strengths and areas needing improvement when it comes to preventing relapse and setbacks in progress while taking the COVID factor into consideration.

When considering factors that may impact setbacks and relapse, it is important to review the following:


·         What are your areas of strength?


·         How have you developed these strengths? What is working for you?


Areas needing improvement:


·         What areas do you identify as needing to improve?


·         How has the “COVID factor” contributed to these challenges in your life?


·         What can you start to do in order to improve in these areas?



If inspiration is the fuel that moves us forward, then progress is the mileage we accumulate along the road we travel on. The farther down the road we go, the closer we get to our destination and goal. Even if we go backward after a period of progress, the next time we travel that road moving forward we know the way a little better. Every time we try to move forward, we gain some experience and therefore make progress regardless of whether or not we reach our destination. All movements made in a positive direction are critical aspects of the upward change process.

-      Taking the Escalator