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Key Takeaways:

  • Instead of conventional therapy, games serve as an alternative for patients to communicate their feelings.
  • Games for therapy groups may also be designed to teach coping skills and practice gratitude.
  • Games can be used to meet patients’ goals in therapy.

When most people think of the word “therapy,” they often visualize a person sitting alone in a therapist’s office discussing personal issues. Talk therapy certainly has benefits for mental health treatment, but it is not the only way to address teen concerns. Therapy activities for teens can be part of a treatment program; in fact, they make therapy a lot more interesting and effective.

Here are 10 effective therapy activities for teens designed to help adolescents gain more insight and strengthen their mental health — all while having fun.

10 Effective Therapy Activities for Teens

Integrating activities in sessions with teens can be beneficial for therapists who often find engaging adolescents in therapy to be challenging, with nearly half of those who do get treatment dropping out [*]. Together with an approach that expresses empathy and genuineness, utilizes developmentally appropriate interventions, addresses the stigma, and increases choice in therapy, these activities can make therapy a lot more effective [*].

Let’s go through some of these activities.

1. Coping Skills Bingo

Coping Skills Bingo is a mental health activity for teens where they get to explore different ways to cope with life’s challenges. It helps teens change their perspective about a negative situation and learn to seek help.

How it works:

  1. Make custom Bingo cards with a coping skill written in each square. Coping skills can include “Take deep belly breaths” and “Drink hot tea.”
  2. Give a card to a teen.
  3. Read out loud your own list of coping skills. The first teen to mark the entire card wins.
  4. You can end the game by giving them this handout of 101 coping skills.

2. Pass the Ball

Wondering how to get a teen to share how they’re feeling? Encourage communication by playing this simple game called Pass the Ball. Pick an object that you can toss around, like an inflatable ball or a stress ball. Play upbeat music in the background.

How it works:

  1. Pass the ball around while the music is playing.
  2. Once the music stops, the person holding the ball should share their current mood or the thoughts they’re having.

3. Worry Journal

Teens may sometimes have difficulty with worry, fear, anxiety, and frustration. Instead of bottling up these emotions, they can use a worry journal to get into the habit of identifying how they feel and expressing them in a healthy way.

How it works:

  1. Get a pen and paper and write down everything you are worried about, no matter how big or small. Do this for three minutes or until you run out of worries to write down.
  2. Fill a page for each worry and try to get to the root of the issue.

4. Gratitude Scavenger Hunt

This is a simple exercise that can be done in the classroom, at home, or in a natural setting. Kids can stay seated or move around to identify as many things to be thankful for as possible! Gratitude creates positive feelings, increasing a child’s well-being and life satisfaction [*].

How it works:

  1. Ask your teen to pay attention to their environment.
  2. On a sheet of paper, they’ll write down the things they’ve seen, heard, and smelled that they are grateful for.
  3. Alternatively, give them this gratitude walk worksheet with important questions they can reflect on.

5. Letter to Yourself

Expressing yourself through traditional conversation can be challenging for many teens. In this case, they can write a letter to themselves to help communicate their feelings, aspirations, and challenges in a better way.

How it works:

  1. Ask your teen to imagine the traits they’d like to have and the goals they want to reach.
  2. Have your teen think of what advice their future self might give their current self.
  3. Guide your teen as they write the advice they would give themselves in the form of a letter. They can also look back on this years later!

6. Music Selection

Most teenagers love listening to music because it connects with their identity. In addition, music helps them relax and be able to cope with different stressors, such as school, family expectations, extracurricular responsibilities, and social relationships.

How it works:

  1. Instruct a teen to compile the top 5 songs that resonate with them the most.
  2. Listen to their music together.
  3. When the playlist ends, discuss what these songs mean to them.

7. Two Truths and a Lie

This is a simple party game that can be used as a fun activity for teen group therapy. It’s an excellent way to build connections and help teens learn more about their peers in therapy.

How it works:

  1. Have the group sit in a circle.
  2. One teen will start by saying three statements about themselves. Two must be true and one must be a lie. Everybody will then guess which statements are true and which one is the lie.
  3. Have the group take turns individually until everybody has gone.

8. Human Knot

The Human Knot is a collaboration game that will teach teens how to work together. Once the knot is achieved, teens must rely on teamwork to get themselves untangled and free from it.

How it works:

  1. Have teens in a group session stand in a circle.
  2. Ask everybody to lift their right hand and join it with someone else in the circle except the person beside them. Do the same with the left hand.
  3. The group must untangle the knot without letting go of anybody’s hand.

9. The Candy Game

Therapeutic activities for teens are always more fun when food is involved. The Candy Game can help teens open up about their emotions during therapy sessions.

How it works:

  1. Give each teen in the session a small bag of M&Ms or Skittles.
  2. Label each candy color with a different emotion (e.g., red means angry, yellow means happy, blue means sad, etc.).
  3. Have them take turns taking out a piece of candy from their bags. Instruct them to find what emotion represents, and then share what makes them feel that emotion or an experience that brought out that feeling.
  4. Don’t forget to eat the candy between turns!

10. Finger Painting

Games for therapy groups that engage their sight, motor skills, and language include finger painting. This game aims to help teens express themselves freely by dipping their fingers in paint and coloring a canvas. It can be a form of catharsis to depict their feelings, including anger, fear, confusion, happiness, and hopefulness.

How it works:

  1. Gather the materials needed: a canvas, poster, or acrylic paint (as many colors as possible), and an apron.
  2. Let them paint what they like.
  3. At the end of the activity, each teenager is encouraged to share their painting and talk about what it means.

Tips to Encourage Teen Participation During Therapy Activities

  • Start slowly. When trying something new like therapy, it’s best to start slowly. Instead of lining up therapy sessions for the next two months, you can ask your teen to commit on a week-by-week basis. They may be slow to warm up, but activities should keep your teen engaged.
  • Normalize therapy. Demonstrating self-loving behavior is one way your teen can learn to do the same for themselves. You can also commit to therapy so that your teen will be more open to going. If therapy is a typical topic in your family, then children are more likely to be open and participate in the activities their therapist has prepared for them.
  • Make it about them. Teens are learning new ways of thinking and relating, so they are very focused on themselves. Make it so that the activity clearly shows how it will impact or affect teens. Ask them for their opinions and personally involve them so that they will be engaged throughout the activities in therapy.

The Bottom Line

Many fun activities can be incorporated into therapeutic settings. Group therapy activities for teens are excellent ways to address negative thinking, stress, and other mental health issues. Therapy can be challenging for some teens, but taking advantage of these activities will eventually become easier.

References:

  1. Stige S, Barca T, Lavik K, et al. Barriers and Facilitators in Adolescent Psychotherapy Initiated by Adults—Experiences That Differentiate Adolescents’ Trajectories Through Mental Health Care. 5 March 2021.
  2. Oetzel K & Scherer D. Therapeutic Engagement With Adolescents in Psychotherapy. October 2003.
  3. Sansone R & Sansone S. Gratitude and Well Being. November 2010.

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