Soundtrack to Your Life

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This blog started as a place to get some ideas for group and I intend to keep that goal going.  At my current agency, I continue to do groups, largely in the Substance Use field and as such, I have plenty of opportunities to fill our groups with psychoeducation but also with activities!

One activity I recently brought to the group was having all group members make a line on a piece of paper to represent their life.  Then, they were to place major life events on their timeline. After filling in their timeline with life events, they were to come up with a song that helped them identify with that moment.  As group members did this exercise, they were encouraged to play some of their music for the group (with the rule it could not be offensive).  This allowed for a more relaxed atmosphere and encouraged bonding between group members.

At the end of the group, members were encouraged to share what they felt comfortable sharing with other members of the group. They were encouraged to go home and create a playlist for the soundtrack of their life.

There are many variations you can do with this, for me, I encouraged clients to pick out the positive moments in their life to help identify songs and encouraged them to stay away from the negative moments.  Sometimes, we do the entire life, both positive and negative. Sometimes, you can do only future hopes and dreams and make it almost a dream board but through music.  No matter what you choose, it’s just helpful for them to get in touch with their emotions and thoughts in a different medium than just speech or writing which we tend to focus on in groups.

What do you all think? Any suggestions?

Affirmation Stones

Working with substance use groups, you usually are talking about heavy topics and it is difficult to have clients focus on the positive aspects of themselves as opposed to dwelling on the negative ones.  In order to combat that, I have found affirmation stones to be a good group activity.  In terms of supplies, everything you need is simple!

1) MAGAZINES – try to get a variety – especially if you have a heterogeneous group. I like to have some Men’s Fitness, Self, People, etc. Try to steer clear from Cosmo unless you want some unnecessary moments of them getting stuck on the sex section and before you know it, an hour has gone by and everyone’s still wanting to talk about the “just right” orgasm.

2) Scissors – get at least one for every two people

3) Tape or Super glue – I tend to stay away from the super glue after some unfortunate mistakes, but it does look nicer than tape.

4) Stones – if you are at a location like mine, you can just walk outside and have them pick their own! Make sure it’s dry and clear from dirt before starting or it will be a gross mess.

After you have all of the supplies, encourage people to look for words or pictures that make them feel good about themselves and that highlight the good they have within themselves. Make sure that if you suspect there are any literacy issues with group members, to offer the picture idea as well.

The rocks serve a purpose other than as a fun activity for a group. When clients start to feel overwhelmed and find themselves in a downward spiral looking only at the negative things they have done and internalizing that as being bad people, they can look at their rocks to remember the positive.

Have you tried affirmation stones with clients before? How was the experience?

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

I remember when I was tasked with discussing PAWS with my clients and told that the topic would be covered over the span of two nights.  How am I possibly going to stretch this topic out to 6 hours??  Wrecked with self-doubt, I put my most creative energies to work and walked into the group still struggling with an idea on how to make this topic interesting.  As everyone was checking in I realized that I wasn’t really teaching them about PAWS, they were already experiencing it themselves, I was just opening their eyes to what was happening in their bodies!  With that in mind, I started group asking for everyone to talk about the differences they have felt in themselves while in recovery (excluding initial withdrawal symptoms) and within 15 minutes, they had compiled a list that included every symptom of PAWS.

Engaging the group in this way allows the clients to take ownership of their own learning. They didn’t need to be “taught” about the topic, they knew it and were just vocalizing it to the rest of the group. In addition, having the clients discuss their own symptoms in this way normalized the feelings that were happening in the room. No longer was it just one person who was having trouble with their memory, it was many.

Something I have found interesting was their fascination with the science behind PAWS. Often times when we are discussing a topic, the conversation will go back to the physiological reason behind the topic.  When discussing PAWS, it is important for you as the facilitator to be knowledgeable about the physiology behind it and for that I would suggest reading an oldie but a goodie, Stay Sober by Terence Gorski (excerpt can be found here).

Once you are finished discussing the many symptoms of PAWS, it is essential to have a discussion about managing symptoms. Gorski’s reading provides many talking points that should be included in the group discussion and one of the most important topics that should be covered is managing STRESS!!  

Speak to the group about the various ways we place more stress on our bodies and how we should work on being as LEAST stressed as possible during recovery.  Stress exacerbates the symptoms of PAWS. What are some ways to destress?

  • Cut out or limit the amount of caffeine intake! Human beings were not always caffeine dependent and today it seems we have taken caffeine consumption to a whole new level.  I remember when drinking caffeine to stay awake was when my mom would have her morning coffee.  Now that has turned into the morning coffee, and then 3 or 4 more other morning coffees thanks to the Keurig machines in every office. Don’t even get me started on Monster and Redbull!
  • Exercise!! It’s the word nobody wants to hear, but it is essential in managing stress.  Tired of the treadmill at the gym? Go outside!! Hiking can be done almost anywhere and it’s free so there’s really no excuse for avoiding it.
  • Watch a movie/tv.  Now, I’m not saying spend all of your free time in front of the television, but sometimes it’s essential to just unwind and watch something for pure entertainment, come on guys, “New Girl” is back and I know you are all wondering what’s going on with Nick and Jess…
  • Read a book.  I had to include this after I encouraged everyone to become zombies in front of the tv, but it works! Get lost in another world and become someone else for a change. If you’re stuck on what to read, Harry Potter is always getting into some great adventures and provides an excellent outlet for you to release the kid side of you for a few hundred pages.
  • Laugh with friends.  I’m not sure about you, but when I hang out with my friends I tend to be laughing at least 90% of the time.  Laughter is a natural destresser both physiologically and mentally so give it a try! Worst comes to worst, you will enjoy yourself anyway and have a much needed catch up session.

JENGA in Group Therapy!

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Alright, so it has been a while since my last post! I guess that’s what happens when you try to maintain a blog and balance everything else! Since my last post, I have continued to run groups at my site and have continued to bring new activities to the sessions.  One activity that has been a big hit each time I have used it has been JENGA therapy!  Now, when JENGA comes out, be prepared for there to be excitement and then a very quick reeling in of that excitement when you explain that it is therapeutic JENGA, but after they start playing, they will be so absorbed in the game that they won’t mind to be doing therapy at the same time.

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Wondering how to make therapeutic JENGA? There are many ideas out there, but I have found the numbering system is the best.  Some people write specific questions on each piece and when the piece is pulled, the client answers that question.  I, however, have found that writing the question on the piece limits what I can use therapeutic JENGA with in group.  Therefore, I have numbered each piece 1-8.  Then, depending on the session, each number will relate to a predetermined question based on the topic at hand.

For example, when the group topic is triggers, questions may look something like this:

1. What are your internal triggers?

2. What are your external triggers?

3. In what ways do you cope with triggers? (Name one)

4. In what ways do you hope to work with triggers? (Name one)

5. What thought stopping techniques do you know of? (Name one)

6. Name two strengths that you have.

7. Name one social support that you have in recovery.

8. Freebie (no question!)

 

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When the inevitable happens and the tower falls down, be sure to have one MEGA JENGA question prepared for such an event.  Sometimes, I have had that one be that the one who dropped the tower needs to compliment each client in the room. Other times, they have had to say 3 positive things they have in their life at this moment.  Either way, be sure that the question is different and one that warrants being the end of game question.