Getting Creative with Groups By Laura Swan, LGSW

Psychoeducation group…what is that?  This is a question that I am often met with from patients in our Partial Hospitalization Program.    Psychoeducation group, short for psychological education, is a group where patients discuss mental health and ways of coping with illness, stress, and various struggles with which they are dealing.  We discuss a variety of topics such as mental health diagnosis, communication styles, cognitive distortions, problem solving, conflict resolution, bullying, relationships, and my personal favorite, self-esteem.

When I facilitate groups on self-esteem, I first have the patients define self-esteem and what it means to them.  We then discuss where we get self-esteem from, what effects our self-esteem and the benefits of having positive self-worth.  My perspective has recently changed after going through a Leadership Development Program at PrairieCare.  I used to think of self-esteem as how someone both views and thinks of themselves.  My perception has more recently shifted to being more related to how someone identifies, what they enjoy, what their strengths are, as well as having an awareness of their areas of growth.  When I first started to facilitate groups on self-esteem, I would have patients identify 10 positive affirmations about themselves.  I found that this was a daunting task for most patients, especially those who are experiencing feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness. With this in mind, I knew I had to change the way I approached this subject.  I also knew that I needed to find a creative way for patients to be able to give each other encouragement and support.  After turning to co-workers for suggestions, it was recommended that I search Pinterest.

It is amazing to me what you can find on the internet.  I started doing a Google search on self-esteem activities for children and teens and added Pinterest in my search.  I was overwhelmed by the amount of activities and worksheets I found.  One that I have found particularly helpful has been a group in which patients take turns sitting in front of the marker board and their peers take turns writing positive affirmations around their head.  The patients then get their picture taken in front of the board and are given the picture to take home as a reminder of the positive qualities they have.  This group has been a hit and could be used not only in group therapy but family therapy or maybe even a modified version at home!

Discussion after this activity is typically about how the experience was for them, how it feels to hear and repeat the positive affirmations, and what they plan to do with their picture after taking it home.  Watching the expressions on the patients’ faces is priceless, the patients typically report that they feel much better and are happier after doing the activity.  It is interesting to watch how the group comes together to support each other, even when at first, it seems they know little about each other or have few things in common.   There have been times when I have facilitated the group and found myself concerned about how the group would progress due to the minimal conversation and energy noticed and sensed at the beginning of group, along with the understanding of how anxiety producing it can be to sit in front of the group while your peers have to be in close proximity writing comments about you that you cannot see.  I have witnessed time and time again, patients who muster up the courage and take on the challenge of being praised and complimented.  Although it can be uncomfortable, it can also be incredibly healing.  Their homework is to practice repeating the comments to themselves, somewhere they are comfortable, such as in their room or bathroom.  As Mohamed Ali said, “It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”

If you find that you are feeling “stuck” and are not sure how to get creative when working with, parenting, and grand parenting a child or adolescent, I recommend getting creative with your online searches. Pinterest has been a helpful tool for me when planning groups and finding activities that elicit discussion, enjoyment and growth!