Group Therapy Topics: Mental Health Educational Activities

Group topics can vary greatly, depending on the needs of the clients.

Mental Illness Groups to Create Mental Wellness

When someone has a mental illness, it is likely there will be multiple topics you can teach to help them cope and stay well. People are complicated creatures, so group topics that can benefit the mentally ill will be varied.

Depending on the demographic population for your group, you will have to decide what topics will be best. Ask whether you will want to educate for understanding, to build skills, or create one moment of calm.

Take your setting into account. Are you on an inpatient unit, in an outpatient office, working in a church or community center, or meeting in someone's home? Keep in mind that the following group topics for mental health will vary in usefulness for different populations. Prioritize for your group's needs and the length of treatment.

Mental Health Group Topics: Large Categories

These are primary group topic categories which can be broken down into smaller, more specific topics. Each of these major topics are at least indirectly related to most mental health issues, so you will be on the right track if you choose one and narrow it down to what you really want your patients or clients to learn.

In no particular order.

  • Health and Wellness
  • Personal Control
  • Relationships
  • Values and Beliefs
  • Safety Planning
  • Mental Health Systems
  • Chemical Dependency

In the following paragraphs, you will be presented with more specific topics under each heading. Some are difficult to place in only one category because they span more than one; keep in mind that these interrelated topics may be more important to teach first and may also have a larger impact on your mentally ill clients. Teach your clients the big picture of how behaviors can affect their lives in multiple ways.

Health and Wellness Groups

These are just a few of the topics you might teach under the Health and Wellness category:

  • Sleep and Rest Patterns. Your clients are likely to have sleep problems that exacerbate their mental illness, which in turn causes more sleep problems. It's a cycle that they will need to learn to prevent from spinning out of control. Teach your clients ways to get the right amount and kind of sleep.
  • Exercise. As obvious as it may seem, exercise is one of the best things you can do for your mental health. Stress levels are reduced, etc. Teach your clients how to make exercise a part of their stress reduction plan.
  • Nutrition. People who have mental illness may have all kinds of things influencing their appetite, from the illness itself to medications, etc. Teach patients what might happen and how to stay on top of nutrition.
  • Medication Education. Patients on psych medications will need to be educated on things like side effects and how to deal with them, but more important is the patient's ability to maintain their medicine regimen. Accessing medicine or even just remembering to take it can be a barrier.
  • Recognizing Warning Signs: Certain signs help warn patients about having an all-out crisis event, but they will not be able to catch the warning signs early enough if they haven't learned some strategy to recognize the signs before it's too late. Teach them to identify personal warning signs and develop strategies of reaction.

Personal Control Groups

These are just a few of the topics you might teach under the personal control category. Keep in mind that some of these will fall under other categories too.

  • Anger Management. This is an obvious topic when you have patients who are unable to control emotions. Sometimes you need to teach anger management before teaching the relationships groups because the anger has to be under control first. Include identifying anger triggers, warning signs, and coping skills. especially when teaching kids about controlling anger.
  • Stress Management: Teach your patients about stress and what its purpose is, then teach all the negative stuff that happens when you don't control your stress. Teach your patients how to handle things without getting overly stressed-out. Teach stress management techniques for work and home.
  • Personal Hygiene. Hygiene can sometimes fall to the wayside when a person is not thinking correctly. It becomes less of a priority and needs to be brought up in some populations of patients. Teaching this delicate topic will require some tact on your part.
  • Impulse Control: Impulses are what get us in trouble, but the mentally ill can have lowered inhibitions, just as a person who is on drugs might. Unfortunately, this can happen naturally, and it can be next to impossible for the person to control impulses. Help patients cope with impulses and learn to remind themselves to make wise choices.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Rational Behavioral Therapy. The premise behind CBT and RBT are that if you are able to change your thinking, you can ultimately change everything. Thoughts lead to feelings, which lead to behaviors. This is a great way to treat negative thought patterns such as catastrophizing, black and white thinking, or other irrational thoughts.

Relationships Groups

These are just a few of the topics you might teach under the relationships category:

  • Assertiveness. Assertiveness is one of those topics that anyone could learn and benefit from. It's a life journey to make it a habit to communicate actively and respectfully. Teach your patients how to communicate assertively even when others are not assertive. Teach them a concrete yet effective communication strategy .
  • Boundaries: Also related to assertiveness is boundary setting. Use visual and role play examples to get your patients to see the importance of setting healthy boundaries and respecting others.
  • Conflict Management. Conflict with family members and others can be a source of great stress that leads to crisis events. Teach your clients to problem-solve their conflicts with others in appropriate, productive ways. Managing conflict through compromise or collaboration will provide alternatives to acting irrationally. A specific group on how to deal with the many types of bullying can be especially beneficial for youths.
  • Grief, Loss, and Forgiveness: Patients are sometimes hurting from things that have recently happened in their lives. Teach them how to grieve their losses and how to forgive others. even when it is difficult.
  • Parenting Skills. It's not the case that people with mental illnesses are bad parents, but they can benefit from any parenting skills to help reduce the stress of being a parent. Learning how to say no to kids and reduce conflict with teenagers are examples of helpful topics.

Values, Beliefs, and Goals

These are a couple of the topics you might teach under the Values and Beliefs category. This category can be underrated even though it allows the patient to be motivated to learn and be involved in the other groups. Use these groups when patients are not interested in doing any work.

  • Goal Setting: Goal setting is an important part of living life to the fullest. It may be beneficial to allow patients to set their own daily goals, but also you will want to identify some long term goals to help motivate them to stay well and achieve those goals.
  • Values, Beliefs, and Goals: Teach your patients how core values and beliefs determine their behaviors. Allow them to acknowledge their own values and make a goal to align their behaviors with their values and beliefs.

Safety Planning

Safety planning involves anything that can keep a patient safe in time of crisis.

  • Warning Signs. One important way to decrease recidivism is to teach your clients what mental health warning signs are, how to recognize these potential signs and symptoms, and how to get the support to stay safe by creating an action plan.
  • Identifying Supports. Your clients may not know that they have more support than they think. Identifying these supports will give them the option to react constructively when faced with challenges. These supports can be internal and external.
  • Discharge/Safety Planning: When it's time to discharge your patient or client, you want to send them away with a clear plan for staying safe and well. Create a group that focuses on what's next. Help them see a way to manage outside of your care.

Mental Health Systems

The mental health system can suck you in and spit you out or it can totally ignore you. Navigating the system can be a challenge, so help your clients know how to use mental health services for the best benefit possible.

  • How to Talk to Your Doctor: Your patient may only have a few minutes with the psychiatrist. Teach your clients what to ask and what to tell the doctor. Teach your clients how to say it to get the information they want. Role play this for best results.
  • How to Get Support: This can involve many things from getting help from a family member to talking to the pharmacist about side effects. Clients will likely benefit from knowing what options they have for getting help from the mental health system.

Chemical Dependency

If you run a chemical dependency inpatient or outpatient program, you will likely cover a couple main topics. These topics are useful to the clients/patients who are struggling with chemical dependency:

  • 12 Steps: Includes education about the 12 steps of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or NA (Narcotics Anonymous) recovery programs. Be sure to explain how each step is different and how people usually progress through the steps. Provide AA/NA books for independent education.
  • Dual Diagnosis: Drive it home that many mental illnesses are co-morbid conditions that lead to self medicating of alcohol, then explain how alcohol can make mental illnesses worse. Draw it out on a marker board so everyone can see the connections.

Leading Mental Health Groups

When you get the chance to lead a mental health group, you may face some challenges, behaviors that will distract others and outright defiance that may cause problems. There are, however, things you can do to help yourself and the patients get the most out of the group as possible. Read this article about how to lead mental health groups to get some tips.

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