Teen Group Engagement
Tackle teens' resistance to group engagement
Few teens attend therapy voluntarily, as most are required to attend by parents/guardians, school/juvenile officials, and state agencies. Some teens believe they are being forced to attend therapy. One of my teen clients, whom I will call “Cliff,” arrived to his first group with headphones in his ears and a smartphone glued to his hand. He said, “They can force me to come, but they can’t force me to participate.” He was right.
Most of your teenage clients do not wish to contribute. Yet clients who are engaged are more likely to benefit from group therapy. It is your challenge to establish and maintain engagement among your clients. You cannot force them to participate, but you can entice them. I promote engagement by utilizing creative interventions specifically designed to cater to the needs of teenagers.
Boredom is the nemesis of teenagers. They are easily bored and have difficulty managing boredom. Therefore, you should avoid using interventions that breed boredom. Worksheets, workbooks, lengthy discussions and videos, when used alone, lead to napping and daydreaming. Teens want to have fun, and your groups can accommodate them.
I lead a weekly substance use educational group for teens. The purpose of this group is to educate teens about the negative impacts of substance use. My agency provided me with a stack of papers with all the information I needed. Some clinicians may have given the teens a few papers per group and led them in a discussion about the material. I would not have stayed awake long enough to lead this group. So I took the information and created quiz games.
The teens worked in groups to answer questions regarding the legal, health and psychological impacts of substance use. Each game covered one substance, such as marijuana or alcohol, and each group consisted of one game. I discovered that these teens loved the competition. They didn’t need prizes or rewards, as they simply wanted to win. Even Cliff, the teen who would not be forced to participate, began yelling out answers (“False, it’s gotta be false!”) Cliff was participating. I realized that not only were my clients having fun, but they were also absorbing the information.
Not all of the games need to be created by you. Some games can be bought and used to meet your needs. “I mix counseling strategies with everyday, familiar games,” says Grace Wilhelm, creator of Counselor Games. “For example, use pick-up sticks to teach relationships, and use Don't Break the Ice to teach stress management.” The teens in your groups who are having fun are more likely to be engaged. You may also find yourself becoming more engaged as you play these games.