10 effective therapy activities for teens and adolescents
Therapy activities for teens are crucial in their development where emotional challenges, peer pressure, and academic stress can often become overwhelming. Providing effective support and promoting positive mental health during these formative years cannot be overstated. Therapy activities for teens have emerged as a valuable and innovative approach to addressing their emotional needs. Adolescents can explore their emotions, build coping skills, and foster personal growth in a safe and supportive environment by engaging in creative and experiential activities.
How therapy activities for teens can promote positive mental health
Therapy activities for teens serve as powerful tools to promote positive mental health outcomes. By engaging in these activities, adolescents are encouraged to express their thoughts and emotions freely, providing them with a sense of agency and validation. The benefits of therapy activities for teens extend beyond the therapy session, equipping adolescents with essential coping skills that empower them to navigate life's challenges confidently. Through increased self-awareness, improved communication skills, and enhanced self-esteem, teenagers can build a strong foundation for emotional well-being and resilience. The experiential nature of these activities allows teens to process and release emotions, leading to a greater understanding of themselves and their emotions. Moreover, therapy activities for teens foster a positive therapeutic relationship between the therapist and the teenager, cultivating an environment of trust and support essential for growth and healing.
Teenagers often face unique challenges in expressing their emotions and dealing with mental health issues. Engaging in therapeutic activities for teens can provide a safe and effective outlet for teens to explore their feelings, build coping skills, and foster personal growth.
What are fun therapy activities for teens?
Therapy activities for teens encompass a diverse range of approaches that cater to their developmental needs and preferences. These therapy activities for teens can include traditional talk therapy, group therapy, and more interactive or creative methods. The correct choice depends on the individual.
Examples of therapy activities for teens
While understanding the broad categories of creative therapy modalities is helpful, having a few proven examples can really paint a picture of how therapy with teens can be very different than you might think.
The Candy Game
Here’s a sweet way to help teens and adolescents effectively open up about their emotions during sessions. You and the client each get a small bag of M&M’s or Skittles. Make a code that links each color of candy to a certain emotion.
- Red = Angry
- Yellow = Happy
- Blue = Sad
- Green = Jealous
- Orange = Excited
Take turns taking out one piece of candy from your bag, and find which emotion its color corresponds to. Then, share what makes you feel that emotion or a past experience that brought out the feeling in you. Of course, your client gets to eat his or her candy in between turns!
Because a professional is not asking the young adult client a series of direct questions (which could be intimidating), the client may be more likely to engage in an activity like this. A snack is a nice way to break the ice and start building a strong, professional client-therapist rapport.
Gratitude Scavenger Hunt
According to research from Harvard Medical School, expressing gratitude is strongly correlated with greater happiness. It’s a concept frequently targeted in therapy sessions with teenagers because gratitude can lead to positive relationships with others and increased strength in the face of adversity.
But, determining the most effective way to help teenagers identify and express aspects of their life that they are grateful for is not always easy. Asking your client to complete a gratitude scavenger hunt is one way to evoke these feelings!
Your child can look around their room among their personal possessions and outside to complete the scavenger hunt. For example, finding a picture of a friend they are grateful for. Or a favorite piece of clothing that they love to wear.
Incorporating movement and visuals and tapping into the client’s life in this way can be an effective way to work on a concept like gratitude during therapy sessions. If you’re seeing the client in person, he or she can complete the hunt at home and bring it back during the next session.
This is a great activity to complete over a teletherapy session. The client can find and show the therapist things on video that captures their gratitude!
Adolescents and teenagers can benefit from learning how to identify how holding onto anger and other emotions inside of them can lead to problems. In therapy, these clients might work on learning appropriate strategies for expressing anger and emotions and practice using these strategies.
In the exploding balloon activity, the client and the therapist each get a balloon. The therapist asks the client to think of a time or a situation that made them feel angry but do not talk about it. Then the therapist blows some air into a balloon. Then, the client is asked to think of another situation in which they felt anger, and the therapist blows more air into the balloon. This continues until, eventually, the balloon pops.
The talking point for this one is that if we continue to hold onto anger, it can lead to other problems.
Next, repeat the above exercise, and the client gets a balloon. But this time, after the client thinks of something that made him or her angry, he talks about it. As he or she discusses it, ask the client to let a little air out of the balloon. At the end of the exercise, reinforce to the client that the balloon did not pop!
Explain that by letting some of those feelings out (by talking about them, which was represented by letting air out of the balloon), an extreme consequence was avoided.
This engaging, hands-on activity helps young adults understand how holding in feelings like anger can lead to damaging consequences.
Movement and sports can be an effective way to engage active young adults in therapy. Some have trouble sitting still or might open up more in therapy when they are doing something fun - like this talk-it-out basketball game!
Ask the client to help you develop some questions to write on a few index cards. For example, “When was a time when you felt really happy?” and assign a number of points to each card. Use masking tape to tape the cards around the room, with a small basketball hoop in the middle.
Take turns making baskets from different cards. After you answer the question on the card, shoot a basket! This could be modified into a variety of sports; you could toss baseballs or hit ping pong balls. The only limit to modifications are your client’s interests and your imagination!
Hopes and Fears Tree
Art can be an effective mode of expression for young people who are reluctant to share their feelings or thoughts verbally with someone else.
Creating a hopes and fears tree can help your client talk about their goals and uncomfortable feelings like fears that may hold them back from pursuing those goals.
Ask him or her to draw a big tree on a poster board. On the tree leaves, ask your client to write their dreams. Under the tree, your client will draw worms. Have them write their fears on the worms.
Explain to the client that instead of running away from their fears, they can identify, name, and face them. The worms in the picture are actually helpful and fertilize the dream tree to help it grow!
Feel the Beat
Experts in the field of mental health report that music can help with stress relief, emotional well-being, and even identity formation in adolescents.
Help your client create a “Mental Health Playlist”. If you’re doing a teletherapy session, you can screen share a music app. Search for songs that can help match the client’s moods at different times. Clinical therapists recommend ordering the songs to start with difficult emotions (like anger) and progress to more desired emotions (like happiness.
According to experts, music-based activities like this can be helpful for clients who struggle with verbal expression. It can also help build a positive therapeutic relationship because it involves clinicians relating to teens through something they enjoy!
Several studies have proven that yoga can positively affect adolescents and teenagers with anxiety disorders and stress.
Yoga can be considered enjoyable and calming for young adults. If you’re a clinician holding an in-person session, grab a few yoga mats and turn on some soothing music.
Make a Self-Esteem Mirror
Mental health therapists working with adolescents and teens know that helping clients develop a healthy sense of self-esteem is a common focus during sessions.
What is the theory behind this craft? Positive interventions like this can help children who struggle with mental health feel more confident about themselves.
Ask your child to create a personalized mirror for him or herself, adding colors, charms, and words to attach around the mirror that describes them.
A Letter from My Future Self
Here’s another effective activity that can help teenagers express themselves when they might not be able to do so easily through traditional conversation.
You’ll ask the client to imagine the traits they’d like to have and the goals they hope to reach. Next, have him or her picture what advice their future self might give their current self. For example, to keep working hard or stay positive. Guide your client as you help him or her write this advice in the form of a letter (then, they can keep it to look back on later!).
Board games aren’t just fun, they’re a great opportunity to teach some therapeutic skills!
Let your client choose a game from your selection - like Uno and Connect 4. Games like these, which require strategy, help develop impulse control and social thinking skills. The client must consider their opponent’s point of view to win the game. There are a variety of ways to change these games up and add therapeutic sharing activities in them as well.
If you’re in a teletherapy session, many games like these are also available to play virtually!
Creative therapy activities for teens
In addition to games and exercises, creative activities and therapies offer a unique and expressive outlet for teenagers to explore their emotions and inner worlds.
- Art therapy: This involves using various art mediums, such as drawing, painting, and sculpting, to encourage self-expression. Through creating art, teens can communicate their feelings and thoughts, even when words may fail them. This process can be especially beneficial for those who struggle to verbalize their emotions directly.
- Music therapy: This therapy taps into the power of sound and rhythm to facilitate emotional release and self-awareness. Music has a profound impact on our emotions, and for teenagers, it can serve as a source of comfort and validation. Through guided music sessions, teens can explore different genres and songs that resonate with their emotional experiences. Engaging with music in a therapeutic setting allows them to connect with their emotions in a safe and non-judgmental space.
- Drama therapy: Drama therapy utilizes the world of theater and role-playing to help teenagers understand and process complex emotions. Through dramatic exercises and improvisation, teens can step into the shoes of different characters, enabling them to explore various perspectives and emotional states. Drama therapy encourages empathy, self-reflection, and the development of healthy coping mechanisms by allowing teens to embody and express emotions they may find difficult to confront directly.
Incorporating these creative therapy activities for teens into therapy sessions can unlock hidden emotions, provide valuable insights, and foster personal growth for teenagers, making the therapeutic process engaging and transformative.
Watch this video to learn how to engage your clients in teletherapy.
Experiential therapy activities for teens
- Animal-assisted therapy: Animal-assisted therapy introduces teenagers to the healing power of animals, fostering emotional growth and social skills. Interacting with therapy animals like dogs, horses, or dolphins can reduce stress and anxiety, increase self-esteem, and improve communication skills. Animals provide unconditional support and acceptance, creating a safe space for teens to open up and connect on a deeper level, promoting emotional healing and personal growth.
- Outdoor therapy: Outdoor therapy uses the natural environment to provide a unique and serene backdrop for therapeutic interventions with teenagers. Immersing teens in nature can reduce stress, increase mindfulness, and enhance emotional well-being. Therapy activities for teens like hiking, nature walks, and outdoor group exercises facilitate self-discovery, emotional processing, and personal growth within the beauty of the outdoors.
- Adventure therapy: Adventure therapy offers exciting and challenging experiences that push teenagers outside their comfort zones, fostering resilience and teamwork. Participating in outdoor activities like rock climbing, ropes courses, or wilderness expeditions encourages teens to face fears and develop problem-solving skills. The thrill of adventure therapy provides a metaphorical landscape for teens to overcome obstacles, build confidence, and learn valuable life lessons.
Mindfulness-based activities: Meditation and relaxation techniques
- Meditation: Meditation introduces teenagers to mindfulness, which involves focusing their attention on the present moment without judgment. By engaging in regular meditation sessions, teens can learn to manage stress and anxiety more effectively, developing greater self-awareness and emotional regulation. Meditation empowers teens to cultivate a calm and centered mindset, promoting overall mental well-being.
- Relaxation Techniques: Relaxation techniques provide teenagers with practical tools to achieve a state of calm and focus amidst the demands of daily life. These techniques can include deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery. By incorporating relaxation techniques into their routines, teens can reduce stress levels, improve sleep quality, and enhance their ability to cope with challenging situations. These invaluable skills empower teens to find moments of tranquility and self-care in their busy lives.
Adapting therapy activities for teens with special needs
When working with teenagers with disabilities or special needs, therapists must adopt a flexible and individualized approach to therapy activities. Understanding each teen's unique challenges and strengths is essential in creating a supportive and enriching therapeutic experience. The first strategy is to conduct thorough assessments to identify specific needs and preferences. For adolescents with physical disabilities, modifying the therapy activities for teens, the environment or providing adaptive tools may be necessary to ensure full participation. Therapists can tailor the therapy activities for teens to accommodate sensory sensitivities for those with sensory processing challenges, offering calming or stimulating elements based on the teen's sensory preferences.
Ensuring accessibility and inclusivity
Promoting inclusivity and accessibility is paramount in fostering a safe and supportive therapeutic environment for teens with special needs. This involves physical adjustments and embracing a culture of acceptance and understanding. Therapists can actively involve parents, caregivers, and educators to gain insights into the teen's experiences beyond the therapy setting. Encouraging open communication and collaboration among all stakeholders helps create a holistic approach to supporting the teen's emotional growth and well-being. Additionally, therapists should employ a wide range of therapy activities for teens that accommodate diverse abilities, ensuring that everyone feels valued and included in the therapeutic process.
Occupational therapy and specialized therapies
Occupational therapy and other specialized therapies can play a crucial role in supporting teenagers with special needs. Occupational therapists can assess the teen's functional abilities and provide interventions to enhance their daily living skills and independence. They can collaborate with the therapeutic team to tailor therapy activities for teens that align with the individual’s goals.
Furthermore, specialized therapies such as art, music, and animal-assisted therapy can be adapted and integrated into the teen's treatment plan to address their unique challenges. These therapies offer alternative self-expression, emotional regulation, and skill-building pathways, ensuring that teens with special needs can fully benefit from the therapeutic experience.
Therapy activities for teens can effectively support emotional growth and well-being. By incorporating game play, creative and experiential approaches, therapists can foster a safe and engaging therapeutic space for teens to explore and express their emotions, build resilience, and develop essential coping skills. Adapting therapy activities for teens with special needs further ensures that therapy remains accessible and beneficial for all.
Looking for more resources you can use working with teens and adolescents? Check out our library of free PDF worksheets and handouts in the TheraPlatform resource center.
TheraPlatform, an all-in-one EHR, practice management and teletherapy tool can help you store, manage and implement games and activities with clients. They offer a 30-day, free trial with no credit card required. Cancel anytime.
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