21 Group Therapy Activities for PTSD and Trauma

When someone is looking into mental health treatment for trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder, there are a variety of factors that should be taken into consideration. This includes cost, frequency of visits, and if it could improve their mental health symptoms. Group therapy is typically more affordable than individual therapy sessions which can be an appealing factor to many. Group therapy sessions can vary in frequency, however, groups for individuals with PTSD can occur on a weekly basis. Groups for PTSD and trauma can focus on a specific treatment modality, such as DBT or CPT, which are empirically supported approaches for these mental health concerns. Keep reading for 21 PTSD and trauma group therapy activities for your clients.

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Why Group Therapy?

Group therapy is a form of psychotherapy where a trained therapist facilitates a therapeutic session involving a small group of individuals who share similar emotional or psychological concerns. These group sessions provide a supportive and confidential environment for participants to discuss their challenges, express their feelings, and gain insights into their own experiences and behaviors. Group therapy can focus on various issues, such as anxiety, depression, addiction, grief, or interpersonal difficulties. Through interaction and feedback from both the therapist and other group members, individuals can develop coping strategies, enhance self-awareness, and build a sense of belonging, ultimately promoting personal growth and emotional healing within the context of a supportive community.

Group therapy offers several benefits that make it a valuable and effective approach for addressing a wide range of emotional and psychological concerns:

  1. Support and Connection: Group therapy provides a sense of belonging and support. Participants realize they are not alone in their struggles, which can reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness.
  2. Diverse Perspectives: Group therapy exposes individuals to diverse perspectives and experiences. Hearing from others who have faced similar challenges can provide valuable insights and alternative viewpoints for problem-solving.
  3. Feedback and Validation: Group members can offer feedback and validation, helping individuals gain a better understanding of their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  4. Normalization: Participants often find relief in realizing that their experiences and emotions are common human responses to difficulties. This normalization can reduce shame and self-criticism.
  5. Social Skills: Group therapy allows individuals to practice and improve social skills, such as communication, active listening, empathy, and conflict resolution, in a safe and supportive environment.
  6. Cost-Effective: Group therapy is often more cost-effective than individual therapy, making mental health support more accessible to a wider range of people.
  7. Experiential Learning: Through group dynamics, individuals can learn about themselves and their interpersonal patterns in real-time, which can be highly insightful and transformative.
  8. Peer Accountability: Group members can provide encouragement and gentle accountability for personal growth and positive change.
  9. Generalization of Skills: Skills learned in group therapy can be more readily applied to real-life situations and interactions with family, friends, and colleagues.
  10. Increased Motivation: Sharing progress and setbacks with a group can boost motivation to work on personal goals and make positive changes.
  11. Confidentiality: Group therapy is conducted in a confidential setting, ensuring that what is shared within the group remains private.
  12. Efficiency: Group therapy allows therapists to work with multiple clients simultaneously, making it an efficient way to provide therapy services.

Group therapy is an effective tool to help your clients. Keep reading to learn specific activities that can help your clients in a group therapy session.

How Does Group Therapy Help Individuals with PTSD and Trauma?

There are a variety of benefits that clients can experience with PTSD group therapy activities. Here are a few benefits of group therapy for clients struggling with PTSD and trauma:

Sense of Validation

Group therapy can provide group members with a sense of validation, regardless of what brought them together. This benefit can occur in any group setting, when given the right environment. Validation can help individuals see that they are not alone, and give them the opportunity to learn from others who have experienced similar challenges. Counselors can use group therapy activities to normalize trauma and subsequent challenges group members experience.

Learning from Others

Learning from others is another benefit of participating in a PTSD group. The PTSD and trauma group therapy activities listed on this blog can help explore what has worked for group members, and what hasn’t. Helping others with their struggles can also be a rewarding benefit to participating in PTSD group therapy.

Social Support

Group therapy can also provide social support that group members may not be receiving elsewhere. Individuals who are living with PTSD may find themselves withdrawing from social events and their interpersonal relationships. Social support can have a positive impact on our lives, including our overall mental health. As an example, Counselors can use unique group activities for teen trauma groups. Having a customized approach to your group sessions allows you to focus on the needs of your group members. 

List of Group Therapy Activities for Clients with PTSD and Trauma

Group therapy activities can be an effective tool for treating clients with PTSD and trauma. Group activities can provide education and promote group engagement among group members. Below you can find a list of 21 group therapy activities that can be used with clients in a PTSD or trauma group setting.

  1. As a follow-up to learning about cognitive distortions, spend time discussing the process of thought challenging. Ask the group for examples of cognitive distortions they experience, and walk through a healthy thought challenge by looking for evidence supporting the thoughts and evaluating their accuracy.
  2. Ask the group members to write a letter to themselves when they are struggling. This letter can include encouragement, suggestions for coping skills, or other helpful comments. Members can keep the letters in a safe place to review when they find themselves struggling.
  3. Ask the group to think of a song that they relate to for the next group session. Allow time to listen to the song in the group session, followed by the group member sharing how they identify with the song. Time can be spent talking about the use of music as a coping skill for uncomfortable and distressing emotions.
  4. Develop and play a jeopardy game that focuses on helpful topics such as mindfulness, coping skills, social supports, and healthy behaviors.
  5. Express feelings through art therapy exercises. Group members can engage in art therapy exercises, such as drawing or painting, to express their emotions and experiences in a nonverbal way. This can help individuals access their feelings and gain insight into their trauma.
  6. Provide group members with a worksheet that identifies the different ways emotions can impact our bodies. As an example, someone may feel nauseous when they’re disappointed or weak if they’re feeling abandoned. Ask the group to share what they identify with, and review different coping skills that can be used to cope with their emotions.
  7. Provide group members with a worksheet that is used to identify a crisis plan. This can include identifying known triggers, useful coping skills, helpful boundaries, healthy distractions, safe supports in their life, emergency hotline numbers, and other resources that can be used in moments of distress.
  8. Provide the group members with the materials needed to create a “self-esteem bucket”. Group members should identify what builds their self-esteem, such as enjoyable activities and self-care practices. Ask the group to identify what drains their bucket; examples include unhealthy relationships, negative self-talk, poor boundaries, etc. Follow up with a discussion about what changes could be made to decrease the number of drains they have.
  9. Provide the group with a large list of emotion regulation skills, or coping skills. Ask them to identify 5 skills that are helpful, and 5 new behaviors they will try to use before their next session when distressed. Allow for time to review their experience in the next group session.
  10. Provide the group with materials needed to develop a self-care plan that addresses their mental health, physical health, emotional health, and spiritual health needs. Ask the group to identify 2 new behaviors that they can engage in to promote self-care before the next group session. Allow for time to follow up in their next session.
  11. Provide the group with the materials needed to create a drawing that shows what a safe space looks like for the group members. This can be a real place, or a fictional location. Direct group members to identify characteristics that are linked to their five senses so that grounding skills can be used to help them envision being in their safe place (sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and touch). Spend time talking about how envisioning their safe space can help cope with emotional distress.
  12. Spend time discussing cognitive distortions, and normalize their existence in our day-to-day life. Ask the group to identify cognitive distortions they experience, and how it impacts their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  13. Spend time discussing the benefits of mindfulness. Focus on meditation practices, and allow time to walk the group through various meditation practices such as a grounding exercise and a progressive muscle relaxation exercise. Spend time processing group members’ experiences and if they see themselves using these practices.
  14. Spend time discussing the differences between thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and events. Educate the group about how they are intertwined and impact each other. Provide the group with a list that includes all four, and spend time differentiating which is which.
  15. Spend time talking about different healthy and unhealthy coping skills. As an example, healthy coping skills can include talking to a friend, playing a game, or painting. Unhealthy coping skills can include yelling or screaming, threatening others, and engaging in reckless behaviors. Ask group members to identify one unhealthy coping skill that they would be willing to try replacing over the next week. Allow for time to follow up in later group sessions to assess progress.
  16. Spend time talking about positive reframing. Group members are asked to identify self-sabotaging thoughts, and work together to create a positive reframe.
  17. Spend time talking about the use of breathing exercises as an emotion regulation skill. Allow time for group members to practice different breathing skills, such as box breathing. Spend time processing group members’ experiences and if they see themselves using these practices.
  18. Spend time talking about the use of grounding skills as an emotion regulation skill. After talking about it, ask the group to identify something in their environment that they are experiencing in regard to their senses (sight, touch, hearing, smell, and taste). Explore how this practice can be applied to their own struggles.
  19. Spend time reviewing the “PAUSE” skill and explore its use as a de-escalation skill.
      • “P”- Paying attention to our body, thoughts, and feelings
      • “A”- Assessing what is activating our responses
      • “U”- Understand the roots of our feelings
      • “S”- Set boundaries, separate, and ensure safety
      • “E”- Empathise with those involved
  1. Provide the group with materials needed to create a “Tree of life”. Group members can be encouraged to decorate their tree to represent the different areas of their life. Allow for time to explore each member’s tree. Topics within this activity can include:
      • Tree roots: can be used to identify their roots and where they came from
      • Ground: Can include their current life (important loved ones, interests, favorite place to be, etc.)
      • Trunk- Their strengths and skills that help them when they struggle
      • Branches- Their goals and hopes for the future
      • Storm clouds- Challenges they experience
  1. When you begin your group, have group members participate in a check-in. This can include rating how they feel on a scale from 1-10 regarding their mental health at that moment, and answering a thoughtful question. Additionally, group members can ask for time to talk in the group session. Examples of questions are:
      • Tell us a healthy risk you took this week
      • Tell us about a time you were happy (at any point)
      • What is the scariest, or hardest, part of being in this group?
      • Describe yourself in three words

Final Thoughts on Selecting Group Therapy Activities for Your Clients with Past Trauma

Thank you for reading this resource on 21 Group Therapy Activities for PTSD and Trauma. Group therapy activities for PTSD provide counselors with an opportunity to have an engaging and educational group session. As an example, if you recognize that group members are struggling to cope with distress, establish or maintain healthy boundaries, or engage in self-care practices, you can tailor your group activities to focus on these topics. 

For counselors who prefer to use handouts to guide their group activities, online resources such as our Trauma Worksheets can provide you with informational handouts that can support you while you facilitate your PTSD group therapy activities.

While individual therapy is commonly used for clients who struggle with PTSD, it can be beneficial for clients to engage in group therapy. Together, group members can establish a safe, supportive, and encouraging environment where they can grow together as they work towards living their best life.

TherapyPatron.com helps mental health professionals better serve their clients. Our (editable, fillable, printable PDF) therapy worksheets can help you streamline your practice, effectively deliver different types of therapy, and help your clients be their best selves.

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Kayla VanGuilder, MA, LCMHC
Author: Kayla VanGuilder, MA, LCMHC

Kayla is a Mental Health Counselor who earned her degree from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York. She has provided psychotherapy in a residential treatment program and an outpatient addiction treatment facility in New York as well as an inpatient addiction rehab in Ontario, Canada. She has experience working with individuals living with a variety of mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and trauma.

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