Group Psychotherapy Column

Semi-structured termination exercises: A compilation from the Groups in College Counseling Centers Listserv

Last year a question was posed to the Groups in College Counseling Centers Listserv asking for exercises to do at termination with groups.
By Leann Terry, PhD

Leann Terry, PhD Last year a question was posed to the Groups in College Counseling Centers Listserv asking for exercises to do at termination with groups. Below are the compiled responses. Following the responses is further information about this listserv and ways to subscribe.

Reflection Questions

Personal Reactions/Experiences of the Group

  • What has it been like being a member of this group?

  • What has been the most helpful (and least helpful) about being in this group?

  • What have you learned about yourself or what have you learned about how others view you?

  • As you take a moment and reflect on all the group sessions, what were some of the most significant/memorable moments for your? What are some of the moments that had the most meaning for you?

  • Is there anything you have not said that you might regret leaving unsaid?

Feelings Regarding Termination

  • What are some of the different feelings people are having about this group ending?

  • What kind of feelings are you having about the members leaving the group?

  • What are some of the reactions people have to have new group members next term? 

Member Feedback

My fear for you is that ________?

My hope for you is that ________?

What I'd like for you to remember most is _______?

The Five Questions

What I like to do is usually a repeat of what I have done for a structured activity at the initial session. I call them "The Five Questions." They are not as scary as the title but they create here and now emotional relating. We do this for the first session as they introduce themselves and then again at termination. Here they are:

  1. How do you feel about being here, now?

  2. How do you feel about yourself now?

  3. What brought you here?

  4. What do you want to get out of being here?

  5. How do you feel about another person here?

The last question I make them pick one person. They are not allowed to say, "I think everyone is great." Every person will individually go through the five questions. During this time the co-leader and I will make bridging comments to connect to others emotionally in session. We do this at the first session and at termination to talk about progress or areas of growth that might still remain. With a group of 7 members and two co-leaders it takes about 45–60 minutes to go through. We completed the questions too. This helps model participation and how to answer the questions.

The Gift Exercise

Think of a gift that you have received from each member (including the leader[s]). These can be things like hope, courage, laughter, an understanding of another's particular perspective etc. Then, think of a gift you would like to give each member.  These are usually metaphoric or symbolic—a magic mirror to see yourself as you really are, a trip to Disney Land to play with your inner child, a dog, a funny movie and so on. We explain this the week before and ask group members to think about this over the week and come in with a list but it has worked all right when it has been done "cold." We go around the room. Each person gives their gift to the individual member who has volunteered to receive feedback. And, then each member talks about the gift they received from the member receiving the feedback. The person receiving the feedback responds and then you move on to another member.... in my group, I always include the leaders in the exercise.

Hope & Appreciation List

We do a hope and appreciate list. Send around a sheet with the words hope on one side and appreciation on the other. We have the sheets circulate through the group and have each member write something there. We remind them that this will be the last experience with that person so real feedback would continue to be helpful to that person in the future. After it goes around, we have the members read what was written and then have them add one hope and one appreciation for themselves. Members usually like it as they have something to take with them.

Rocks & Shells Activity

I get a number of rocks and shells prior to last session. When the clients enter the room, the items are all spread across a table. I also have short little glasses (we called them juice glasses in my family) and sand on the table. Each member gets a glass and fills it partway with sand. Then members are instructed to select a rock or a shell for each of the other members in the group. Once this is done, one member volunteers to pass her/his glass along the circle and all other members say something about her/him as they put the rock or shell in the glass. Members can voice positive attributes they noticed, recall things from group about the person they will remember, or voice hopes/wishes for the group member. The Group leader also participates, but does not select an item for the glass (optional). After all members and the leader have spoken about the person, the member speaks about what participating in the group has meant to her/him and what she/he got out of participating. At this time, the member is instructed to select a rock or shell for her/himself. This process can take some time, so you may need to set time limits to get it completed within your time-limits. You may want to bring "press and Seal" or zip-loc baggies for the students to get their sand/ rocks/shells home without spilling. Many members shed tears as the other member speaks about them and as they speak about their own growth over the semester. I have done this for two years and it is a touching ending to a group, marks personal growth, and a way to say goodbye. 

The Web Activity

I like to do the "web" activity in which I bring a skein of yarn and one person starts by holding one end and then passing it to another group member, telling them how they have impacted them positively throughout group. That member then loops the yarn around  their finger and passes the skein of yarn to someone else and so on until each person has both given and received feedback from every person (including group leader [s]). At the end, each person in turn uses a pair of scissors to cut the area of the web around them, so that they can have a tangible reminder of all the positive ways in which they impacted others and were impacted.

Symbolic Gifts I

This activity is done by having each group member bring a symbolic gift for every other member of the group, including one for themselves. (Usually they have a paper with the gifts written down which they share orally withthe whole group). The leaders also bring symbolic gifts for each group member. The symbolic gifts are something they think the group member could use or something to symbolize their work. We emphasize that no money should be spent and that it is helpful to use one's imagination as much as possible. Gifts given today included: a badge of courage like the cowardly lion received, a magic mirror to help one see inside and get in touch with their feelings, a megaphone to speak into so others can clearly hear and know them better, and also a letter read aloud that they should have received from their mom expressing love and appreciation. We take turns giving each group member a gift from each group member consecutively so they can hear a theme emerge as the gifts are given. The group member then responds to the gifts and feedback given. This takes our entire last group session. The members are told about this at least the week before so they come to group ready to share their gifts. It is a powerful exercise and shows how well group members are heard, understood and cared about.

Symbolic Gifts II

I have been in groups where participants are asked to bring a "gift" to each member, explaining that we mean feedback or a wish. Several times, a group member has chosen instead to make a CD of music that is personally meaningful to her for every other group member. It has been touching. A friend showed me a beautiful journal book that an artist member made for every group member when she was terminating.

Reviewing Goals

In many of my groups in an early session we write a summary of each member's stated goals, and how they might get in their own way of meeting these goals, on a piece of large newsprint. We frequently refer to the posted goals during sessions. When members are formulating their goals, the cofacilitators ask, "Would you like feedback if group members see you doing this?" or "What feedback from group members would be helpful to you?" (Facilitators take down the list of goals after each session and put them up at the next session.) At the last session we invite group members to think about how they have changed, either in terms of their stated goals or other ways. Other group members are invited to share the changes they have seen. Cofacilitatorsjoin in on sharing perceived changes. Sometimes we have done this in conjunction with the notecards exercise below. That takes up the entire session.

Note Cards With Wishes, Memories, or Feedback

We often distribute 4 x 5 note cards the week before termination and ask group members to write for every other group member either a memory from group, a piece of positive feedback, or a wish for that group member. (You can offer them the alternative on writing on notecards of their choosing.) Towards the end of the last session, participants distribute their cards to each other, so that each person ends up with 5–7 note cards with something positive to take with them. I like to give them a week to work on this, because it is harder to think of things for some group members than for others. Cofacilitators haven't participated in this exercise. I hesitate to have people read these aloud because some group members may compare feedback and experience a repetition of a painful experience of being less "popular" than peers. However, I could see doing this aloud in the next to the last session and asking group members to talk about their experience during the exercise. You'd have one more session to bring closure to the group.

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