The practice of counseling is full of exercises, role-play, and metaphors.
By wielding the power of experiential learning and analogy through such activities, counselors can help their clients discover the keys to lasting happiness and wellbeing.
As a counselor, there’s no need to develop tools such as these in a bubble. Rather, you can draw on the collective imagination of the positive psychology community.
To this end, this post will outline 25 useful counseling activities touching on a range of themes, including self-image and grief. We’ll also point you toward activities suitable for both children and adults and suggest how you may leverage activities using both in-person and virtual modalities to help your clients see greater benefits from your counseling.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.
This Article Contains:
- 9 Best Counseling Activities for Adults
- 3 Activities for Kids & Adolescents
- Therapy Activities for Group Counselors
- 3 Ideas & Activities for Counseling Termination
- Virtual Counseling: 3 Activities for Online Sessions
- Best Software for Sending Activities to Clients
- Counseling Resources From PositivePsychology.com
- A Take-Home Message
9 Best Counseling Activities for Adults
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to counseling, experienced counselors will begin to recognize common complaints and themes expressed by their clients. Once such a theme has been identified, the counselor may then invite their clients to investigate it further using experiential or reflective activities.
To illustrate, let’s look at three common themes that may arise in therapy and useful activities that correspond to each.
As you read on, you’ll notice several of the activities are available through the online counseling app, Quenza. This app is an all-in-one platform developed by the founders of PositivePsychology.com in collaboration with the wider positive psychology community to bring you and your clients the best in science-backed positive psychology interventions and exercises.
If you’re interested, be sure to check out the activities for yourself by taking advantage of Quenza’s 30-day trial for just $1.
3 Activities for perfectionism
Perfectionism is having
“high standards of performance which are accompanied by tendencies for overly critical evaluations of one’s own behavior.”
Frost, Marten, Lahart, and Rosenblate, 1990, p. 540
Rates of perfectionism are increasing, particularly among younger generations (Curran & Hill, 2019). This rise in perfectionism among young people is suspected to be due to the ease with which they can compare themselves to their peers using modern technologies and metrics, such as with social media and college GPA scores.
Considering these findings, counselors exploring themes of perfectionism with their clients may find value in the following activities:
- From Inner Critic to Coach Mediation (available on Quenza)
This 10-minute meditation walks your clients through the steps to transform their harsh “inner critic” into an encouraging “inner coach” who can guide them in their times of need.
- A Letter of Self-Compassion (available on Quenza)
Help your client remember that although they may not be perfect, they are still worthy of love by inviting them to write a letter to themselves from the perspective of a kind, compassionate friend.
- Catching Your Critic (free worksheet)
Too much negative self-talk, spurred by perfectionism, will often wear down our self-esteem (McKay & Fanning, 2016). This worksheet will train your clients in the vigilance required to “catch” critical thoughts by inviting them to write them down and systematically explore their effects on behavior.
3 Best activities for coping with grief
While losing someone you care about is difficult under any circumstances, some people experience more significant challenges when grieving than others. The experience of emotional distress that does not pass following a loss is known as complicated grief.
Complicated grief occurs when we experience
“feelings of loss [that] are debilitating and don’t improve even after time passes.”
Mayo Clinic, 2021
The following are three activities that may help your clients steadily work through the grieving process and adjust to their new reality without their loved one:
- The Life Certificate (available on Quenza)
In this exercise, clients will create a digital life certificate to honor the memory of the deceased and the relationship they shared.
- Grief Sentence Completion Task (free worksheet)
This worksheet presents clients with a series of sentence completion tasks. The prompts encourage clients to access their feelings and thoughts in the present moment, facilitating further inquiry and self-investigation surrounding their grief.
- How I Can Reshape My Future (free worksheet)
This worksheet invites clients to imagine how they might live their life in a way that both brings them happiness and would put a smile on the face of their lost love one.
3 Relationship therapy activities
Upheaval within an intimate relationship, such as infidelity, conflict, or divorce/separation, is one of the most commonly cited reasons people seek out relationship counseling (Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors, 2010).
No matter the specific challenges a relationship faces, the common threads of ineffective communication and weakened trust are often at their core.
With this in mind, here are three broadly applicable activities you can use to support your clients in relationship therapy:
- Marital Conflict Questionnaire (free worksheet)
This worksheet invites clients to note common conflicts in their relationship and the circumstances surrounding them as a means to explore and resolve them.
- From My Way – No, My Way to OUR Way (free worksheet)
This worksheet is a template clients can use to explore and renegotiate responsibilities and expectations in a relationship. This is achieved by asking questions such as, “What needs to be done to ‘clean’ a kitchen after dinner?” By documenting both partners’ views, a pair can then settle on a mutually agreed-upon approach to carrying out tasks.
- Gratitude in Romantic Relationships (available on Quenza)
This activity invites clients to explore the positive characteristics they associate with their partner, as well as times they have seen these qualities in action. By doing this and then communicating their observations, clients may experience renewed fondness and admiration for their partner.
3 Activities for Kids & Adolescents
So far, we’ve explored a range of counseling activities applicable to challenges commonly faced by adults.
Now we’ll consider common themes of counseling with children, followed by applicable activities.
According to Benedict and Mongoven (1997), experts on the topic of play therapy, the major themes that may surface when counseling children will center around one of three themes:
These themes, and the potential for a child to express challenges within them, tend to flow from the quality and strength of attachments children experienced or continue to experience with primary caregivers.
For instance, imagine a young child who is quick to display fearfulness when presented with unfamiliar stimuli, such as a room full of unknown children. Once frightened, this child cannot be easily calmed down.
According to the principles of attachment theory, this child may have lacked a strong figure of safety or stability, perhaps due to neglect. Lacking this sense of safety, they may possess a learned reluctance to venture out, be curious, and explore, too overwhelmed by feelings of insecurity and the lack of a sense of ‘home base’ to which they can return (Bowlby, 2012).
Lacking this safe place, the child learns it is best not to venture out, for fear that they will be hurt and have no one come to their aid. It is clear to see how early developmental experiences can shape a child’s responses to the world and the trust they bring to their interactions with others.
Cleverly designed counseling activities can help children and teenagers ‘unlearn’ these tendencies rooted in attachment by encouraging them to reexamine and challenge their automatic thoughts.
Here are three activities that tap into Benedict and Mongoven’s (1997) three core themes.
- Bubbling Over (free worksheet)
This worksheet uses the metaphor of a boiling pot to help kids understand coping skills they can use to manage stress, anger, and anxiety.
- Drawing Your Fears (free worksheet)
This worksheet invites a child to label and draw a situation that is scaring them or causing them to worry. They are then asked to draw future possibilities that may flow from this scenario, helping to get their expectations on paper and facilitate discussion.
- Wanting to Be Heard in an Interpersonal Relationship (free worksheet)
This reference tool can help both parents and adolescents have constructive conversations by inviting them to reflect on best-practice tips they can apply to their own communication.
Therapy Activities for Group Counselors
While many counseling activities are designed to be completed by individuals or one-on-one with a therapist, others can be undertaken during group therapy.
Such activities can serve many purposes depending on the aims of the group, such as decreasing stress, teaching interpersonal strategies, or improving self-image.
Here are three ideas to try in your next group therapy session:
- Diaphragmatic/Belly Breathing (available on Quenza)
Consider beginning your group session by having your clients do a gentle diaphragmatic breathing exercise. This 10-minute guided exercise will help focus your clients’ attention, quiet racing thoughts, and relax their unconscious minds in preparation for the session.
- What I See in YOU (free worksheet)
This group exercise boosts self-esteem by giving group participants insight into the wonderful qualities their fellow group members perceive in them. Participants are then encouraged to repeat these statements back to themselves, treating themselves with the same warmth as their peers.
- Empathy Bingo (free worksheet)
This worksheet uses a bingo grid to help group clients practice differentiating between empathy and other responses they may have during dialog with others, including sympathizing, correcting, or one-upping.
3 Ideas & Activities for Counseling Termination
Uncertainty and anxiety often surround the process of terminating counseling. For instance, both the therapist and client may question when it is appropriate to end therapy, who should decide, and how termination should occur (Knox et al., 2011).
To help, here are three resources and activities to help you guide the process:
- End of Therapy Evaluation (available on Quenza)
To continue improving your care, you may wish to get feedback from your clients about how they experienced their sessions with you. This standardized form will allow your clients to give feedback on your skills and their overall relationship with you.
- The Wheel of Life (available on Quenza)
Commonly used in coaching, the Wheel of Life provides a holistic assessment of a client’s satisfaction across the different domains of their life. It can provide a valuable snapshot of a client’s progress toward the end of the therapeutic relationship, particularly when administered both before and after the commencement of therapy.
- Willingness, Goals, and Action Plan (free worksheet)
This worksheet guides your client through the process of setting a goal, developing an action plan to pursue it, and anticipating hurdles to goal achievement. This goal-setting process can set clients up to continue working toward therapeutic goals independently following the termination of counseling sessions.
Virtual Counseling: 3 Activities for Online Sessions
If you conduct virtual sessions with clients, either one-on-one or in groups, check out the following three activities on Quenza, which can seamlessly translate to an online lesson using your preferred video therapy tool’s screen-sharing features.
Each activity incorporates a series of reflection exercises and prompts that clients can complete independently after the session, with the therapist, or even in breakout rooms with peers.
- The Unwanted Guest (available on Quenza)
This lesson uses the metaphor of a pleasant or unpleasant guest ringing our doorbell to help clients understand their different reactions to positive and negative emotions, encouraging them to be open to both.
- Resolving Jealousy Using the Camera Lens Metaphor (available on Quenza)
In this lesson, you will use the metaphor of a camera lens to help your clients understand and decrease their experience of jealousy in daily life.
- The Chessboard Metaphor (available on Quenza)
This lesson draws on the metaphor of a chessboard to help clients understand internal wars being waged between positive and negative thoughts from a place of mindfulness and neutrality.
Best Software for Sending Activities to Clients
You’ll note that many of the activities we’ve explored so far have been drawn from the online counseling tool Quenza.
Quenza features a vast and ever-growing library of preprogrammed activities, rooted in best practices and designed in collaboration with the positive psychology community.
However, Quenza is more than a library. Quenza is an all-in-one tool that allows you to quickly and seamlessly send activities directly to your clients’ iOS or Android devices, giving clients the flexibility to complete activities on their phone or tablet.
This also saves you time and money printing handouts and booklets.
Any activity that you select for your client can be sent according to preprogrammed schedules or in sequences with other activities. That way, you can take your clients through a tailored pathway involving learning, reflection, and application.
Importantly, Quenza gives you the flexibility to send activities not only according to preprogrammed schedules, but also based on client groups.
For instance, in just a few clicks, you can sort all your participants in a weekly psychotherapy group into a virtual group. From here, you can then send pre-reading, post-session reading, or any other activities to all participants of this group.
If these features sound useful to you, be sure to check out Quenza for yourself by signing up for a 30-day trial for just $1.
Counseling Resources From PositivePsychology.com
If you’ve found these resources valuable, consider diving into the Positive Psychology Toolkit©, which features over 370 worksheets and exercises you can download and start using immediately.
Here are just a few of the resources you’ll find in the toolkit, touching on some of the themes we’ve explored so far, including grief, relationships, family, and the inner critic:
- Journaling Through Grief in 40 Days
This comprehensive and comforting activity presents clients with journaling prompts and quotes that progress through different grieving stages, helping clients take time to explore their difficult emotions and pay tribute to the deceased.
- Building the 5 Rituals of Connection
This in-depth intervention invites a couple to create a sense of shared meaning and strengthen an existing emotional bond by deliberately and consistently devoting five hours per week to rituals of connection.
- Family Strength Spotting
This activity invites the members of a family to complete the VIA Inventory of Strengths (or VIA-Youth) and then consider how these strengths may be leveraged to create a more cohesive family unit.
- Self-Critic Job Description
This activity is designed to help your clients gain some distance from their inner self-critic by exploring its role as though it were executing a set of responsibilities in a job description.
- 17 Positive Psychology Exercises
If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others enhance their wellbeing, this signature collection contains 17 validated positive psychology tools for practitioners. Use them to help others flourish and thrive.
A Take-Home Message
No matter the demographic you serve, there is no shortage of activities out there to support you in providing better care as a counselor.
Likewise, whether you’re looking for activities for clients to complete on their own, with you, or together with peers as part of a group session, there are many pre-developed materials you can adapt for the job.
We’ve only scratched the surface here in terms of tools, exercises, and worksheets you can use to provide better counseling and care. We invite you to dive into our blog and read more articles in which we share additional counseling activities.
If you find an activity particularly useful, let us know how you’ve used it in the comments – we’d love to hear from you.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.
- Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors. (2010, October 13). 7 Common relationship challenges. Retrieved from https://www.aipc.net.au/articles/7-common-relationship-challenges/
- Benedict, H. E., & Mongoven, L. B. (1997). Thematic play therapy: An approach to treatment of attachment disorders in young children. In H. G. Kaduson, D. Cangelosi, & C. E. Schaefer (Eds.), The playing cure: Individualized play therapy for specific childhood problems (pp. 277–315). Aronson.
- Bowlby, J. (2012). A secure base: Clinical applications of attachment theory. Routledge.
- Curran, T., & Hill, A. P. (2019). Perfectionism is increasing over time: A meta-analysis of birth cohort differences from 1989 to 2016. Psychological Bulletin, 145(4), 410–429.
- Frost, R. O., Marten, P., Lahart, C., & Rosenblate, R. (1990). The dimensions of perfectionism. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 14(5), 449–468.
- Knox, S., Adrians, N., Everson, E., Hess, S., Hill, C., & Crook-Lyon, R. (2011). Clients’ perspectives on therapy termination. Psychotherapy Research, 21(2), 154–167.
- Mayo Clinic. (2021, June 19). Complicated grief. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/complicated-grief/symptoms-causes/syc-20360374
- McKay, M., & Fanning, P. (2016). Self-esteem. New Harbinger.