Family therapy is a form of group counselling for family members and, sometimes, close friends and business partners. Family therapists design their therapy sessions to help ease the tension in rocky family situations by improving patients’ communication skills, helping them set boundaries, and teaching them to open up emotionally.
It’s challenging for therapists to achieve such lofty goals in every session. But many of them make the job easier for themselves and their patients by introducing a series of family therapy activities. Therapists design these activities to encourage conversation and heavy emotional sharing.
Family therapy activities are easily learnable, and many of them feel and sound like light-hearted games. That way, the intended purpose of opening up and speaking with open honesty is easier for those who might struggle.
But not all family therapy activities are the same. While many share similar traits and desired outcomes, others are for different goals and types of people. So, before signing up for family therapists, it’s vital to know the most common types of family therapy activities and what you can expect from each.
The Miracle Question
The primary goal and function of the miracle question are simple: You and the other members of your session will illustrate your dreams and plans for the future. Your therapist will start this exercise by asking you to answer a question similar to “If you were granted a miracle and could make any of your wildest aspirations come true, what would you do?”
While the premise of the miracle question is fantastical, the purpose often produces real and beneficial results. Once everyone shares what they’re hoping for from their lives and familial relationships, the others will understand how they can best support those goals.
The Coloured Candy-Go-Round
The coloured candy-go-round is designed to get family members thinking critically and affectionately about one another. For this exercise, you will need a bag of coloured candies with roughly five distinct colours; people often use Skittles.
Your therapist will then assign each colour a discussion prompt and hand each session member a pre-determined amount of candies at random. You will need to respond to the prompts based on what colour candy you receive and do so for every candy you have.
For example, if you receive a red candy and the discussion prompt is “Describe one of your favourite family memories,” you will need to answer that question for however many red candies you have.
Many therapists will also include more challenging questions. For example, you might have to answer prompts about what you believe needs to change in your family dynamic or what behavioural patterns your family could adjust to meet your emotional needs better.
The Emotions Beach Ball
For this exercise, your therapist will write a range of emotions on a beach ball and have the members of your therapy session sit in a circle toss it to one another. The member who receives the ball will then have to describe a family memory associated with whichever emotion is facing them when they catch the ball.
For example, if you catch the ball and the first emotion you see is “sad,” you will need to describe a time you remember being sad in a family setting. The goal of the emotions beach ball is to help family members communicate their feelings and give one another a sense of the life experiences they need to thrive and which ones are detrimental to their mental health.
The Feelings Walk
The feelings walk is similar to musical chairs, with the added twist of helping participants share their feelings and learn more about one another.
For this family therapy activity, your therapist will arrange a circle of sticky notes with different feelings written on them. You and your family then walk around the circle with music playing and sit in front of whatever note you’re closest to when it stops. You will then read the feeling out loud, and your family members will respond with a memory they have associated with it.
The Sharing Hot Potato
The sharing hot potato requires more pace and critical thinking than all the other family therapy activities and is often one of the most fun and light-hearted due to those requirements.
In this activity, you will quickly toss a ball between your family members while music plays, like a game of hot potato. If you’re holding the ball when the music stops, you have to share a memory based on a topic determined before the game.
Since the sharing hot potato is more fun than many other family therapy activities, the topics and memories that come up are often less emotionally heavy. That way, your family can reconnect over a game that often gets the group laughing.
The Mirroring Exercise
In the mirroring exercise, two family members will stand up and face each other. One member will lead the activity, moving their arms and legs randomly, while the other member’s job is to copy their movements as closely as possible.
The point of the mirroring exercise is to get the pair thinking on the same page. While this activity often looks and feels silly, the laughter it brings can reconnect family members who have fallen out of sync.
What Successful Family Therapy Activities Accomplish
Family therapy isn’t always a light-hearted experience. Often, it is emotionally gruelling but sometimes necessary to reconnect emotionally distant family members. Family therapy activities like those listed above are ways to achieve that reconnection while injecting some fun into the process.
Family therapy games can teach family members about one another’s life ambitions, relationship concerns, and mental health issues, all while strengthening honest communication skills in the process. But the most significant benefit is that family members achieve those goals in physically engaging ways that get people laughing. Sometimes, laughter is the best way to remind two emotionally distant family members that there is still happiness hidden in their relationship.