Sunday, August 14, 2011

Adolescent Group: Failure and Success of the Week

The way groups at my new place of employment work are like this: we have a curriculum that lasts two weeks which covers a single concept. We have groups completely written out for us, but nobody uses them, because we are allowed to wander away from recommendations as long as the kids somehow know how to define the concept at the end of two weeks. At first, I thought two weeks (four groups) for each kid was way too much time to cover a single idea, but I am seeing that my guys do better with repetition, so I am learning to slow down with them.

This past week we started "red flag warning signs." The goal is that the guys will know internal versus external warning signs that precede acting out behavior. I wrote up activities to cover the topic, such as artistic representation of internal warming signs, making comic books of external warning signs, dramatic reenactment and a new version of red light green light. We started with a discussion and artistic representation of internal warning signs... epic failure. I don't know if this is true, but whenever we touch on bodily sensations, my guys claim to have none and give me the blank stare. This could be teens being teens or an honest part of the problem. Bottom line, this was a NO GO. The red light green light was a success with my older guys and okay with the younger group. We took turns naming an internal or external warning sign or neutral experience, not moving if it's a warning or trigger and taking a step forward if it's no problem. Example: "I ride my bike"... everyone who is not triggered by bike-riding steps forward. "Staff yells at me"... nobody moves.

I realized when the guys used my first artistic representation to do something else, look confused and/or refuse all together that I needed to go back and re-plan the rest of my red flag groups. I remembered rule number one about working with teens and realized the problem may have been that I broke it: never ask a teen about himself, especially in a group. Ask about someone else and they'll tell you all you need to know. So, for our next group, we made red flags, gluing red triangles onto sticks and decorating however kids liked (and some of them decorated with actual internal/external triggers, so they did get something from the first group). Then we watched the beginning of Hulk (and will continue to watch for the next week) and held up flags when guys noticed Hulk getting triggered.

I've used The Hulk in therapy before, but this movie is especially great for red flag warnings because he wears a pulse monitor and uses relaxation techniques when he notices his pulse increasing, so the guys can notice internal and external signs in someone else. Most of my guys loved this and did a stellar job noticing and explaining Hulk's warning signs. Also, we talked about why the Hulk doesn't want to lose control (people can get hurt) and there is a great line from Hulk's coach while he is teaching him pranayama, "When we control our body, we control our mind." I think this movie could lead the guys into being more open to learning relaxation techniques beyond deep breathing. Yoga was first developed as a sitting practice for men meant to help one develop super powers and immortality. The guys have a modified yoga practice, but I think if they see Hulk sorta doing it and learn about the history, they might buy into it a little more.


  1. Way to adapt,,, You Rock!

  2. This is so cool! I'm pursuing my MA in expressive therapies, and at my first internship at the moment. I feel like a pre-rookie. I was just poking around the web for art directives to explore distress-tolerance and I came across your blog. I love this use of the Hulk and will keep this in mind for teen groups- it sounds so fun. (I'm working with adults at the moment.) Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for sharing your experiences- both your failures and your successes are informative and encouraging.