Group Therapy Techniques to Address Honesty, Open Mindedness and Willingness
Dr. Carl Whitaker, a brilliant and creative family therapist, is credited with saying, “The therapist is responsible for the therapy, whereas the patient is responsible for their lives.” His observation helped me define our professional responsibility: We are responsible to create therapeutic experiences that helps our clients take the next step in their recovery.
The application of this concept in group therapy is that we are responsible to create a therapeutic climate in the group. What exactly does this mean? One way of thinking about this is to use the HOW acronym. We know that being honest, open and willing are important in successful recovery. Therefore we want to find ways to promote these behaviors in our clients.
A straightforward approach on these issues may achieve some success. Simply telling group members to be honest, open minded and willing can achieve limited results. But if we really take a moment to stop and think about it, we would realize that this is naive.If our clients were able to be honest, open minded, and willing they wouldn’t need our help. They would naturally learn from their experience and continue to grow and develop. In fact one of the most important things we know about addiction is that it interferes with learning. Addiction impairs our ability to be honest, open minded and willing. This makes it necessary to create an atmosphere in the group that promotes an awareness of how we are sabotaging ourselves. This means that we want to help our patients become aware of how they are stopping themselves from being honest, open and willing. Incomplete Sentence Exercises can facilitate an exploration of these issues.
Here’s how to introduce this exercise to the group:
I am going to give you an incomplete sentences. Please say the entire sentence and then say the first thing that comes to your mind. If you don’t want to share your first thought, then just share that with us and then complete the sentence with something you are willing to share. We will go around and use the same sentence several times. Come up with a different ending each time if you can. When we’ve squeezed everything we can out of it, we will move on to another or just discuss what we became aware of during the exercise. We will let our experience tell us what we need to do next. Here we go. Try this one——.
Incomplete Sentence Work on Honesty
Here are a few examples of incomplete sentences that I’ve used to explore honesty in a group.
• The hardest thing about being completely honest with myself is ___________.
• The hardest thing about being honest with the group is __________________.
• I’d be more honest if _______________________.
• What I tell myself that makes it hard for me to be rigorously honest with the group is ______________________.
• One thing that I have never been honest about is ___________________.
• My addiction doesn’t want me to be honest because ____________________.
• The part of me that is tired of being dishonest says _____________________.
• How the group could encourage me to be more honest is _________________.
Incomplete Sentence Work on Open Mindedness
Here are some examples of incomplete sentences I’ve used to explore open mindedness with a group.
• The hardest thing about being open minded about my addiction is ___________.
• The hardest thing about being open minded about recovery is __________________.
• I’d be more openminded if _______________________.
• What I tell myself that makes it hard for me to be more open minded is ______________________.
• One thing that I will never been open minded about is ___________________.
• My addiction doesn’t want me to be open minded because ____________________.
• The part of me that is tired of being closed says _____________________.
• How the group could encourage me to be more open minded is _________________.
Incomplete Sentence Work for Willingness
Here are some examples of incomplete sentences I’ve used to explore willingness with a group.
• What I would have to give up to be willing to go to any lengths in recovery is ___________.
• The hardest thing about being wiling to go to any lengths for my recovery is __________________.
• I’d be more willing if I realized _______________________.
• What I tell myself that makes it hard for me to be more willing to embrace my recovery is ______________________.
• My addiction doesn’t want me to be willing minded because ____________________.
• I could encourage myself to be more willing if I reminded myself _________________.
What I love about using this technique with a group is that it gives every one in the group a chance to participate. Patient participation is positively related to better outcome. It also helps promote group cohesion. And finally I am able to use my creativity in generating interventions that help address the dynamic of the group. Each group is different and has a different theme and dynamic. Design sentences that are relevant for the group you are running. Next month I will discuss how to process the issues that surface during this exercise.
By Allen Berger, Ph.D.