ACTIVITY GROUP THERAPY

A variation of group psychotherapy in which children revise their social and emotional patterns by participating in club activities. The technique was developed by S. R. Slavson, who described it as a form of situational therapy. Activity group therapists, or “group workers,” may also work with adults. Activity groups resemble ordinary hobby groups, but are composed of children who are so aggressive, isolated, timid, or willful that they cannot function in ordinary peer situations. The meetings are held in a room equipped with tools and materials for a variety of hobbies. The leader, technically termed a “group worker,” does not attempt to engage them in specific activities, but busies himself with his own projects. However, he observes them unobtrusively and is ready to act in case of emergency. His primary purpose is to create a permissive atmosphere in which they can be free to release feelings of hostility, expend extra energy, test new ways of relating to others, and gradually discover for themselves the satisfactions to be gained from creative effort and normal give and take. It may take six or eight months of weekly meetings to bring about significant changes, but in most cases the hyperactive child will gradually settle down, the aggressive child will grow more co-operative, and the social isolate will become involved with others. As they progress in their activities, the leader becomes less impersonal and rewards them with praise and encouragement; and as the group becomes more closely knit, the children receive recognition and approval from each other. In time, the group as a whole takes over the chores of cleaning up, serving refreshments and keeping order. When this point is reached, most of the members are ready to try their wings in more organized activities such as baseball or basketball. They then leave the activity group and transfer to the standard clubs of the neighborhood. Illustrative Case: Harris was referred to the agency at the age of eight, with problems of extreme rivalry with a younger brother, severe temper outbursts when frustrated, continual insistence upon new toys, and generally infantile adjustment, reflected in inability to dress himself and in asking to be fed. There was strong interest in fire making and a tendency toward compulsive masturbation. He had few friends and was withdrawn socially. . . The mother was described as a tense, compulsive person who had great difficulty in accepting her role as a mother and who expressed strong disappointment for not having borne a girl. She was extremely rejecting and punitive—in fact both parents beat Harris severely in the belief that this was the only method of controlling him. . . . The parents showed open preference for the younger sibling, a passive and conforming child who presented no problems. Deprived of the basic security of parental love, with his ego and sense of self-worth battered by rejection, beatings, and preference for his sibling, and thwarted in his expression of natural drives toward independence by a corrosive blend of punitive control and overprotection, Harris reacted with hostility, provocativeness, and infantile dependence. . . . In the group, he immediately exhibited marked oral anxiety, continually asking about refreshments, grabbing at the food hungrily and at times sucking it in like an infant. He also displayed a readiness to regress at the slightest provocation. He spent considerable time in fire making and insmearing paints. At the treatment conference, held periodically on each child at the end of the first season, it was noted that Harris was blossoming out in the group, with increasing assertiveness and outgoing behavior. One year later, continuing progress was indicated in his improved school adjustment, ability to dress and feed himself and to travel to the group alone. Several months later, in the group therapist’s progress report, Harris was described as becoming “rough and tough” in his language, aggressive toward weaker children, and antagonistic toward new members. Thus we see him acting out against other children in his group the handling he received at the hands of his parents, and in his rejection of new members we see the expression of his own displacement by a younger sibling . . . Periodic contacts with the mother by the follow-up caseworker indicated no insight into her own role in Harris’ problems. . . . After considerable resistance on the part of the mother, the father was seen. He was given an opportunity to express his own anxieties about Harris and about his own problems in relation to his seasonal work and long hours. Interpretation was then given him on the harmful effects of physical punishment on the child’s ego. Several months later the mother reported a “wonderful change” in the father: he had stopped hitting Harris, was spending time with the boy, playing ball and taking him bicycle riding. Though the mother’s basic rejection of Harris could not be altered, she was guided, with the example of the father as an incentive, toward a less punitive handling of him. After three seasons of treatment, significant changes in his personality had emerged. From the passive, suspicious, and inarticulate child who was referred initially, he had become open, assertive, eager to develop relationships. His strengthened ego structure was reflected in his whole carriage and in his forthrightness in self-expression. On his own initiative he had taken an afterschool delivery job, thus paying his own recreational expenses. On Sunday mornings he traveled for an hour to attend his favorite skating rink . . . A review of Harris’ treatment may throw light on specific aspects of group structure which nurtured maturing development in this child. Initially withdrawn and fearful in the group, he discovered that there was no pressure to participate and no threat of competitive activity. . . . Initially, the adult’s neutral attitude left him puzzled and suspicious and one may imagine that he suspected the therapist of “saving up” punishment for a sudden retributive onslaught; or perhaps he thought the therapist was extremely weak and therefore to be despised. However, as the therapist continued to show calm acceptance, as he demonstrated in a variety of situations that there were neither favorites nor black sheep in the club-family, Harris came to perceive this attitude as indicative of strength and kindness ... In a sense, having been accepted at his worst, he no longer needed to prolong the severe antisocial behavior. The permissiveness had diminished inner tensions, and the unqualified understanding of him by the adult and acceptance and recognition by fellow members helped to dissipate his inner feelings of worthlessness. In understanding the emergence of a new self-image, we can visualize Harris’ inner voice saying “since he (the therapist) loves me, and they (the group) accept me, I cannot be as bad or as worthless as I thought I was.” (Rosenthal, 1951)

Cite this page: N., Pam M.S., "ACTIVITY GROUP THERAPY," in PsychologyDictionary.org, November 28, 2018, https://psychologydictionary.org/activity-group-therapy-2/ (accessed May 11, 2021).
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