Compiled by Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
A list of recommended reads, including workbooks and textbooks, for mental health professionals
A list of recommended reads, including workbooks and textbooks, for mental health professionals
Compiled by Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
A resource guide for clinicians who facilitate counseling groups
By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
Throughout my counseling career, group therapy has been a focal part of what I do. I’ve worked mainly in residential settings where groups take place several times a day.
Initially, group counseling terrified me. (What if I can’t “control” the group? What if a member challenges me? What if I can’t think of anything to say? What if everyone gets up and leaves? – that actually happened, once – and on and on. What made group therapy especially intimidating was that if I “messed up,” an entire group of people [as opposed to one person] would witness my failure.)
I got over it, of course. Group facilitation wasn’t always comfortable and I made many (many!) mistakes, but I grew. I realized it’s okay to be both counselor and human; at times, humans say dumb stuff, hurt each other’s feelings, and don’t know the answer. By letting go of the need to be perfect, I became more effective. Group facilitation is now one of my favorite parts of the job.
This resource guide provides practical information and tools for group therapy for mental health practitioners.
Group therapy is an evidence-based treatment for substance use and mental disorders. An effective group calls for a skilled clinician to meet treatment standards. Professional associations, such as the American Group Psychotherapy Association, develop best practice guidelines based on scientific data and clinical research.
SAMHSA promotes research-based protocols and has published several group therapy guides for best practice, including TIP 41: Substance Abuse Treatment: Group Therapy, Substance Abuse Treatment: Group Therapy – Quick Guide for Clinicians, and Substance Abuse Treatment: Group Therapy Inservice Training (a training manual), in addition to group workbooks/facilitator guides for anger management, stimulant use disorder, and serious mental illness.
Group Exercises for Addiction Counseling (2012) by Dr. Geri Miller
The book itself is small in size but packed with helpful information and creative ideas. As a new counselor lacking in clinical skills, I supplemented with activities to engage the clients. Group Exercises for Addiction Counseling never failed me.
250 Brief, Creative & Practical Art Therapy Techniques: A Guide for Clinicians and Clients (2019) by Susan I. Buchalter
A more recent discovery of mine. This guide provides detailed instructions accompanied by thought-provoking discussion questions for each intervention. I was impressed with both the quality and originality; an instant upgrade to “house-tree-person.”
You need only Google “icebreakers” and you’ll have a million to choose from. I’m not listing many, but they’re ones clients seem to enjoy the most.
Activity 1: My most highly recommended icebreaker activity involves passing out blank slips of paper to each group member and instructing them to write a “fun fact” about themselves, something no one else in the group would know. I provide them with examples (i.e. “I once had a pet lamb named Bluebell” or “I won a hotdog eating contest when I was 11 and then threw up all over the judges’ shoes”). Depending on the crowd, you may want to tell clients not to write anything they wouldn’t want their peers to know. (I adopted this guideline after a client wrote about “sharting” himself.) Once everyone has written something, have them fold their papers and place in a container of some sort (a gift box, paper bag, plastic bowl, etc.) Group members take turns passing around the container (one-at-a-time) and picking a slip to read aloud. They must then guess who wrote it. (I give three guesses; after that, I turn it over to the group.)
Activity 2: A similar but more structured activity is to write out questions ahead of time and have clients take turns drawing and answering the questions. Questions can be silly, thought-provoking, or intending to illicit a strong emotional response (depending on the audience and goals for the group).
Activity 3: “People Search” involves a list of traits, feats, talents, or experiences. Each client receives the list and is given x amount of time to find someone in the group who is a match; that individual will then sign off. The first person to have their list completely signed sits down; they win. I typically let clients continue to collect signatures until two additional people sit down. (Prizes optional, but always appreciated.) During the debriefing, it’s fun to learn more (and thereby increase understanding and compassion).
Activity 4: “First Impressions” works best with group members who don’t know each other well. It’s important for group members to know each other’s names (or wear name tags). Each group member has a sheet of paper with various “impressions” (i.e. judgments/stereotypes). For example, items on the list might be “Looks like an addict” and “Looks intelligent.” Clients write other group members’ names for each impression. In addition to enhancing a sense of community, this activity provides an avenue for discussing harmful stereotypes and stigma.
Activity 5: Affirmations groups can be powerful, generating unity and kindness. The effect seems to be more pronounced in gender-specific groups. There are a variety of ways to facilitate an affirmations group, ranging from each person providing an affirmation to the client on their right to individuals sharing a self-affirmation with the group to creating a self-affirmation painting. Another idea is to give each client a sheet of paper. (Consider using quality, brightly-colored paper/posterboard and providing markers, gel pens, etc.) Clients write their name on it and then all the papers are passed around so each group member has the opportunity to write on everyone else’s sheet. Once their original paper is returned to them, they can read and share with the group. This can lead to a powerful discussion about image, reputation, feeling fake, etc. (Plus, clients get to keep the papers!)
Activity 6: “Most Likely to Relapse/Least Likely to Relapse” works best with a well-formed group and may require extra staff support. It’s good for larger groups and can be highly effective in a therapeutic community. Clients receive blank pieces of paper and are tasked to write the names of who they think is most likely and least likely to relapse. After writing their own name on the sheet, they turn it in to staff (effectively allowing staff to maintain a safe and productive environment). Staff then read each sheet aloud (without naming who wrote it). If they choose, clients can share what they wrote and provide additional feedback. (Most do.) Clients selected as “most likely” (in either category) have the opportunity to process with other group members and staff.
Access group therapy worksheets and handouts here.
In need of fresh material? It can be easy to fall into a rut, especially if you’re burnout or working with a particularly challenging group. The following three PDF downloads are lists of ideas for group topics. I also included two links to sites with helpful suggestions.
As a group facilitator, consider incorporating some sort of experiential activity, quiz, handout, game, etc. into every session. For example, start with a check-in, review a handout, facilitate a discussion, take a 5-minute bathroom break, facilitate a role-play, and then close the group by summarizing and providing clients with the opportunity to share what they learned. If that’s not feasible, provide coffee or snacks; sitting for 45 minutes is difficult for some, and 90 minutes can be unbearable.
Another idea is to have a “fun” or “free” group in the curriculum. Ideas include going bowling, having a potluck, Starbucks run, game group (i.e. Catchphrase, Pictionary, etc.), escape room, nature walk, etc.
Clients are not always willing therapy participants; some are court-ordered to attend or there to have privileges restored. Some attendees may be there “voluntarily,” but only to save their marriage or keep a job, not believing they need help. In residential treatment, clients attend mandatory groups as part of the daily schedule — participate or you’re out.
Even when attendance is truly voluntary, a group member may be in a bad space. Maybe they’re stressed about the rent or just got into a fight with their significant other. Or what if the AC is broken and the group room is 80 degrees? What if a client has unpleasant body odor or bad breath or an annoying cough?
Multiple factors combine and it’s suddenly a sh**show. (I’ll never forget the client who climbed onto a chair to “rally the troops” against my tyranny.) Anticipating challenges is the first step to effectively preventing and managing them.
Click here for an excellent article from Counseling Today that addresses the concept of client resistance.
Always keep in mind a client’s stage of change, their internal experiences (i.e. hearing voices, social anxiety, paranoia, physical pain, etc.), external circumstances (i.e. recent medication change, loss of housing, conflict with roommates, etc.), and history of trauma. What looks like resistance may be something else entirely.
(Updated 5/20/20) A list of movies about mental health and substance abuse – includes PDF printable discussion questions
By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
The following is a list of films that are appropriate to show in treatment settings. This post includes movie summaries and downloadable PDF handouts with questions for discussion. Please note that some of the films on this list are graphic and may not be appropriate for children or adolescents.
Hint: The handouts contain spoilers; do not provide until after the movie ends.
103 minutes (1 hour, 43 minutes), R-rating for language and drug use
Summary: Julia Roberts plays a mother, Holly, whose 19-year old son, Ben, surprises her by returning home for Christmas. Ben is newly in recovery; his addiction has placed a tremendous strain on the family in the past. Ben’s younger siblings are happy to see him, but Holly, fearing that he is not ready, is apprehensive. That evening, the family attends church. When they return, they find their home burglarized and the dog missing. Ben blames himself, believing someone from his past took the dog to get his attention; he leaves to look for the dog. Holly goes with him, but they’re later separated, and Holly attempts to track Ben. Eventually, she ends up at an abandoned barn where she finds her son on the floor, unresponsive. The movie ends with her administering Narcan to Ben.
127 minutes (2 hours, 7 minutes), R-rating for strong language and content relating to drugs, sexuality, and suicide
Summary: Winona Ryder plays Susanna, a young woman with borderline personality disorder, who is sent to a psychiatric hospital after a suicide attempt in the late 1960s. She befriends Lisa (Angelia Jolie), who carries a diagnosis of sociopathy (antisocial personality disorder). Initially, Susanna is in denial about her mental condition and is not open to treatment. However, she reaches a turning point after a tragedy.
123 minutes (2 hours, 3 minutes), PG-13 rating for mature thematic elements including substance abuse/recovery, some sexual situations, language, and brief violence
Summary: Trevor (Haley Joel Osment) starts a chain reaction of goodness for a social studies project with a plan to change the world for the better. In this film, Trevor is a high school student whose mother, Arlene (Helen Hunt), struggles with alcoholism and whose father is abusive. He rises above unfortunate circumstances with the kindhearted idea to do a good deed, but instead of requesting payback, asking the receiver to “pay it forward” to at least three people – and on and on. While the movie has a bittersweet end, the message is uplifting and powerful.
103 minutes (1 hour, 43 minutes), PG-13 rating
Summary: Charlie is an unpopular high school freshman, a “wallflower,” who is befriended by two seniors, Patrick and Sam (Emma Watson). The movie is about their friendship and Charlie’s personal struggles with the recent suicide of his friend and his own mental illness. Throughout the film, Charlie has flashbacks of his aunt, who died in a car accident when he was 7. It’s eventually revealed that Charlie’s aunt molested him; a sexual encounter with Sam triggers Charlie’s repressed memories. Charlie has a mental breakdown.
113 minutes (1 hour, 54 minutes), R-rating for language and brief sexuality
Summary: Anne Hathaway plays Kym, a troubled young woman, who returns from rehab to her family home for her sister’s wedding. The film portrays how Kym’s addiction has placed strain on the family.
126 minutes (2 hours, 6 minutes), R-rating for language
Summary: Meg Ryan plays Alice, a woman with an alcohol use disorder. The film is about how Alice’s addiction impacts her family and how she recovers.
Other great resources for using clinical films as therapeutic interventions include the book Movies & Mental Illness: Using Films to Understand Psychopathy, 4th ed. (by Danny Wedding and Ryan M. Niemiec) and the site Teach With Movies.
(Updated 5/4/20) A list of sites with free printable resources for mental health clinicians and consumers
By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
If you’re a counselor or therapist, you’re probably familiar with Therapist Aid, one of the most well-known sites providing free printable worksheets. PsychPoint and Get Self Help UK are also great resources for cost-free handouts, tools, etc. that can be used with clients or for self-help.
When I started blogging, I realized just how much the Internet has to offer when it comes to FREE! That being said, I’ve learned the term free is often misleading. There are gimmicky sites that require you to join an email list in order to receive a free e-book, PDF printables, etc.; I don’t consider that free since you’re making an exchange. I also dislike and generally avoid sites that bombard with ads. A third “free-resource” site that’s deceiving is the site with no gimmicks or ads, but turns out to be nothing more than a ploy to get you to buy something.
For this post, I avoided misleading sites and instead focused on government agencies, educational institutions, and nonprofits. I found some sites that offered a variety of broad-topic PDF resources and others that had fewer, but provided specialized tools. See below for links to over 50 sites with free therapy worksheets and handouts for both clinicians and consumers.
(Click here for free worksheets, handouts, and guides posted on this site.)
Please check back frequently; I update regularly.
91 Free Counseling Handouts | Handouts on self-esteem, emotions, recovery, stress, and more
A Change in Thinking: Self-Help Library | A large collection of worksheets and handouts on communication, relationships, depression, and more
A Good Way to Think: Resources | Worksheets and handouts on happiness, well-being, values, etc.
Articles by Dr. Paul David | Clinical handouts on depression, relationships, substance use disorders, family issues, etc.
ASI-MV Worksheets & Handouts | Addiction and recovery handouts
Belmont Wellness: Psychoeducational Handouts, Quizzes, and Group Activities | Printable handouts on assertiveness, emotional wellness, stress management, and more
Black Dog Institute: Clinical Resources | Download fact sheets, handouts, mood trackers, and more on a variety of mental health topics
Brene Brown: Downloads and Guides | Resources for work, parenting, the classroom, and daily life
Bryan Konik | Therapist & Social Worker: Free Therapy Worksheets | A collection of worksheets on stress management, anxiety, relationships, goal setting, and trauma
Cairn Center: Resources | A modest collection of printable assessments, handouts, and worksheets on DBT, anxiety, depression, etc.
Client Worksheets from Treatment for Stimulant Use Disorders (Treatment Improvement Protocols Services) | 44 client worksheets on addiction and recovery
Cornell Health: Fact Sheet Library | A variety of handouts and tracking sheet on various health topics; only a few relate to mental health and addiction
Daniel J. Fox, Ph.D.: Forms, Presentation Slides, and Worksheets | Topics include anger, emotions, borderline personality disorder, etc.
DOWNLOADS from Get Self Help | Free therapy worksheets and handouts on a variety of topics
Dr. Danny Gagnon, Ph.D., Montreal Psychologist: Self-Help Toolkits | Articles and handouts on worry, depression, assertiveness, etc.
EchoHawk Counseling: Materials and Resources | Articles, worksheets, and handouts on a variety of topics (boundaries, emotions, grief, stress, trauma, etc.)
Eddin’s Counseling Group: Worksheets | A short list of free worksheets and handouts
Faith Harper: Worksheets and Printables | A small collection of therapy worksheets and handouts, including a gratitude journal
Forward Ethos: Guide Sheets | Worksheets on mindfulness, anxiety, self-care, intimacy, relationships, and more
Free Stuff for Consumers and Professionals | A short list of downloads (Source: Jonathan S. Abramowitz, Ph.D.)
InFocus Resources | Family handouts on addiction
Lynn Martin | A short list of client handouts, including questionnaires
Mark R. Young, LMSW, LCSW (Resolving Concerns): Links & Forms | Links to factsheets, worksheets, assessments, etc.
Mental Health CE | Course content handouts on a variety of mental health topics
Oxford Clinical Psychology: Forms and Worksheets | A large collection of therapy worksheets based on evidence-based practices
Peggy L. Ferguson, Ph.D.: Addiction Recovery Worksheets | A modest collection of handouts/worksheets for addiction and recovery
Self-Help Reading Materials | Links to handouts on self-help topics (Source: Truman State University)
Self-Help Tools from Mental Health America | Links to assessments, worksheets, handouts, and more
Sleep and Depression Laboratory: Resources | A small collection of worksheets related to sleep, worry, and depression
SMART Recovery Toolbox | Addiction and recovery resources
The Stages of Change | A 7-page PDF packet (Source: Virginia Tech Continuing and Professional Education)
Step Preparation Worksheets | (Source: treatmentguide4u.com)
Substance Abuse | A 13-page PDF packet
Taking The Escalator: Therapy Tools | Handouts on addiction and recovery
Therapist Aid | Free therapy worksheets
Therapy Worksheets | A therapy blog with links to free worksheets on various mental health topics
Tools for Coping Series | A large collection of handouts on coping skills
Worksheets from A Recovery Story (Blog) | A small collection of addiction and recovery worksheets
Alphabet of Stress Management and Coping Skills | Coping skills for every letter of the alphabet
Anxiety 101 | An 11-page PDF packet (Source: Michigan Medicine | University of Michigan)
Anxiety Canada: Free Downloadable PDF Resources | Anxiety worksheets for parents and self-help
Behavioral Activation for Depression | A 35-page packet
Creating Your Personal Stress Management Plan | A 10-page packet
Dr. Chloe: Worksheets for Anxiety Management | A small collection of worksheets and handouts
Panic Attack Worksheets (Inner Health Studio) | A 9-page PDF packet
Relaxation | A 15-page packet on relaxation skills for anxiety
Stress Management (Inner Health Studio) | A 5-page packet on stress management
UMASS Medical School Department of Psychiatry: Stress Management – Patient Handouts | A collection of handouts on stress management. Some of the other sections, including “General Health and Wellness” and “Nutrition” have links to handouts as well
Center for Sexual Assault & Traumatic Stress: Therapist Resources | More than just worksheets: client handouts, assessments, info sheets, toolkits, training resources, links, etc.
Child and Family Studies: Sex in the Family | An 8-page packet on shame and guilt in relation to child sexual abuse
Common Reactions to Trauma | A 1-page PDF handout
Detaching From Emotional Pain (Grounding) | A 12-page PDF packet (Source: Sunspire Health)
Grounding Exercises | A 2-page PDF handout
Grounding Techniques | A 1-page PDF handout from JMU Counseling Center
Grounding Techniques | A 2-page PDF handout
Healing Private Wounds Booklets | Religious handouts on healing from sexual abuse
Seeking Safety Resources | Printable worksheets on PTSD, substance abuse, and healthy relationships
Selected Handouts and Worksheets from: Mueser, K. T., Rosenberg, S. D., & Rosenberg, H. J. (2009). Treatment of Postraumatic Stress Disorder in Special Populations: A Cognitive Restructuring Program | A 13-page PDF packet
Trauma Research and Treatment: Trauma Toolkit A small collection of trauma handouts
Traumatic Stress: The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on the Mind and Body | A 12-page PDF packet (Source: Dan Metevier, Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist)
Wisconsin Hawthorn Project: Handouts & Worksheets | Handouts in English and Spanish
Early Psychosis Intervention: Client Worksheets | Scroll down to the “Client Worksheets” section for links. Use with clients who are experiencing psychosis
Goal-Setting Worksheet for Patients with Schizophrenia | A 3-page PDF
List of 60 Coping Strategies for Hallucinations | A 2-page PDF
Treatment for Schizophrenia Worksheet Pack | A 6-page PDF packet
ACT Mindfully: Worksheets, Book Chapters & ACT Made Simple | ACT worksheets and other free resources
Cognitive Therapy Skills | A 33-page packet
Carolina Integrative Psychotherapy | A small collection of DBT worksheets and handouts
Clinician Worksheets and Handouts: Clinician Treatment Tools | A variety of CBT, DBT, etc. therapy worksheets
CPT Web Resources | A short list of worksheets and handouts
DBT Peer Connections: DBT Handouts and Worksheets | DBT resources
DBT Self-Help | Printable lessons and diary cards
Dr. John Forsyth: Free Resources | Download two free packets of worksheets (ACT and mindfulness)
Living CBT: Free Self-Help | 20+ CBT worksheets
Lozier & Associates: Dialectical Behavior Therapy Printables – DBT Worksheets and DBT Handouts | A small collection of DBT handouts and worksheets
Printable Versions of CPT/CBT Worksheets | English and Spanish worksheets (Source: The F.A.S.T. Lab at Stanford Medicine)
Veronica Walsh’s CBT Blog: Free Downloadable Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Worksheets/Handouts | Print/use these worksheets only with blog author’s permission
Activities for Grieving Children | A 7-page PDF
Bereavement Handouts (Hospice & Palliative Care) | A small collection of handouts
The Center for Complicated Grief: Handouts | Assessments, handouts, and guides
A Child’s Understanding of Death | An 11-page packet
Handouts to Download and Print: One Legacy | Handouts on grief and loss
Loss, Grief, and Bereavement | A 35-page PDF packet
Printable Grief and Loss Resources | A fairly extensive collection of printable handouts on grief and loss
Anger Inventory | A 7-page PDF packet
Anger Management | A 13-page PDF packet
Anger Management Techniques | A 4-page PDF
Dealing with Anger (Inner Health Studio) | A 7-page PDF packet
Free Anger Management Worksheets: Letting Go of Anger | A small collection of worksheets for anger management
Getting to Know Your Anger | A 42-page PDF packet
Love To Know: Free Anger Worksheets | 7 downloadable anger management worksheets
Confidence Activities | A 25-page PDF packet
Improving Self-Esteem: Healthy Self-Esteem | A 10-page PDF packet
Self-Esteem Activities | A modest collection of handouts/activities for self-esteem
Self-Esteem Experts: Self-Esteem Activities | Printable handouts on self-esteem
Core Values and Essential Intentions Worksheet | A 2-page PDF worksheet
Core Values Clarification Exercise | A 4-page PDF worksheet
Core Values Worksheet | A 4-page PDF worksheet
Life Values Inventory | A 5-page printable PDF (Source: Brown, Duane and R. Kelly Crace, (1996). Publisher: Life Values Resources, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Personal Values Card Sort | A 9-page printable PDF (Source: W.R. Miller, J. C’de Baca, and D.B.Matthews, P.L., Wilbourne, University of New Mexico, 2001)
Values | A 2-page PDF worksheet
Values and Goals Worksheet | A 1-page PDF worksheet
Values Assessment Worksheet | A 2-page PDF worksheet
Values Exercise | A 2-page PDF worksheet
Values Identification Worksheet | A 6-page PDF worksheet (Source: Synergy Institute Online)
Values Inventory Worksheet | A 2-page PDF worksheet
What Are My Values? | A 4-page PDF worksheet from stephaniefrank.com
A Child’s Understanding of Death | An 11-page packet
A Collection of Anger Management/Impulse Control Activities & Lesson Plans (PreK-3rd Grade) | A 64-page PDF packet
Activities for Grieving Children | A 7-page PDF
Cope-Cake: Coping Skills Worksheets and Game | A 30-page packet for young children/students
Crossroads Counseling Center: Resources | Handouts on depression, anxiety, ADHD, etc. in children
Curriculum Materials from Pennsylvania Child Welfare Resource Center | Links to handouts
The Helpful Counselor: 10 Awesome Behavior Management Resources | Worksheets to use with children
Myle Marks: Free Downloads | Worksheets for children
Prevention Dimensions: Lesson Plans | Downloadable PDF handouts for children from kindergarten to sixth grade (Source: Utah Education Network)
Printable Worksheets | Worksheets for children on physical activity, substance abuse, nutrition, and more (Source: BJC School Outreach and Youth Development)
Social Emotional Activities Workbook | A 74-page PDF packet
Social Skills Worksheets | A packet of worksheets to use with children/youth
Stress Reduction Activities for Students | Link to a 20-page packet (PDF)
Change To Chill | Worksheets and handouts for reducing stress in teens and young adults
Emotional Intelligence Activities for Teens Ages 13-18 | A 34-page PDF packet
Handouts: Eppler-Wolff Counseling Center (Union College) | Handouts for college students
Healthy Living (Concordia University) | Handouts and articles for college students
Just for Teens: A Personal Plan for Managing Stress | A 7-page PDF handout
Oregon State University: Learning Corner | Student worksheets on time management, wellness, organization skills, etc.
The Relaxation Room (Andrews University) | Self-care and stress management handouts for college students
Resilience Toolkit from Winona State University | PDF handouts for college students on resiliency
Self-Help Resources from Metropolitan Community College Counseling Services | Links to articles for college students on a variety of topics (not in PDF form)
Self-Help (Western Carolina University) | Handouts for college students
Step UP! Program Worksheets and Handouts | Worksheets/handouts for students on prosocial behavior and bystander intervention
Teens Finding Hope: Worksheets and Information to Download | Spanish and English PDFs available
Tip Sheets from Meredith College Counseling Center | Student tip sheets on anger, body image, relationships, and other topics
Tools & Checklists from Campus Mind Works | Handouts and worksheets for students
UC Berkeley University Health Services Resources | Links to handouts, articles, and self-help tools for students
UMatter | Tools for college students on wellness, communication, healthy relationships, and more (Source: Princeton University)
Western Carolina University Counseling and Psychological Services: Self-Help | A modest collection of student wellness handouts along with a printable self-help workbook
Your Life Your Voice (from Boys Town): Tips and Tools | Links to articles and PDF printables on a variety of topics for teens and young adults
21 Couples Therapy Worksheets, Techniques, & Activities | From Positive Psychology
Articles for Parenting from MomMD | Links to various articles/handouts (not in PDF form)
Drawing Effective Personal Boundaries | A 2-page PDF handout (Source: liveandworkonpurpose.com)
Emotionally Focused Therapy: Forms for Couples | A list of forms to use in EFT couples counseling
Exercises for Forgiveness | A 7-page PDF for recovering from an emotional affair
Healthy Boundaries by Larry L. Winckles | A 3-page PDF handout
Healthy Boundaries Program | A 15-page PDF packet (Source: The University of Toledo Police Department)
Healthy Boundaries vs. Unhealthy Boundaries | A 6-page PDF handout (Source: kimsaeed.com)
Hope Couple: Counseling Resources | Assessments and worksheets from a Christian counseling site
Joy2MeU | A collection of articles by Robert Burney on relationships, codependency, and related topics (not in PDF form)
New Beginnings Family Counseling: Handouts | Click on “Resources” to view and download handouts on relationships, anxiety, and depression. You can also download relationship assessment tools
Pasadena Marriage Counseling: Free Marriage Counseling Resources | A small collection of worksheets for couples therapy
Relationship Counseling Forms | PDF forms for couples therapy (Source: Dan Metevier, Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist)
Signs of Unhealthy Boundaries | A 6-page PDF handout (Source: Healing Private Wounds)
8 Helpful “Letting Go of Resentment” Worksheets | Links to PDF worksheets
90-Day Health Challenge | Several health worksheets for download (Source: HealthyCampbell)
Acorns to Oaktrees: Eating Disorder Worksheets/Eating Disorder Forms | A small collection of handouts for eating disorders
Activity eBooks from Rec Therapy Today | A collection of downloadable workbooks on self-esteem, social skills, emotions, etc.
Alzheimer’s Association: Downloadable Resources | Handouts on Alzheimer’s
Attitudes and Behaviour | A 9-page PDF packet on criminal thinking
Commonly Prescribed Psychotropic Medications | A-page PDF (Source: NAMI Minnesota)
Conflict Resolution Skills | A 6-page PDF packet
Coping Skills | A 2-page PDF worksheet (Source: Temple University)
EDA Step Worksheets | From Eating Disorders Anonymous
Experiential Group Exercises for Shame-Resilience | A 4-page PDF packet with questions for discussion and group activities
Free Mindfulness Worksheets (Mindfulness Exercises) | A large collection of mindfulness handouts
Go Your Own Way | Downloads for veterans on various topics
Guilt vs. Shame Infographic: National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine | Printable infographic to illustrate the differences
Handouts and Worksheets | A 21-page PDF packet with handouts and worksheets on selfe-care topics
Homework and Handouts for Clients: ACT With Compassion | Handouts and worksheets related to self-compassion
Integrated Health and Mental Health Care Tools | Downloadable resources from UIC Center
International OCD Foundation: Assessments & Worksheets | Handouts for use with individuals with OCD
Learning to Forgive: The 5 Steps to Forgiveness | A 6-page PDF handout from Thriveworks
Managing Emotional Intelligence | A 7-page PDF packet (Source: inclusiv.org)
Motivation To Change | A 16-page PDF packet on motivation to change criminal behavior
Peers & Relationships | A 12-page PDF packet on how associates impact criminal behavior
Personal Development: Workplace Strategies for Mental Health | Handouts on resilience, communication, etc.
Prochaska and DiClemente’s Stages of Change Model | A 4-page PDF handout
Quick Reference to Psychotropic Medication | Downloadable PDF chart from John Preston, Psy.D.
Radical Forgiveness: Free Tools | A small collection of worksheets on forgiveness
Reducing Self-Harm | A 5-page PDF
Self-Care and Wellness Resources | Printable handouts and tools (Source: irenegreene.com)
Self-Care Starter Kit from University at Buffalo School of Social Work | Handouts on self-care topics
Self-Directed Recovery | Downloadable resources from UIC Center
Shame Psychoeducation Handout | A 5-page PDF handout
Stages of Change: Primary Tasks | A 2-page PDF handout
Therapy Worksheets: ADHD ReWired | Thought records, behavior charts, and other tools
Understanding and Coping with Guilt and Shame | A 4-page PDF handout
Wellness Toolkits | Printable toolkits from NIH
Please contact me if a link is no longer valid or if you’d like to recommend a site!
(Updated 2/10/20) A resource list for providers who work with youth and families. Free PDF manuals for clinicians and handouts/guides for families.
Compiled by Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
The original source for this list is my post, Free Printable PDF Workbooks, Manuals, & Self-Help Guides. However, the “Children, Youth, & Families” section was becoming too lengthy. The purpose of this post is to organize the youth and family resources so you can quickly find what you’re looking for. This post is divided into two sections: one for providers and one for families.
Adolescent Coping with Depression Course: Leader’s Manual for Adolescent Groups (321 pages) | Student Workbook (199 pages) | Leader’s Manual for Parent Groups (139 pages) | Parent Workbook (73 pages) (Source: Kaiser Permanete for Health Research) (Find more information here)
The Adolescent Coping with Stress Course: An Eight-Session Curriculum Developed for the Prevention of Unipolar Depression in Adolescents with an Increased Future Risk: Leader Manual (118 pages) | Adolescent Workbook (79 pages) (Source: Kaiser Permanete for Health Research) (Find more information here)
The Adolescent Coping with Stress Course: A Fifteen-Session Class Curriculum Developed for the Prevention of Unipolar Depression in Adolescents with an Increased Future Risk: Leader Manual (112 pages) | Adolescent Workbook (82 pages) (Source: Kaiser Permanete for Health Research) (Find more information here)
Break Free from Depression: A 4-Session Curriculum Addressing Adolescent Depression (Source: Suicide Prevention Resource Center)
Partners In Parenting: A DATAR/FIRST CHOICE Treatment Manual (Source: Texas Institute of Behavioral Research at TCU, 294 pages) 2002
The T.O.P. Workbook for Sexual Health: Facilitator’s Manual (Source: Resources for Resolving Violence, Inc., 87 pages) 2010 (Purchase additional workbooks/manuals here)
Getting Along and Keeping It Cool: How Anger Works (Therapist Group Manual) (Source: Centre for Clinical Interventions with YouthLink, 79 pages)
On My Own Two Feet Series: Identity and Self-Esteem (76 pages) | Understanding Influences (103 pages) | Assertive Communication (121 pages) | Feelings (83 pages) | Decision Making (113 pages) | Consequences (81 pages) | Work Cards (129 pages) (Source: Department of Education and Skills and Professional Development Services for Teachers) (Find more information here)
Growing Up Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender (Source: Department of Education and Skills and the Health Service Executive through the Social, Personal and Health Education Support Service, in conjunction with GLEN [Gay and Lesbian Equality Network] and BeLonG To Youth Services; and Professional Development Services for Teachers, 82 pages) (Find more information here)
It Gets Better: A Group Experience for LGBTQ Youth (Group Curriculum Outline) (Source: Catherine Griffith, Ph.D., 13 pages)
Latino Multifamily Group Program Manual, (Source: Valley Nonprofit Resources, 64 pages)
Be Real. Be Ready. (A comprehensive relationship and sexuality curriculum for high school students) (Source: Adolescent Health Working Group)
Healthy Living, Healthy Minds: A Toolkit for Health Professionals (Promoting Healthy Living in Children and Youth with Mental Health Challenges) (149 pages) | Healthy Living… It’s in Everyone (A Companion Workbook, 82 pages) (Source: BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services)
TRUST (Talking. Relationships. Understanding Sexuality. Teaching Resource.) Workbook (Source: National Council for Curriculum and Assessment; Department of Education and Science, the Health Service Executive, and Crisis Pregnancy Agency; and Department of Education and Skills and Professional Development Services for Teachers, 126 pages) (Find more information here)
Favorite Therapeutic Activities for Children, Adolescents, and Families: Practitioners Share Their Most Effective Interventions (Source: Edited by Liana Lowenstein, MSW, 119 pages)
Group Counseling Guide (Group activities for children) (Source: Rita Zniber Foundation, 45 pages)
Alcohol Problems in Intimate Relationships: Identification and Intervention (A Guide for Marriage and Family Therapists) (Source: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 83 pages)
Behavioral Health: Adolescent Provider Toolkit (Source: Adolescent Health Working Group)
Body Basics: Adolescent Provider Toolkit (Source: Adolescent Health Working Group)
Child Trauma Toolkit for Educators (Source: The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 21 pages)
Community Reinforcement and Family Training Support and Prevention (Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 103 pages)
A Practitioner’s Resource Guide: Helping Families to Support Their LBGT Children (Source: SAMHSA, 18 pages)
Promoting Emotional Resilience: Helping children to find ways to function in a world where bad things happen – A Resource Pack (Source: West Sussex CAMHS and School Attendance Project, 141 pages) 2008
Sexual Health: Adolescent Provider Toolkit (Source: Adolescent Health Working Group
Stress Lessons Toolkit (Source: Psychology Foundation of Canada in partnership with Pfizer Canada, 52 pages) 2012
Trauma & Resilience: Adolescent Provider Toolkit (Source: Adolescent Health Working Group)
The Use of a Full Family Assessment to Identify the Needs of Families with Multiple Problems (Source: UK Department for Education, 105 pages)
Anxiety Toolbox: Student Workbook (42 pages)
COPE (CAPS COPING SKILLS SEMINAR): Student Workbook (Source: West Carolina University Counseling and Psychological Services, 28 pages)
Dealing With Depression: Antidepressant Skills for Teens (Source: Vancouver Psych Safety Consulting Incorporated, 68 pages)
Just as I Am Workbook: A Guided Journal to Free Yourself from Self-Criticism and Feelings of Low Self-Worth (Source: Queen’s University, 56 pages)
Lemons or Lemonade? An Anger Workbook for Teens (Source: Jane F. Gilgun, PhD, LICSW, Education4Health, 38 pages)
Mighty Moe: An Anxiety Workbook for Children (Source: Lacey Woloshyn, 79 pages)
Your Best You: Improving Your Mood (Source: Queen’s University, 103 pages)
Your Best You: Managing Your Anxiety (Source: Queen’s University, 169 pages)
Youth Transition Workbook (Source: Pennsylvania Youth Leadership Network/The Rhode Island Transition Council/The Rhode Island Department of Health Youth Advisory Council, 68 pages) 2017
ADHD: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (Information for Families) (Source: BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, 12 pages)
After an Attempt A Guide for Taking Care of Your Family Member after Treatment in the Emergency Department (12 pages) | Spanish Version (14 pages) (Source: SAMHSA)
After a Loved One Dies – How Children Grieve and How Parents and Other Adults Can Support Them (Source: New York Life, 24 pages)
Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens: A Parent’s Guide (Information Booklet) (Source: National Institute of Mental Health, Hosford Clinic, 27 pages)
Bipolar Disorder: Parents’ Medication Guide for Bipolar Disorder in Children & Adolescents (Source: American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 63 pages)
Borderline Personality Disorder: An Information Guide for Families (Source: CAMH, 72 pages)
Coping with Anxiety During Pregnancy and Following the Birth: A Cognitive Therapy-Based Self-Management Guide for Women and Health Care Providers (Source: BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, 178 pages)
Coping with Depression During Pregnancy and Following the Birth: A Cognitive Therapy-Based Self-Management Guide for Women (Source: BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, 118 pages)
Coping with Separation Anxiety Handbook (Source: BC Legal Services Society, 24 pages)
Emotional Intelligence Activities for Teens Ages 13-18 (Source: The Ohio National Guard, 34 pages)
Families in Transition: A Resource Guide for Families of Transgender Youth (Source: Central Toronto Youth Services, 56 pages)
A Family Guide to Concurrent Disorders (Source: CAMH, 222 pages)
Gaining Control of Your Life After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Workbook for Post-natal Depression (Source: Maternal Mental Health Alliance, 38 pages)
The Mind Body Connection and Somatization: A Family Handbook (Source: BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, 46 pages)
Patient & Family Guide to Second-Generation Antipsychotics (Source: BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, 44 pages)
Postnatal Depression and Perinatal Mental Health (Source: Mind UK, 31 pages)
Recognizing Resilience: A Workbook for Parents and Caregivers of Teens Involved with Substances (Source: BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, 104 pages)
A Resource Guide for Families Dealing with Mental Illness (Source: Michigan National Alliance on Mental Health, 40 pages)
Suicide Prevention for Consumers and Family Members (Source: Montgomery County Emergency Service, Inc., 26 pages)
Tools & Resources (Toolkit for Families) (Source: Kelty Mental Health, 25 pages)
What Community Members Can Do: Helping Children and Adolescents Cope with Violence and Disasters (For Teachers, Clergy, and Other Adults in the Community) (Information Booklet) (Source: National Institute of Mental Health, Hosford Clinic, 20 pages)
Healthy Living for Teens (Source: BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, 23 pages)
A Sibling’s Guide to Psychosis: Information, Ideas, and Resources (Source: Canada Mental Health Association, 34 pages)
Student Life (Source: Mind UK, 22 pages)
A list of uncommon strategies for coping with stress, depression, and anxiety. Includes a free PDF version of the list to print and use as a handout.
By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
With Lauren Mills, MA, LPC-Intern (Contributor)
Effective coping skills make it possible to survive life’s stressors, obstacles, and hardships. Without coping strategies, life would be unmanageable. Dr. Constance Scharff described coping mechanisms as “skills we… have that allow us to make sense of our negative experiences and integrate them into a healthy, sustainable perspective of the world.” Healthy coping strategies promote resilience when experiencing minor stressors, such as getting a poor performance review at work, or major ones, such as the loss of a loved one.
Like any skill, coping is important to practice on a regular basis in order to be effective. Do this by maintaining daily self-care (at a minimum: adequate rest, healthy meals, exercise, staying hydrated, and avoiding drugs/alcohol.)
As an expert on you (and how you adapt to stressful situations), you may already know what helps the most when life seems out-of-control. (I like reading paranormal romance/fantasy-type books!) Maybe you meditate or run or rap along to loud rap music or have snuggle time with the cats or binge watch your favorite show on Netflix. Having insight into/awareness of your coping strategies primes you for unforeseeable tragedies in life.
“Life is not what it’s supposed to be. It’s what it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.”Virginia Satir, Therapist (June 26, 2019-September 10, 1988)
Healthy coping varies greatly from person to person; what matters is that your personal strategies work for you. For example, one person may find prayer helpful, but for someone who isn’t religious, prayer might be ineffective. Instead, they may swim laps at the gym when going through a difficult time. Another person may cope by crying and talking it out with a close friend.
Note: there are various mental health treatment approaches (i.e. DBT, trauma-focused CBT, etc.) that incorporate specialized, evidence-based coping techniques that are proven to work (by reducing symptoms and improving wellbeing) for certain disorders. The focus of this post is basic coping, not treatment interventions.
On the topic of coping skills, the research literature is vast (and beyond the scope of this post). While many factors influence coping (i.e. personality/temperament, stressors experienced, mental and physical health, etc.), evidence backs the following methods: problem-solving techniques, mindfulness/meditation, exercise, relaxation techniques, reframing, acceptance, humor, seeking support, and religion/spirituality. (Note that venting is not on the list!) Emotional intelligence may also play a role in the efficiency of coping skills.
In 2011, researchers found that positive reframes, acceptance, and humor were the most effective copings skills for students dealing with small setbacks. The effect of humor as a positive coping skill has been found in prior studies, several of which focused on coping skills in the workplace.
A sport psychology study indicated that professional golfers who used positive self-talk, blocked negative thoughts, maintained focus, and remained in a relaxed state effectively coped with stress, keeping a positive mindset. Effective copers also sought advice as needed throughout the game. A 2015 study suggested that helping others, even strangers, helps mitigate the impact of stress.
Examples of coping skills include prayer, meditation, deep breathing, exercise, talking to a trusted person, journaling, cleaning, and creating art. However, the purpose of this post is to provide coping alternatives. Maybe meditation isn’t your thing or journaling leaves you feeling like crap. Coping is not one-size-fits-all. The best approach to coping is to find and try lots of different things!
The inspiration for this post came from Facebook. (Facebook is awesome for networking! I’m a member of several professional groups.) Lauren Mills sought ideas for unconventional strategies via Facebook… With permission, I’m sharing some of them here!
1) Crack pistachio nuts
2) Fold warm towels
3) Smell your dog (Fun fact: dog paws smell like corn chips!) or watch them sleep
4) Peel dried glue off your hands
5) Break glass at the recycling center
6) Pop bubble wrap
7) Lie upside down
8) Watch slime or pimple popping videos on YouTube
9) Sort and build Lego’s
10) Write in cursive
11) Observe fish in an aquarium
12) Twirl/spin around
13) Solve math problems (by hand)
14) Use a voice-changing app (Snapchat works too) to repeat back your worry/critical thoughts in the voice of a silly character OR sing your worries/thoughts aloud to the tune of “Happy Birthday”
15) Listen to the radio in foreign languages
16) Chop vegetables
17) Go for a joy ride (Windows down!)
18) Watch YouTube videos of cute animals and/or giggling babies
19) Blow bubbles
20) Walk barefoot outside
21) Draw/paint on your skin
22) Play with (dry) rice
23) Do (secret) “random acts of kindness”
24) Play with warm (not hot) candle wax
25) Watch AMSR videos on YouTube
26) Shuffle cards
27) Recite family recipes
28) Find the nicest smelling flowers at a grocery store
29) Count things
30) Use an app to try different hairstyles and/or makeup
31) People-watch with a good friend and make up stories about everyone you see (Take it to the next level with voiceovers!)
32) Wash your face mindfully
33) Buy a karaoke machine and sing your heart out when you’re home alone
34) On Instagram, watch videos of a hydraulic press smash things, cake decorating, pottery/ceramics throwing, hand lettering, and/or woodwork
35) Shine tarnished silver
36) Create a glitter jar and enjoy
37) Tend to plants
38) Color in a vulgar coloring book for adults
Download a PDF version (free) of “Unconventional Coping Strategies” below. This handout can be printed, copied, and shared without the author’s permission, providing it’s not used for monetary gain. Please modify as needed.
Lauren Mills, MA, LPC-Intern (Supervised by Mary Ann Satori, LPC-S) is a therapist in Texas and a current resident in counseling.
I’d like to acknowledge all members of Therapist Toolbox – Resources & Support for Therapists who submitted ideas!
If you have an uncommon coping skill, post in a comment!
Association for Psychological Science. (2015, December 14). Helping others dampens effects of everyday stress. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 13, 2020 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/12/151214084744.htm
Canisius College. (2008, January 26). Laughter is the best medicine. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 13, 2020 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080124200913.htm
Loyola University Health System. (2018, September 21). Boosting emotional intelligence in physicians can protect against burnout. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 12, 2020 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/09/180921140200.htm
Scharff, C. (2016). Understanding and choosing better coping skills: You can change your mood without drugs. Psychology today. Retrived from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/ending-addiction-good/201609/understanding-and-choosing-better-coping-skills
University of Alberta. (2005, June 18). A good game of golf: Mind over matter. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 13, 2020 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/06/050617235448.htm
University of Kent. (2011, July 14). Positive reframing, acceptance and humor are the most effective coping strategies. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 12, 2020 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110704082700.htm
Wiley-Blackwell. (2008, April 9). Humor plays an important role in healthcare even when patients are terminally ill. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 13, 2020 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080408112104.htm
Regular self-evaluation is essential for mental health professionals. Use this daily assessment tool (downloadable PDF) to evaluate your ethical and self-care practices.
By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
The 10th Step of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) suggests taking daily inventory: “A continuous look at our assets and liabilities, and a real desire to learn and grow.” The founders of AA recommend that a person in recovery both “spot check” throughout the day in addition to taking a full inventory every evening, preferably a written one. An honest self-evaluation can assess for resentment, anger, fear, jealousy, etc. According to the principles of AA, self-inventory promotes self-restraint and a sense of justice; it allows one to carefully examine their motives. Furthermore, it allows one to recognize unhealthy or ineffective speech/actions in order to visualize how they could have done better.
Similarly, for best practice, self-evaluation is essential for anyone who works in the mental health (MH) field. It doesn’t have to take place daily, or even weekly, but it’s a necessary measure for any active MH worker. If we don’t regularly examine our motives, professional interactions, and level of burnout, we could potentially cause harm to those we serve.
“As important as it is to have a plan for doing work, it is perhaps more important to have a plan for rest, relaxation, self-care, and sleep.”Akiroq Brost
Much of the self-inventory I created is based on the 2014 ACA (American Counseling Association) Code of Ethics and related issues. According to the code, the fundamental principles of ethical behavior include the following:
• Autonomy (self-sufficiency), or fostering the right to control the direction of one’s life;
• Nonmaleficence, or avoiding actions that cause harm;
• Beneficence, or working for the good of the individual and society by promoting mental health and well-being;
• Justice (remaining just and impartial), or treating individuals equitably and fostering fairness and equality;
• Fidelity (integrity), or honoring commitments and keeping promises, including fulfilling one’s responsibilities of trust in professional relationships; and
• Veracity (genuineness), or dealing truthfully with individuals with whom counselors come into professional contact
The following is a format for MH professionals to evaluate both ethical and self-care practices. It’s meant to be used as a daily assessment tool.
1. Did I cause harm (physical or emotional) today, intentionally or unintentionally, to self or others?
2. If so, how, and what can I do to make amends and prevent reoccurrence?
3. Have I treated everyone I’ve come across with dignity and respect?
4. If no, how did I mistreat others? What were my underlying thoughts/feelings/beliefs? How can I act differently in the future?
5. Have I imposed my personal values on a client (or clients) today?
6. If so, which values, and what steps can I take to prevent this? (Note: professional counselors are to respect diversity and seek training when at risk of imposing personal values, especially when they’re inconsistent with the client’s goals.)
7. Currently, what are my personal biases and how can I overcome (or manage) them?
8. Have I done anything today that has not been in effort to foster client welfare (i.e. self-disclosure for self-fulfilling reasons)?
9. If so, what were my motives and how can I improve on this?
10. On a scale from 1-10 (1 being the least and 10 the greatest), how genuine have I been with both colleagues and clients? ________
11. On a scale from 1-10, how transparent have I been with both colleagues and clients? ________
12. What specific, evidence-based counseling skills, tools, and techniques did I use today? Am I certain there is empirical evidence to support my practice? (If no, how will I remedy this?)
13. Have I practiced outside the boundaries of my professional competence (based on education, training, supervision, and experience) today?
14. What have I done today to advance my knowledge of the counseling profession, including current issues, evidence-based practices, relevant research, etc.?
15. What have I done today to promote social justice?
16. Have I maintained professional boundaries with both colleagues and clients today?
17. Did I protect client confidentially to my best ability today?
18. To my best knowledge, am I adhering to my professional (and agency’s, if applicable) code of ethics?
19. On a scale from 1-10, what is my level of “burnout”? ________
20. What have I done for self-care today?
Areas for Improvement:
Areas in Which I Excel:
Download a PDF version (free) of the self-evaluation below. This assessment can be printed, copied, and shared without the author’s permission, providing it’s not used for monetary gain. Please modify as needed.
Discover five ways to instantly boost your mood and uplift your spirits.
By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
Need a boost? Here are five quick (evidence-based) fixes for when you’re feeling down.
Turn on the radio or search for your favorite song on YouTube. Music can evoke a powerful emotional response. Listen to something upbeat with a positive message. Music activates areas in the brain that are responsible for processing emotions.
“Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.”Confucius
Be mindful while listening to a happy tune; pay attention to your emotions and challenge yourself to feel happier. In one study, participants who listened to upbeat music experienced improved mood as well as increased happiness over the next two weeks. A 2017 study indicated that listening to your favorite songs impacts the brain circuit involved in internally focused thought, empathy, and self-awareness. Interestingly, it doesn’t matter what type of music you choose; the effect is consistent across genres. Music may play a role in restoring neuroplasticity or as a therapeutic intervention. In 2013, researchers found that listening to uplifting concertos from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was linked to enhanced cognitive functioning. An additional benefit to listening to music is improved mental alertness; memory and attention in particular may be enhanced.
Go hiking, find a sunny spot to sit outside, or simply open the window and listen to the sound of the rain falling. According the U.S. Forest Service, spending time in nature can reduce stress, improve mood, reduce anger/aggressiveness, and increase overall happiness. If you’re upset or frustrated, you’ll recover more quickly in a natural setting, such as a forest. Alternatively, consider a stroll in the park for a boost. Researchers found that individuals with depression who took an hour-long nature walk experienced significant increases in attention and working memory when compared to individuals who walked in urban areas. Interestingly, both groups of participants experienced similar boosts in mood; walking in an urban area can be just as effective!
More recently, researchers found that people who regularly commute through natural environments (i.e. passing by trees, bodies of water, parks, etc.) reported better mental health compared to those who don’t. This association was even stronger among active commuters (walking or biking to work). If you commute through congested or urban areas, consider an alternate route, especially when you’re feeling down.
Spending time outside does more than just improve your mood. A 2018 report established a link between nature and overall wellness. Living close to nature and spending time outside reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, stress, and high blood pressure. Exposure to green space may also benefit the immune system, reduce inflammation, and increase sleep duration.
Do you have a favorite inspirational book or collection of poems? Do you like viewing motivational TED Talks? Do you enjoy comedy shows? Maybe you like watching videos of baby goats or flash mobs on Facebook. (I do!) One study found that viewing cat videos boosted energy and positive emotions while decreasing negative feelings (such as anxiety, annoyance, and sadness). Internet cats = Instant mood boost. However, if Internet cats are not your thing, search around to find something enjoyable to read or watch for your happiness quick-fix.
I’m happiest when I’m traveling the world. Unfortunately, I have limited vacation days (as well as limited funds), which means I don’t get to travel as often as I’d like. Happily, planning a trip may produce the same mood-boosting effects as going on a trip. In 2010, researchers found that before taking a trip, vacationers were happier compared to those not planning a trip. A 2002 study indicated that people anticipating a vacation were happier with life in general and experienced more positive/pleasant feelings compared to people who weren’t. In both studies, researchers attributed happiness levels to anticipation. (The brain releases dopamine during certain activities, causing us to feel pleasure. Dopamine is also released in anticipation of a pleasurable activity.) To increase happiness, start planning!
Spending time with your fur baby will instantly boost your mood. According to research, pets are good for your mental health. Teens undergoing treatment for drug and alcohol abuse experienced improved mood, positive affect, attentiveness, and serenity after brushing, feeding, and playing with dogs. A 2018 study indicated that dog therapy sessions reduced stress and increased happiness and energy in college students. Earlier this year, researchers found that just 10 minutes of interaction with a pet reduced stress by significantly decreasing cortisol (a stress hormone) levels. Other studies suggest that animal-assisted therapy reduces anxiety and loneliness and combats homesickness.
“Happiness is a warm puppy.”Charles M. Shultz
The next time you’re having a bad day, listen to your favorite song, go hiking in the woods, watch a TED Talks, start planning your next vacation, or spend some quality time with a furry friend… you’ll feel better!
Munn wrote this book because, as a nonbeliever, he felt the 12 steps of AA didn’t fully translate into a workable program for atheists or agnostics. This inspired him to develop the Practical 12 Steps.
Reviewed by Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
I stumbled upon Staying Sober Without God while searching for secular 12-step literature for a client who identifies as atheist. Jeffrey Munn, the book’s author, is in recovery and also happens to be a licensed mental health practitioner. Munn wrote the book because, as a nonbeliever, he felt the 12 steps of AA didn’t fully translate into a workable program for atheists or agnostics. (For example, the traditional version of Step 3 directs the addict to turn his/her will and life over to the care of God as they understand him. If you don’t believe in God, how can you put your life into the care of him? Munn notes that there’s no feasible replacement for a benevolent, all-knowing deity.)
The whole “God thing” frequently turns nonbelievers off from AA/NA. They’re told (by well-meaning believers) to find their own, unique higher power, such as nature or the fellowship itself. (The subtle undertone is that the nonbeliever will eventually come around to accept God as the true higher power.) Munn writes, “There is no one thing that is an adequate replacement for the concept of God.” He adds that you can’t just replace the word “God” with “love” or “wisdom.” It doesn’t make sense. So he developed the Practical 12 Steps and wrote a guide for working them.
The Practical 12 Steps are as follows:
The Practical 12 Steps in no way undermine the traditional steps or the spirit of Alcoholics Anonymous. Instead, they’re supplemental; they provide a clearer picture of the steps for the nonbeliever.
Before delving into the steps in Staying Sober Without God, Munn discusses the nature of addiction, recovery, and the role of mental illness (which is mostly left untouched in traditional literature). He addresses the importance of seeking treatment (therapy, medication, etc.) for mental disorders while stressing that a 12-step program (secular or otherwise) is not a substitute for professional help. In following chapters, Munn breaks each step down and provides guidelines for working it.
The last few chapters of the book provide information on relapse and what the steps don’t address. Munn notes that sustainable recovery requires more than just working the steps, attending AA meetings, and taking a sponsor’s advice. For a balanced, substance-free lifestyle, one must also take care of their physical health, practice effective communication, and engage in meaningful leisure activities. Munn briefly discusses these components in the book’s final chapter, “What the Steps Miss.”
Staying Sober Without God is well-written and easy to read. The author presents information that’s original and in line with current models of addiction treatment, such as behavioral therapy (an evidence-based approach for substance use disorder). Working the Practical 12 Steps parallels behavioral treatments; the steps serve to modify or discontinue unhealthy behaviors (while replacing them with healthy habits). Furthermore, a 12-step network provides support and meaningful human connection (also crucial for recovery).
In my opinion, the traditional 12 Steps reek of the moral model, which viewed addiction as a moral failure or sin. Rooted in religion, this outdated (and false) model asserted that the addict was of weak character and lacked willpower. The moral model has since been replaced with the disease concept, which characterizes addiction as a brain disorder with biological, genetic, and environmental influences. The Practical 12 Steps are a better fit for what we know about addiction today; Munn focuses on unhealthy behaviors instead of “character defects.” For example, in Step 7, the addict implements healthy habits while addressing unhealthy characteristics. No one has to pray to a supernatural being to ask for shortcomings to be removed.
The Practical 12 Steps exude empowerment; in contrast, the traditional steps convey helplessness. (The resulting implication? The only way to recover is to have faith that God will heal you.) The practical version of the steps instills hope and inspires the addict to change. Furthermore, the practical steps are more concrete and less vague when compared to the traditional steps. (This makes them easier to work!)
In sum, Munn’s concept of the steps helped me to better understand the 12-step model of recovery; the traditional steps are difficult to conceptualize for a nonbeliever, but Munn found a way to extract the meaning of each step (without altering overall purpose or spirit). I consider the practical steps a modern adaptation of the traditional version.
I recommend reading Staying Sober Without God if you have a substance use disorder (regardless of your religious beliefs) or if you’re a professional/peer specialist who works with individuals with substance use disorders. Munn’s ideas will give you a fresh perspective on 12-step recovery.
For working the practical steps, download the companion workbook here:
Note: The workbook is meant to be used in conjunction with Munn’s book. I initially created it for the previously mentioned client as a format for working the practical steps. The workbook is for personal/clinical use only.
“I gave up on having a future. And I was strangely okay with it.”
By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
Without delving too deep into my past, I will tell you that my late teens and early to mid 20’s were not the best of times. They were dark. Lonely. Depressing. I was living a life of chaos and hopelessness. At one point, I didn’t think I was going to survive; I gave up on having a future. And I was strangely okay with it.
My turning point was a spiritual awakening of sorts. A near-death experience led to a realization that I didn’t want to die; and it was either die or change my life. I picked change.
What helped me to live again (and ultimately find fulfillment)? You might guess family or a relationship or God. But at the time, I wasn’t close with my family, I didn’t have any significant relationships/friendships, and God wasn’t a part of my life. It was the following that helped me become the person I am today:
Having not a single shred of self-esteem, I went to see a counselor. She created a safe space and then uplifted me, making me feel worthwhile. She normalized what I was going through; I felt less alone. She affirmed me for positive choices I made. She initiated the mending of my fragile self. I gradually gained confidence, not only in myself, but in the idea that I could live a better life.
She loved me unconditionally… and she depended on me fully. If I died, she would think I purposely left her. I couldn’t bear the idea; I wouldn’t do that to her. She played a huge role in my recovery. I sometimes think she saved me.
I’ve always known I have potential. I’m smart and creative. I’m motivated and driven. But that potential died somewhere along the way in young adulthood. In moments of clarity, I mourned my lost potential. I wanted to be better and to do better with my life. I was meant, maybe not for great things, but for better things than living out of my car, broke and friendless. When I decided to live, my potential reawakened; it became a driving force – a bright, glowing beacon that revitalized and inspired me.
“You have to forgive yourself.”
I couldn’t bear to tell my therapist about some of the things I’d done. I was ashamed; late at night, lying in bed, I would think about past events. I’d feel sick to my stomach – then, an unpleasant head rush heart racing not able to get enough air… (That’s the feeling of shame seeping from your mind into your being.) My therapist didn’t push me to share; instead, she said, “You have to forgive yourself.” It became my mantra, quietly uttered in the dark. I would repeat, “I forgive myself, I forgive myself, I forgive myself…” until I internalized it. (That being said, it didn’t happen overnight… it took weeks, months, years. But all was set in motion with that one simple statement.)
I went back to school and was able to fully immerse myself in my studies. As a naturally curious person, learning is a sort of fuel for me. The more I learn, the thirstier I become. My classes provided me with not only knowledge, but with a spark that generated purpose.
While in school, I discovered a new passion; I fell in love with research. (#nerd) I thrived in my research/statistics class; my undergraduate study was even published in a national journal. It felt good to be passionate about something again; it stirred up (from the dust) long-forgotten loves, like reading and writing – passions I thought I’d left behind in childhood.
After finishing college and starting graduate school, I became a counselor… and found meaning in helping others. My first job in the field was tough, heart-breaking at times, and deeply fulfilling. It solidified what my education had started to shape – I no longer needed to survive or endure life; I found my purpose for living.