Activities for OT groups

The best activities for OT groups and how to encourage participation

Occupational therapy groups can be fun or stressful. The people we see in group therapy may be excited and engaged or find the activity meaningless and not want to participate.

It’s usually the ones who don’t want to participate who are experiencing some kind of fear. They may be feeling fear of pain, anxiety, feelings of shame from being in rehab, or depression.

It’s these type of people who need social participation more than anyone, but how do we help them?

In this post, I’ll share how to overcome some of these challenges and provide treatment ideas to increase participation in OT groups.

OT groups and mindset

Mindset is the most important element of group therapy. It’s not about helping others change their mindset, it’s about helping you learn how to change your mindset.

Hear me out.

If all your patients are golden and you’re just here for treatment ideas, skip to the next section.

Changing your mindset can be both beneficial to group therapy and individual one-on-one therapy.

What is mindset?

Think of mindset as the core of all your behaviors. It’s the belief system for why you do things, but it’s also how you react because of love or fear.

For example, think of a situation when you have become defensive. This could be at home or at work. Maybe someone mentioned that you came into work late or noticed that you don’t cleanup after yourself.

Sometimes simple questions like this can cause us to feel fear. We sometimes respond with justification for our reactions or may get upset.

Fear is the core on conflict. We can reward others for not having fear, but it’s only a temporary solution.

So what’s the long term solution?

We have to change our mindset.

What does it mean to change your mindset?

Changing mindest isn’t about trying to fix others. It’s about changing ourselves, so others will feel a need to change.

When we try less to become defensive, stop making excuses, and try more to be honest and see the potential in others, we can have a more positive impact on their life.

Being the first to turn to them and change our frame a mind will also have a positive impact on our behavior and encourage them to turn to us as well.

This will happen as we act to see them for who they truly are and stop assuming their motives. This happens by helping them feel safe, understood, and learning how we can help.

Changing our mindset takes the focus off blame and seeks to see how we may have caused pain.

What does changing our mindest have to do with OT?

Changing our mindset is absolutely essential to OT. If we expect people to listen to us, learn coping strategies, and learn skills to gain independence, we have to see them as people, learn what motivates them, and understand their goals.

Seeing their potential will help them be freed from the bonds of depression, anxiety, pain and help them unlock their own potential to become independent with the activities they love. To learn more about how to change your mindset there’s a great book on it here.

8 engaging activities for OT groups

Before choosing an activity you first need a general understanding or assessment of the type people you will be treating. Ask yourself, will these individuals be motivated to participate in these activities?

If not, learn how you can further understand these individuals. If group therapy is too difficult for them, consider grading it down by having them participate in a group of two.

Signup below to download this free PDF to use at your hospital or rehab facility.

Grade the activity lower by having them participate with people who may have similar interests.

#1. Balloon volleyball

Grab a balloon and start playing volleyball! This works best for larger groups but will still work with small groups. You don’t even need a net for this activity. Setup rows of chairs with participants facing each other. You can even do this activity and incorporate social distancing.

Grading up

  • Grade the activity up by using a large air filled beach ball
  • Keep score
  • Have your group stand

#2. DIY Ping pong

  • If your gym has a ping pong table that’s great, but if not, grab a table and start playing. You don’t have to have a net, and you can always cut a cardboard box or use a towel as a replacement. Don’t have paddles? No problem! Get creative and see what might work.

Grading up

  • Have participants stand
  • Keep score

Grading down

  • Wheelchair ping pong

#3 Card games

Card games are just an easy way to get anyone to participate. Find a book to educate yourself on games you might not know, and get some cheap poker chips. This activity will be especially helpful for patients who have experienced brain injuries. Just make sure the activity is easy enough for them to participate. You may want to try this one-on-one before bringing them into a group. This activity may also work well with your patients who may be less inclined to participate in group therapy.

Grading up

  • Work on standing
  • Teach them a game they don’t know

Grading down

  • Wheel chair poker
  • Hold the cards for the patient
  • Choose an easier game

#4 Karaoke

This might make you laugh, but that’s exactly why it’s a great group activity for OT. Singing is not only exciting for the participant, but can bring excitement to the group. It’s definitely not for everyone, but you might be surprised. Many of our geriatric patients are more confident than you might think, and singing will help boost their confidence. Hearing others cheer can also help them feel more engaged in the group and begin to participate more.

Singing also has respiratory benefits.


Grading up

  • Stand while singing
  • Have participants stand when cheering

Grading down

  • Use familiar songs (children songs)
  • Seated position

#5 Art class

Get some paper, pencils, or paint supplies and watch a short video on how to draw or paint a subject. You might even take your patients on a field trip outside and have them pain a flower or tree. You could even have them do this from the window. Have them share their work and have each participant say one thing positive about each other’s art.

Grading up

  • Stand at a table
  • Use an angled easel or vertical board

Grading down

#6 Plant a garden

This article wouldn’t be about OT if I didn’t mention a garden. Gardening can really be as physical as you want to make it. It also can make a boring rehab area come to life. Get inspired by a gardening blog, and make it a group activity by gathering materials. Think about it as a cooking group and incorporate dynamic movements for reaching.

Grade up

  • Walk to and from garden and supply area
  • Incorporate dynamic reaching and squatting
  • Standing at at table

Grade down

  • Incorporate wheelchair mobility (gather supplies)
  • Seated dynamic reaching
  • Seated gross and fine motor activities

#7 Car wash

If you don’t have the budget for any activities I’ve listed then try a car wash. All you need is a bucket of soap, water, and some towels. For this activity you can have any number of participants. It’s also a good way to get patients outside to breath the fresh air.

Grade up

  • 1-2 participants
  • Dynamic movements

Grade down

  • Multiple participants
  • Wheelchair level

#8 Cooking Class

We’ve all done cooking groups in rehab. Why? Because cooking groups work. It’s part of people’s culture and their everyday life. It gives purpose and meaning to life.

Sometimes we stray away from cooking classes, because of the work and the cleanup. Next time, try to make it easier. Plan ahead and ask for cooking supplies from your facility cafeteria.

If you don’t have time to plan ahead, make it simple. Work on cooking eggs and pancakes. If your facility doesn’t have pancake mix, ask for bread and make French toast.

Grade it up

  • Have participants plan the meal
  • Dynamic reaching for bowls, plates, etc

Grade it down

  • Meal prep at the table
  • Cooking at the wheel chair level

#9 Transfer training

Another easy group idea could incorporate ADLs that you need to work on with your patients. For example, you could talk about techniques to make transfers easier.

You might then have each of your patients practice transferring to a tub shower bench or toilet. You could also practice car transfers. Pull your car around and show them adaptive handles for the car and explain how to get in and out safely.

Grade it up

  • Transfer to a shower, car, and toilet
  • Transfer while carrying an object

Grade it down

  • Practice sit to stand with proper transfer technique
  • Have a second person help

OT Activities for ortho groups

Many hospitals and rehabs don’t utilize the benefits of OT groups. This can be a simple way to teach multiple patients simple skills for ADLs.

I actually prefer doing these activities with PT. Together PT can teach half the group stairs and exercises while I teach the other half ADLs, ADL transfers, and adaptive equipment.

For these activities, keep in mind the patients privacy. For example, if you’re working on LE dressing use clothing they can don over their current clothing.

Ortho group day 1

  • Education on adaptive equipment
  • Practice don/doffing socks and pants with or without sock aide and reacher
  • If more time, practice toilet transfers

Ortho group day 2

  • Education on transfers
  • Toilet transfers
  • Shower transfers

Ortho group day 3

  • Shower transfers and car transfers
  • Review concerns

This list may seem small, but while practicing toilet transfers and shower transfers, ask the patient about the environment.

Questions to review for ortho groups

  • Do you have a tub or walk in shower?
  • Do you have curtains or a sliding door in the shower?
  • Do you have grab bars?
  • Is your toilet high or low?

OT group education ideas

Group education is one other activity that is extremely beneficial to patients. Ideas are literally endless if you decide to go this route.

You may want to include patients, caregivers/family as part of the group.

Here’s a list to get some ideas:

  • Home safety training
  • Fall training
  • Dementia class
  • Stress management
  • Discharge planning
  • Energy conservation
  • Transfer training
  • Mechanical lift training
  • Parkinson class
  • Stroke workshop


Remember the best way to increase participation is in changing your mindset and finding ways to understand your patients. Not all these activities will work with your patients, so try to learn their interests, and find something they enjoy.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Let me know in the comments below your best group activities.

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