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The Phone

submitted by Charles C. Dixon, MS, CTRS, Chestnut Ridge Hospital

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Brief Description: This is an group problem-solving task in which two groups are separated and given the task of building a working telephone with wires, a battery, a speaker & a microphone.

Expected Therapeutic Outcome: Participants will experience communication barriers, group interaction, and creative problem-solving. They will be guided through this process and learn to better interact in a group as they achieve common objectives, learn to use problem-solving techniques, and understand how to overcome communication barriers. Each of these global outcomes can be then generalized during the groups "debriefing" session to specific problems of the group. For example, discussion can be held on how communication barriers between an adolescent and parents can influence the teens behavior and feelings and for teens struggling with suicidal thoughts and other negative thoughts, that family communications is needed. You can also generalize the experience & feelings felt by group members to other topics.


  • Open session with intro on creative problem-solving and give them a simple problem to solve. I usually tell them a story of an 18-wheeler getting jammed in a tunnel. I ask for different ways to get the truck out of the tunnel. Of course, the best answer is to take some air out of the tire and back up the truck. We then talk about problem-solving and how problem-solving and this session is related to their particular treatment issues.
  • I start the main activity by building up a scenario in which the group goes to England on a tour of castles. Walking through a field, they notice two castles. They break up into two groups. The 1st group goes to castle on the left and gets kidnapped by and Evil Castle Lord. Just before being snatched up, the group was able to get a single word, "Help!" out on their walkie-talkie to the other group. The 1st group is put into a room with an electronic door lock with a 4 digit combination. The 2nd group is now on its way to see what happened. Unfortunately they get captured also. Since the room in which the 1st group is too small to hold them all, the Castle Lord takes the 1st group out & puts them into another room on the far end of the castle. Fortunately, the 1st group sees and memorizes the combination of the electronic door lock. They see the 2nd group tossed into this room as they round the corner. Now only if they could communicate with each other and pass the secret 4 digit combination.
  • After the story is told, the group is told that in each room, there are bits and pieces of items that they might be able to use in their escape or to communicate with each other. Then, they are given, 3 wires of different color,1 speaker, 1 microphone from a telephone headset, and a large 6 volt battery.
  • The group is told to build a working telephone that if they would speak into the mike, they would be able to hear themselves on their own speaker. After that, they are to connect two wires (phone wires come with 4 lines.... trim back two so that you only use two lines) into the phone they made.
  • Hints may be given. The group may need to be guided in group problem-solving process as needed.
  • Success in building a phone and communicating with each group is typical.
  • Complete the activity by processing the groups feelings and experience.

Final Note: The group usually lasts one hour. If the group experiences difficulty or has lots to talk about, it will last about 1 1/2 hours. Enjoy, this has been an activity that I've had great success with and the patients seem to really enjoy and get a lot out of it. Oh, by the way, I suppose you'd like to know how to build a working phone.... here's a diagram.... be sure to practice it yourself 1st.....

Diagram of how to build a phone


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