John Suler's Teaching Clinical Psychology

In-Class Exercises


These exercises can be conducted in one class period - one hour or less. I've divided the exercises into the categories below, although the categories overlap. Respect the wishes of students who feel uncomfortable about participating in an experiential teaching exercise. When introducing an exercise to the class, it's a good practice to let students know that participation is recommended but not required.

Psychotherapy and Counseling

Secrets and resistance in psychotherapy
What's it like to reveal personal information about yourself in psychotherapy. Why do clients show "resistance?" This exercise brings these issues to life.

An Intake Interview
Give students a crack at conducting an intake interview with a psychiatric patient. Give yourself a crack at acting.

The Way I Think
An exercise where students can respond to a sample of cognitive interventions.

There's more than meets to the eye to this basic therapy technique.

Life Facts
If you were asked to list four or five important "facts" about yourself and your life, what would come to mind? What would that list say about you?

Do we recreate in our current relationships the ways in which we reacted to our parents? If so, is this similar to transference in therapy?

Implosive Therapy
In small groups students exercise their imagination and analytic skills in constructing an implosive therapy script.

I wish you health and happiness
A quick experiment in cognitive restructuring and Buddhist philosophy.

Listening for feelings
An exercise using music to help students sharpen their awareness of emotional expression.

The Timeline Exercise
Constructing a timeline of one's life enhances insight into one's life.


Many of these exercises also apply to psychotherapy and counseling in that they involve processes of insight and self-exploration that are similar to those occurring in psychotherapy.

The Imagined House Exercise
By walking students through a house in their imagination, you can help them explore various facets of their personality structure, as well as understand the dynamics of mental imagery.

The Shadow Exercise
Do the people you "hate" really represent something inside you?

The I Ching
Western psychology doesn't hold the monopoly on intrapsychic insight and change.

A Mindful Walk
A walk around campus to develop your awareness.

Childhood memories
By exploring just one or two childhood memories, students can understand important themes in their lives, as well as appreciate how memory works.

The Hammer or Nail Exercise
This fascinating exercise suggested by John Provo is an excellent way to for students to explore various components of their identity and sense of self.

Show and Tell
Don't laugh! This exercise from kindergarten works extremely well as a self-disclosure exercise.

Turn Halloween costumes into an exercise on self and other perceptions.

The Dynamics of Sitting
Perhaps personality traits are revealed even by very simple things - like where you tend to sit in a class.

Personality and temperament may not be purely psychological, but perhaps also biological.

Empty Your Pockets
What you carry with you every day may say something about your personality

Zen Stories
Eastern tales from Zen Buddhism and Taoism are great teaching tools and stimuli for class discussion. They highlight many basic human issues about life, death, and everything of importance in-between. This collection of stories also includes students' reactions to the stories.

What's in a Name
This exercise suggested by Jody Deutsch Moore helps students understand the psychological significance of the birth name given to them. An excellent way for students to introduce themselves to each other.

Abnormality and Health

Shades of Abnormality
How severe is a person's mental illness? When do people need psychotherapy or hospitalization? This exercise encourages students to think about these questions.

Personality Disorders
Imagine a party where all of the people have a personality disorder. Students are presented with this scenario, and must properly diagnose the characters at the party.

Altered States: Fact and Fiction
Fact and fiction about altered states of consciousness in the movie "Altered States."

Do students think homosexuality is "normal?" This exercise never fails to generate an interesting, and sometimes heated, discussion about homosexual lifestyles.

The Religious Experience: East, West, Everywhere
Are religious experiences universal? I use this handout to encourage a class discussion about this important question.

Mental health treatments
Students try to pick out the most appropriate treatments for people experiencing different types of problems.

Defense Mechanisms
A handout for discussing and role-playing the defenses we all use everyday.

Diagnosing Mr. Smith
Making a differential diagnosis is not always easy, even when the diagnostic criteria seem clear.

Group Dynamics

These activities involve group interactions and/or role plays, and therefore shed light on group dynamics. But there's also a considerable amount of "self-insight" involved in these activities as well.

Group Drawings
Group drawings can reveal a great deal about individual people as well as group dynamics.

The Special Place Exercise
A dyad exercise suggested by Jerry Noloboff that encourages self-disclosure and the building of a group field.

A fascinating and extremely versatile role-playing activity!

Mood role plays
How do moods affect group dynamics?

Group Tell-A-Story
Every group has a distinct, complex personality. This exercise helps students explore the various dimensions of the "group self." It's also a lot of fun.

Group Checkers
Suggested by Alan Clingan and Gordon McInnis, this exercise shows that a game can be much more than simply a game.

Students recreate the patterns of relationships in their family or class group in order to understand the interpersonal relationships within them.

Body language
An exercise and role plays for sensitizing students to the subtleties of body language.

General Techniques

These activities are either "general purpose," or are flexible tools that can be applied in a variety of ways.

Dyad Introductions
A useful technique for introducing students to each other and the class.

The Circulating Papers Technique
Here's a way that everyone in the class gets to express him or herself, including giving and receiving written feedback from other students in the course.

Taking the class's pulse
A quick method for assessing the state of mind of the class

Recorded Feedback
A creative method for giving students feedback on their written assignments, suggested by Linton Hutchinson.

Lead a class through a formal brainstorming session in order to address some issue concerning the course

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