Mysterious Bag: Assertiveness Training

Created By: Nathaniel Sahyouni and Aveline Ajalan

Client Population
Settings: Individual and group
Ages: Children and adolescents

Figurines related to the child’s interest (e.g. Marvel and DC Comic Heroes and Villains, Disney, Pixar)
Color markers

Prior to engaging in this role playing activity, therapist can teach and practice assertive response to clients. In doing so, clients are able to apply what they have learned to the hypothetical situations created for the role play. Examples of assertive responses include, I-statements, body language, eye contact, and relaxation techniques.

The activity can be started by setting up the situation or using client’s experience to make the role play more personal and realistic. Different situations penned by the therapist or clients are taped onto several figurines. Subsequently, the figurines are placed into a bag. Clients are requested to reach into the bag without looking and pick one figurine. After reading the conflict attached to the figurine, clients think of ways he/she would resolve the issue. Additional figurines can be incorporated to role play the situation. Therapists are also encouraged to participate in the activity, to demonstrate how he/she would assert him/herself in a problematic situation.

Discussion points:

What is happening in this situation?

How are the characters feeling? If the client is involved in the conflict, therapist can ask “what is this experience like for you?”

If the client becomes stuck and he/she is familiar with the figurine, therapist can ask “what would (Batman) have done in this situation?”

Help clients build problem-solving skills by exploring alternative ways of resolving an issue (e.g. deep breathing, walking away, asking an adult for help etc.) - Ask, “how many different ways can you think of to solve the situation?

What are the consequences of doing these alternatives? How would you perform one of those you chose? (Clients should be allowed to role play the situation again with a different alternative)

Identify and discuss strengths and weaknesses of the role play, and explore how clients could have approached the situations differently.

Expected Results and Troubleshooting
Clients are expected to utilize role play with the therapist using the figurines to practice assertiveness and other pro-social skills that the client is working on. By practicing these skills the client develops language and response patterns that will help them in future interactions.

The client will be asked to role play a scenario with the writer based on the character that they pick out. If the character is one that they are unfamiliar with it may be hard for them to participate in a role play. If this scenario happens the therapist should allow the client to choose another character.

Another problem that may occur is that the client is unsure how to respond to the scenario. If this is the case then the therapist should evaluate what the reason for the uncertainty. The therapist might offer an example response and then ask the client to respond in a similar manner. The therapist might consider doing an example scenario before asking the client to respond to make it clear what is expected.

It is also possible that the therapist may see the clients role play as a maladaptive response to the scenario. If that is the case then the therapist should focus on validating the client experience and work on helping the client to see what might be wrong with the role play that they presented. The therapist can offer different language or different perspectives on how to respond to the scenario.

Role play is commonly used as a training exercise to provide a situation that is life like but does not have significant consequences for mistakes. It allows people to make mistakes and corrections in a safe environment. People are able to learn by practicing situations, scenarios, and techniques that may be difficult for the individual. In this activity, using visual figurines to provide a basis for the role play gives a frame of reference for people that might not otherwise get the opportunity.

Drum, D. J. (n.d.). Assertiveness training workshop. Retrieved April 10, 2015, from Counseling and Mental Health Center at The University of Texas at Austin:
Murdock, L. C., & Hobbs, J. Q. (2011). Picture Me Playing: Increasing Pretend Play Dialogue of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal Of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 41(7), 870-878. doi:10.1007/s10803-010-1108-6

Palmieri, G., Margison, F., Guthrie, E., Moorey, J., Hardy, G., Evans, C., & … Rigatelli, M. (2007). A preliminary study of a measure of role-play competence in psychodynamic interpersonal therapy. Psychology And Psychotherapy, 80(Pt 2), 327-331.

Wubbolding, R., & Brickell, J. (2004). Role Play and the Art of Teaching Choice Theory, Reality Therapy, and Lead Management. International Journal Of Reality Therapy, 23(2), 41-43.

Originally posted on the Geek Therapy Wiki, hosted on the now-defunct Wikispaces platform, as part of Dr. Patrick O’Connor’s course Geek Culture in Therapy.