“How did it go?” “Really well. They have a lot more in common than they know.” -October 2009, used in a freshmen college group of 23 students. A group of my friends in the same peer facilitation class in undergrad developed a great tool that works within the group setting. Often, in the beginning, members of a group are hesitant to include others in their personal space. It really depends on personality and temperament of the each person, but many members are less than thrilled to start exploring their feelings, concerns, and hopes to the rest of the group. If you happen to have a talented and caring group leader, then you’re that much better off. It’s a continual work in progress though. Once the group dynamic has been established and sub groups are beginning to pop up we started to use, what we found to be, a very effective icebreaker that has a therapeutic function. In case you are not familiar with it, Postsecret is, in the words of its founder “an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard” (Postsecret, 2010). It sounds very simple because it is. That’s the beauty of it. As of now, Postsecret.com has been visited over 377 million times (Ibid). It’s a mammoth art project all under the care of one person: a man named Frank. Our group was kicking around ideas for icebreakers that would help bring a class of first-year college students together in a meaningful way. I don’t remember exactly how it came to be, but someone thought it might be a good idea to have our students make Postsecret cards and have them all anonymously shared. Here is how it works: (1) Explain to the group what Postsecret is. If a computer is available, log on to the website (www.postsecret.com) for a better idea. “This is a great opportunity for you all to learn something about each other. You don’t have to be nervous because it’s all anonymous.” (2) Not everyone has to show a secret! Some people will not be comfortable doing so, but they can still be part of the exercise. (3) Encourage the participants to design their secret to their heart’s content. The only limit is their imagination. This is where art therapy and narrative theory mix. While it is standard to use one side of an index card, I could tell that some students put a ton of effort in to their secrets to make them truly unique and artistic. The secret can be about anything relating to the person. It can be funny, sad, bizarre, poignant, thought-provoking, or controversial. The only rule is that it has to be a true secret about you. Other than that, anything goes. (4) On the assigned day for the exercise, the group files in and each person deposits their secret in a bag. Ideally, the group is seated in a circle. Once everyone has put their secret in, the facilitator makes sure to shuffle the contents of the bag. As they are doing that the leader needs to lay down some ground rules. “Okay everyone. Listen up. When I’m finished shuffling the cards I am going to randomly hand out one to each person. Please be respectful of what it says on the card. Please no talking, gesturing, or facial expressions. Even if you have good intentions, this is a very important part of someone that they are sharing. If you don’t have a secret, share with a buddy next to you. We’re going to go around the room one by one. When it’s your turn, read the secret on the card out loud and comment on the unique design of the card and what you like about it.” (5) After everyone is done the leader starts a conversation. It can be difficult to break the serious tone, but it is possible with the right questions. Many times participants will be afraid to comment on other secrets, but as long as it is respectful, that’s fine. Encouraging discussion about common ties between secrets and asking individual participants what they thought while reading the secret given to them works well. Asking how people felt about someone’s secret also works well too. (6) Lastly, we don’t want to leave everyone in a serious mood. Thank everyone for sharing and begin an active and clear transition to another part of the group counseling. This may not be a good activity to leave until the end of the session. It depends on the dynamics of your group. Everyone returns their secrets to the bag and the leader disposes of them as s/he sees fit. I’ve heard of leaders keeping the secrets, sending them off to Postsecret themselves, or going to the local bookstore and putting them in between the pages of the several Postsecret books that are published. I actually still have some that I look at from time to time. I’ve seen this done and participated in it and I’ve heard nothing but positive things from others about it. It takes time for the group to be ready for an exercise like this, but it is very therapeutic and helps bring people together in ways they never thought possible. “How did it go?” “Really well! The professor made us destroy the secrets afterwards, but that’s okay.” “Oh well. At least it went well.” -October 2010, used in a graduate school counseling class This post is dedicated to all of the RCNJ peers who change lives through their volunteering and innovative ways of caring for others. Reference (October 17, 2010). Postsecret. Retrieved from www.postsecret.com
Matt Krauze is a counselor in training at Seton Hall University. He has interests in counseling in higher education as well as college student development and gender studies.