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Elyce A. Cron, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Oakland University 482 O'Dowd Hall School of Education, Department of Counseling Oakland University Rochester, MI 48309 work (248) 370-4181 home (810)254-1536 fax: (248) 370-4141 e-mail: [email protected]


Historical background, rationale The ability to express emotions has long been regarded as essential for good mental and physical health (Albon, Brown, Khantzian, & Mack, 1993; Easterling, Antoni, Kumar, & Schneiderman, 1990; Pennebaker, 1995; Speigel, Bloom, Kraemer, & Gottheil, 1989; Smyth, 1998). In addition, in order to express emotions, it is equally essential to accurately identify and label those emotions with appropriate descriptive adjectives (Brody, 1999; Magai, 1996; Oatly, 1992; Shapiro, 1992). However, there are very few suggestions in the literature about methods to aid the identification of emotions or to teach labels (descriptive adjectives) which name the emotions being experienced. The Feeling Word Game (Cron, in press) fills that gap. It teaches a wide vocabulary of expressive words and also encourages free expression of feelings. By framing the skills of identification and expression in a game format, The Feeling Word Game places the learning process in an enjoyable experience and, in addition, gives it a bit of competitive spice. Within the game the task of learning becomes fun. Other underlying benefits are reaped. For example, game players generally become less guarded in the excitement and energized atmosphere of the competition. As they search their memory banks for illustrative examples of a feeling, it is not unusual for personal narratives to emerge. Without consciously trying, whole repertoires of descriptive stories are disclosed by the participants. This, in turn, greatly detoxifies any reluctance or inhibition for disclosure of personal stories. Another unconsciously gained benefit comes from the listening to other's tales.


In the listening and telling of each person's stories, all players discover that they are not the only ones who have these feelings. Stories can, and usually will, be drawn from the personal experiences of the game players' positive and negative experiences, depending upon the type of word being described. Those feeling words that are descriptive of positive affect often elicit silly, happy, joyful, proud examples, which, when shared, can increase the positive effect of those pleasant experiences. Both the telling of and the listening to positive stories bond the game players in mutual enjoyment. The feeling words that describe negative affect are frequently illustrated with stories of shame, fear, guilt, or sadness. The potential effect of externalizing the game players' specific experiences elicited by the negative words, in the unguarded moments of sharing in the game play, is to dilute and lessen the negativity of those incidents. In similar fashion that brought mutual enjoyment and bonding in the telling of positive stories, the darker, heavier feelings bring an awareness of not being alone in pain and hurt. In some ways the negative story bonding is even stronger. Several research studies (Easterling, B.A., Antoni, M.H., Kumar, M., & Schniderman, N., 1990; Smyth, J. M., 1998; Oatly, K., 1992) support the efficacy and benefits of expressing internal affect. The Feeling Word Game provides a natural and fun vehicle for emotional expression of both positive and negative content.

DESCRIPTION OF THE GAME The Feeling Word Game is deceptively simple in its presentation. The plastic game bag contains 110 cards, approximately the size of business cards. Each card is printed with a single feeling word surrounded by a rainbow border. Some examples of the words are angry, calm, silly, worried, hurt, amazed, and flabbergasted. The reverse of each card is imprinted with either


a number 1 or 2 that signifies the level of difficulty of the vocabulary. The sixty Level 1 feeling words are more likely to be in the vocabulary of younger or less articulate people, e.g., scared, mad, friendly, sick, nervous, happy, and puzzled. The fifty Level 2 feeling words are more likely to be in the vocabulary of an older or more articulate person, e.g., belittled, ecstatic, resigned, suspicious, proficient, indignant, and bizarre. Some other "special use" cards found in the game bag are imprinted with the words Seldom, Often, Almost Always, and Right Now. Their use will be described in the section below about Individual Play.

Basic Instructions for play of the Feeling Word Game are as follows 1. Before beginning a game, decide how many rounds will be played (for example, each player will have 4 turns, 6 turns, etc.). 2. Deal each player 1 card for each round, face down. 3. The person whose birth date is closest to today's date starts the round as the communicator; after that, play continues to the left (clockwise). 4. Communication of the Feeling word may be by: Telling a story illustrating the word. (When I got my cast off, I danced and giggled.) Using synonyms to describe the Feeling. (It's a giddy Feeling). 5. The communicator may not use the Feeling word or any form of it when conveying his/her Feeling word. (If the word is silly, then silliest or sillier may not be used.) 6. Each communicator has 2 minutes to convey the Feeling.


7. At the end of 2 minutes, if the Feeling has not been correctly guessed, the communicator loses 1 point. 8. If the communicator inadvertently uses the Feeling word while conveying the Feeling, he/she loses 1 point. 9. If the word or the root of the word (like peace for peaceful) is correctly guessed before the 2 minutes is up, that person earns 1 point. If 2 guessers simultaneously guess the correct word, each earns 1 point. 10. It is suggested the guessers use the formula: "You feel..." or "You felt..." when guessing the Feeling word. 11. The player to the right of the communicator is the time-keeper and gives the communicator a warning when 90 seconds have elapsed. 12. The 60 cards marked with a 1 are easier words for children and beginners. The 50 cards marked with a 2 are harder and for advanced players. The decks may be combined. 13. The main object of the Feeling Word Game is to learn to communicate (send and receive) Feelings. Even if you do not get the top score, everyone wins when these goals are met. (Cron, 1998) These simple rules are the basic, core instructions for the use of The Feeling Word Game. However, there are additional instructions found in the game bag, which describe modifications for use in Team play, Group Play, Couple Play and Individual Play.

Team Play uses the same basic rules outlined above, only now the competition changes to include a whole team of guessers trying to discover the feeling being conveyed by one member


of the opposing team. All points are recorded as team scores. This version of play is suited to atmospheres where the group members are comfortable with disclosure to a several people on the opposing team. This version is frequently more boisterous and energetic and has a higher level of competition.

Group Play suggests two possible formats. In version "A" each player is dealt three cards and may select one feeling word to explore with the group. A pre-agreed upon time of three to five minutes is suggested for each player to take their turn sharing with the group. This format is especially well suited to those who do not care for the competitive aspect of the basic rules. It also can provide a calmer, more relaxed time frame for sharing. The longer time gives the game play less urgency and there is no pressure for scoring a point in order to move on. In fact, no points are gathered in this version. The sole purpose is to communicate and disclose personal stories to the other group members. The game becomes a framework in which the exploration of and the sharing of emotions is the norm. Because everyone is doing it there is less resistance to disclosure. In the Group Play version "B" of The Feeling Word Game, the entire deck is fanned out for one person (perhaps the leader of the group) to draw a card. Everyone shares a personal experience about the same feeling. There is no specific timing for each individual's turn. Once again, no points are recorded; the primary goal is clearly to communicate and to identify the internal emotional experience of that specific feeling. This version can be a vehicle for the therapist to "load the deck", so to speak. Instead of fanning out all 110 cards for choosing a feeling to explore, the therapist can select specific words that have the potential of opening up topics that might be being avoided by individual members


or by the group collectively. A progressively more difficult grouping of topics has a good success potential. Group trust can be built by using several softer or more benign topic groupings for the selection pool, slowly progressing toward the more difficult groupings of feeling words. It should be obvious that a creative therapist can modify the use of the cards with a group in many ways beyond the ways described here or offered by the instruction cards found in the game bag.

Couple Play once again uses the basic rules, with the following suggestions for when only two persons are playing the game. The directions clearly specify that the game is not competitive. It is to be used as a tool for communication, a means for deeper understanding, and a method to increase dialogue between the pair. Cards are dealt, feelings and stories are shared, partners guess what the emotion being conveyed might be. The focus is on listening to one another, listening especially for the emotional content of the stories. The benefits are both a deeper appreciation of the differences between two people and an increase of the depth of knowledge of each other. A second version is also proposed for couple use. In this version no words may be used. In pantomime, somewhat like playing charades, the couple tries to communicate the feeling, each to the other without verbalizing anything. Obviously any of the versions of The Feeling Word Game can be played in mime fashion. However, as the group gets larger the therapist might also need to become a referee in order to keep the energy in the group from spinning out. In mime play the ratio of boisterousness increases exponentially with each additional person. It only takes one budding thespian to double the possibility of the group getting out of control. In some


settings and circumstances the fun and high volume of the mime play can be very beneficial, just be aware of the pitfalls! When used with just a pair of participants the benefits of the mime play can be very worthwhile. The potential is for an increase of the ability of each partner to more accurately assess feelings from gestures and facial expressions and body language. Another, more subtle benefit may also be reaped; the partners learn to verbally verify their intuitive and impressionistic interpretations of the partner's body language instead of relying and acting on possibly inaccurate assumptions. Although this use of The Feeling Word Game might, on the surface, seem to be only for married couples or adults in relationship, it can also be a very effective tool for working with adolescents. One of the case illustrations below describes highlights of using this version in a school counselor's office.

Individual Play is quite different from the other multiple person games described above. The goal now becomes very personal. Indeed, in this version the cards can be used in solitude as a personal exploration to raise self-awareness and understanding. Five extra cards, found in the game bag, are used in this version. They read Seldom ­ Sometimes ­ Often ­ Almost Always ­ Right Now. When spread across the top of a desk they become categories under which each feeling word card can be placed. Are there some feelings that the client would like to have more often? Some that appear in the Almost Always category that he/she would choose to make less frequent? Are there here and now feelings that need to be discussed? The exploration of these feelings and narratives can, as mentioned above, be done alone. They can also provide a soft, non-threatening vehicle for opening counseling dialogue across a wide spectrum of feelings.


CASE ILLUSTRATIONS The following case examples are arranged in the same order as the descriptions of the different uses of The Feeling Word game as outlined above. They are drawn from the author's own experiences with the use of The Feeling Word Game. Care has been taken to protect the confidential nature of the stories.

Basic Play A group of camp counselors were preparing for the summer. They had been practicing good listening skills and found that they were very good at hearing the content and information in their practice with their partners. However, when it was suggested that good listening includes attention to the affective content of the stories, several reported that they heard no particular emotional content in their practice listening. Others said that they felt like it was prying into personal territory to mention non-verbal cues of feeling content. Still others felt they were repeating themselves: "You felt upset", "That was upsetting to you", or "How upsetting!" The Feeling Word game was used with the group. The large group of twelve counselors was divided into small groups of four. Each person in each group was dealt four cards and the play commenced. As groups finished their first set of cards they could continue by drawing one more feeling word card each until all groups had completed, at a minimum, their original grouping of four feeling words each. During the processing of the experience, comments were made like "I never realized how many words I could use instead of "upset"! "I really felt like my partner camp counselors wanted to understand what I was trying to tell them." "I think our pretend camper was really


able to explore what she was feeling better because we concentrated on finding the exact word for her feeling." The game was played several more times in the course of the training. At the end of the summer camping experience, when asked to give feedback on what was the most helpful part of the pre-camp training, playing The Feeling Word Game was given a ranking of either "very helpful" or "outstandingly helpful" by all the camp counselors.

Team Play The group of adolescents at the high school had been meeting for almost eight weeks. The stated purpose of the group was to deal with processing the feelings surrounding their parent's divorce. Although the counselor felt that some effective work had been done, there were still some of the teens that did not share much. The atmosphere had become so heavy with the negative that some of the students had said they were thinking about dropping out of the group. "It's too depressing", and "I dread coming because I always leave feeling worse" were some comments the counselor had heard. The Feeling Word Game was introduced as "something fun we can do". When the instructions were read for the Team Play, one teen expressed disdain for the activity. Others said they'd like to give it a try. One especially shy girl held back from taking her turn, but her team members encouraged her: "You can do it!", "You'll be fine!" The play only lasted half of the session, but the spirited dialogue that occurred about the game in the second half of the session was energetic and productive. The teens asked if they could play again and the counselor did use the game several more times. In order not to cause a split in the group, she was careful to divide the group into teams with different members each


time. The resultant mutual support, camaraderie, and "can do" spirit permeated the other work of the group. What they learned from the game also helped them learn to cope with the feelings and emotional impact surrounding the divorce they were experiencing in their lives.

Group Play "A" The single parent family had been coming to counseling together. Both children had been diagnosed ADHD and were on Ritalin. The counseling hour often dissolved into a mutual gripe session with the brother and sister pointing fingers of blame at each other. Mom's voice, attempting to control the squabbling, was usually ignored. No one listened to anyone else. The counselor, to little avail, had attempted various interventions. The Feeling Word Game was introduced. Each member of the family received three cards from which they were to select one feeling to share. A kitchen timer was used to limit the story telling to three minutes each. It was passed around so that the person to the right of the communicator was in charge of the time. In the first go-around the counselor included herself in order to model the sharing. One small modification to the rules of the game was used for this specific family. Before the turn was passed to the next person in a clock-wise fashion, the new communicator had to first summarize what the previous one had shared. Each person had to really listen to what the previous one had said, and be able to summarize it, in order to get a turn. In the beginning the sharing was superficial and real issues were glossed over. The kids talked over each other and giggled as they told silly and obviously fabricated stories. Then Mom shared on the feeling word "Sad". She said, "I am so sad that I have failed to be a good enough mother. I want so much for you two to be happy and enjoy each other, but I have not been able to teach you how, and that makes me very sad."


The boy's turn was next. He shuffled back through his cards, picking a different one than he had originally planned to talk about. "I picked the word `helpless' because I sometimes feel helpless to control my actions. Like when I yell at my sister. I just can't seem to help it. It's not just Mom who feels helpless and sad, I feel that way too." Not to be left out, the girl gave the counselor back her three cards and said "I don't want to talk about any of my cards, I want to talk about `helpless' and `sad' too." What ensued was the most productive session to that time that the family had ever had. Each listened to the other, all agreed that they wanted to do something about the two feelings of "helpless" and "sad". Some beginning plans were made for how they could help each other.

Group Play "B" The small group that called themselves Survivors of Suicide had been meeting for about six months. Some had entered the group because someone they loved had chosen suicide, others because they had, at one time or another, been so despondent that they had attempted to take their own lives. The group dynamics were excellent. For those who had attempted suicide it was an opportunity to find out what painful residue would be left for the ones who loved them if they succeeded in their next attempt at suicide. For the people who had been left behind by the suicide of a loved one, it was an opportunity to hear how people who take their own lives seem to get caught in a downward spiral that even a loved one cannot pull them out of. The group had told their stories over and over. Some said it was the only place where, "Someone will still listen. A lot of people don't want to hear about it any more." The very repetitiveness of the narratives had been healing for the participants.


It had been over six months and the therapist felt the time was appropriate to introduce a more positive element to the sessions. Searching through the Level 1 cards, she selected the following feeling words: hopeful, loved, relaxed, joyful, happy, peaceful, comfortable, loving, affectionate, delighted. She brought this "stacked deck" to the session and suggested that they draw one feeling card. Each member of the group would share a personal story of a time they had felt that emotion. Only fifteen minutes of the session was devoted to this new activity. At the end of the session, the counselor asked for a vote on whether to continue to use the "prompt" that the feeling word had given the dialogue. The choice was unanimous. Over the course of the next nine sessions the group shared on each of the positive emotions in the stacked deck, one by one. It should be noted that the timing of the introduction of the positive emotions was crucial. Early foreclosure on the processing of the suicide issues would have been inappropriate. Also, the group's input as to whether to continue was solicited in order to test their readiness. The grief work was still given most of the session time but, like a breath of fresh air, the positive emotions were given a chance to emerge within the group's dialogue.

Couple Play The two girls had been sent to the school counselor's office. Their classroom and hallway spats included name-calling, swearing, and sometimes physical attacks. The counselor's first task was to eliminate or, at a minimum decrease, the behavior. Beyond that the counselor wanted to give each of the girls an opportunity to get to know and appreciate the differences of other.


In order to keep the combative atmosphere as low as possible, the girls were asked to sit in chairs that were placed back to back about three feet apart. For the first introduction to the use of The Feeling Word Game, the counselor modeled what she wanted the girls to do. She selected a variety of words for which she gave descriptive stories and synonyms and asked the girls to guess her feeling. Then a carefully selected group of non-volatile, non-threatening feeling words was given to each girl. Each, in turn, told a story illustrating a time she felt the feelings on her cards. The other had to guess what the feeling was using only the words "You feel....", or "You felt....". The counselor blocked all sneers, derogatory remarks, and putdowns. The communicator was asked to tell sincere and true stories. The guesser was not allowed to throw in extraneous or negative remarks and barbs. In the beginning, the body language of both girls revealed both resistance to and ridicule for the technique. However, the lack of eye contact helped overcome the girls' competitiveness and combativeness. Each started to listen more closely to the other's stories, trying harder to guess the right feeling. The girls returned three more times and each time the atmosphere was less volatile. In the last session they were allowed to face each other. Both had learned some appreciation of the other's feelings and how each experienced them. Although they never became friends, their sharing had lowered the competitiveness a great deal.

Individual Play The fifth grader had experienced many losses. First the death of a grandmother with whom she had been very close. Then her parents had gotten a divorce. Last month her best friend had moved away to another state. She was a shy child and found it difficult to talk about her losses. At times she did not even seem to comprehend what her feelings were.


The counselor sorted the feeling cards, selecting a vocabulary of words she felt confident the fifth grader would understand. The child was asked to divide the cards into the Seldom ­ Sometimes ­ Often ­ Almost Always ­ Right Now categories while the counselor was out of the room. Returning after the girl had finished, the counselor asked, "Is there one stack of cards you would like to talk about?" After the child signified a negative answer with a shake of her head, the counselor asked, " Is there any feeling card you noticed especially and can talk about?" "I liked the `friendly' one. I like to be friendly, and I like friendly people." After a long pause during which the counselor waited patiently, the girl said, "I don't like the `scared' word. It makes me feel like there's a hole in my tummy." "Would you tell me more about the hole in your tummy?"

APPLICATIONS AND PITFALLS The Feeling Word Game is deceptively simple. It is just a stack of 110 words that are descriptive adjectives that describe feelings. However, the applications are many, as illustrated in the above case studies. A creative counselor could probably find many more applications than are described here. An interesting application that was recently proposed by a group that has used the game several times was to suggest other words that might be helpful to include in the next printing. The members of the group decided that any word that was suggested for use must be accompanied with a story of how it affected the person proposing the word. The creative additions to the 110 feeling words expanded the vocabulary and repertoire of all the group members. As people learn the power of knowing and using the correct words for their emotions the potential for better mental health grows. In addition, as people learn to share their feelings they discover that they are not alone or peculiar for having them.


Some cautions are worthy of mention. First, although the playing of the Basic game and the Team games can be fun and beneficial for most everyone, the deeper, more uncovering aspect of some of the games are best supervised by an experienced counselor. An atmosphere of safety and security needs to be created. The counselor must protect the players by being alert to and deflect harmful directions the play might take. If those darker, heavier emotions are to be worked through, the counseling session must be a safe haven and the counselor a guardian of the client's well being. That is not to say that the more negative emotions should not be talked about, only that a tender, caring, supportive atmosphere is best for the mental health of the client.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS An essential ingredient of good mental health is an ability to express emotions (Albon, Brown, Khantzian, & Mack, 1993; Easterling, Antoni, Kumar, & Schneiderman, 1990; Pennebaker, 1995; Speigel, Bloom, Kraemer, & Gottheil, 1989; Smyth, 1998). The Feeling

Word Game gives full play to the expression of feeling. Moreover the game lends a sense of fun and safety to disclosure. Many researchers (Brody, 1999; Magai, 1996; Oatly, 1992; Shapiro, 1992) point out, in order to express one's emotions accurately, it is essential to identify and label those emotions with appropriate descriptive adjectives. The 110 different feeling words in The Feeling Word Game cover a broad spectrum of emotional vocabulary. Hearing their use in stories and learning to use the words themselves gives players of the game a broader, more accurate way of self expression and self understanding. The Feeling Word Game can be a very valuable tool for therapy.


References Albon, S. L., Brown, D., Khantzian, E.J., and Mack, J. E. ( 1993). Human feelings: Explorations in affect development and meaning. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press. Brody, L. R. (1999). Gender, emotion, and the family. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. Cron, E. A. (1998). The Feeling Word Game. [Game]. (Available from The Feeling Word Game, 316 East Street, Rochester, MI 48307). Cron, E. A. (in press). The Feeling Word Game: A tool for both teaching and therapy. The Family Journal. Easterling, B.A., Antoni, M.H., Kumar, M., & Schniderman, N. (1990). Emotional repression, stress disclosure responses, and Epstein-Barr viral capsid antigen titers. Psychosomatic Medicine, 52, 397-410. Magai, C. & McFadden, S. H. (1996). Handbook of emotion, adult development, and aging. San Diego, CA: Academic Press. Oatly, K. (1992) Best laid schemes: The psychology of emotions. New York: Cambridge University Press. Pennebaker, J. W. (Ed.). (1995). Emotion, disclosure, and health. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Shapiro, T. and Emde, R. N. (1992). Affect: Psychoanalytic perspectives. Madison, CN: International Universities Press. Smyth, J. M. (1998). Written emotional expression: Effect sizes, outcome types, and moderating variables. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 66 (1), 174-184.


Spiegel, D., Bloom, J. R., Kraemer, H. C., & Gottheil, E. (1989). Effects of psychosocial treatment of patients with metastatic breast cancer. Lancet, ii, 888-891.



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