Featured Technique

Featured Technique

Add to your repertoire of creative therapeutic interventions with this original technique.

Please be sure to print this page as the technique below will be replaced by a new technique each month.

Printable form of current Featured Technique can be attained here.


Non-Verbal Card Game

Diane E. Frey

Recommended Age Range: 7+

Treatment Modality: Individual, Group, Family


  • Express feelings through non-verbal communication
  • Understand the non-verbal expression of feelings of others

Materials Needed:

  • Deck of playing cards
  • Guide sheet stating what feeling is assigned to each card

Advance Preparation:Assign a different feeling word to each card in the deck, i.e. A=love, K=anger, Q=brave, J=frustration.

Each person is dealt 6-8 playing cards with the remaining cards placed in the middle of the players. Play begins by a player viewing his/her cards and choosing to non-verbally act out the feeling which the therapist has assigned to one of the cards in his/her hand.

When play begins all players must not talk. All play is non-verbal when the person is acting out the feeling assigned to the card. The sender places the card s/he is portraying face down on the table. The feeling is then acted out non-verbally. When the player is finished non-verbally acting out the feeling the other player(s) guesses what feeling is being portrayed by viewing his/her cards and placing a card matching the feeling face down on the table. When all player(s) are finished guessing the feeling by placing a matching card(s) face down on the table all cards on the table are turned face up. If other players have successfully guessed the sender’s feeling portrayal they can discard their cards and the sender can discard his/her card. If no one guesses the feeling the sender has to take the portrayed card back and draw a penalty card. If several players are playing the correct guessers can discard their cards but an incorrect receiver must take a penalty card. If the sender has more than one card of the feeling s/he wants to portray, all of the same card should be played. The same applies to the receiver(s). The goal of the game is to accurately non-verbally send a feeling and to accurately receive the feeling. The person who discards all his/her cards first, therefore, is the winner.

If during the play the receiver does not have the portrayed card in hand but can accurately identify it by the end of the sender’s turn, the sender can discard the card. An example might be the sender has two Aces to which the therapist has assigned the feeling of love. The sender puts the two cards face down on the table and portrays that feeling in any non-verbal manner s/he wishes. The receiver has one Ace in hand and places it face down on the table. All players then turn the card face up. Each player can discard the played cards because the feeling was sent and received accurately.

Research in the field of non-verbal communication reveals that anywhere between 60-80% of the expression of feelings in done non-verbally. Many clients, regardless of age, have difficulty in sending and receiving feelings accurately. This is especially true for ADHD clients, LD clients, and clients on the autism spectrum. Mistaken interpretation of feelings of others can lead to many communication problems. Inaccurate sending of feelings to others can also lead to communication difficulties. These errors in the sender-receiver paradigm of communication often lead to behavioral problems.

As players continue the play they usually become more and more proficient in their communication and also reveal that they learned from other players ways to communicate a certain feeling which they had not, heretofore, thought of themselves.

This technique is quite versatile as the therapist can assign feelings that are very basic or very complex. There is very little reading skill required to play the communication game and the game can be tailored to a specific population and/or difficulty.

The basic goal of this game is to avoid the familiar quote, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

About the Author
Diane Frey, Ph.D., RPT-S, is Professor Emeritus at Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio, and a psychologist in private practice. In 2008 she was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Association for Play Therapy. She is recognized as an international speaker and author of numerous books, articles, and chapters on the topic of play therapy.

© Diane Frey. All rights reserved.

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