Announce the context of the game is to challenge one person (a volunteer) to ask a series of questions in an attempt to identify a secret ‘rule.’
Ask a volunteer (the ‘psychiatrist’) to leave the room so that they can not hear the discussion of the rest of the group.
Instruct your group to decide on a specific rule to follow when answering questions, eg all responses must start with a vowel.
When ready, the psychiatrist re-enters the room and will start asking a series of questions, one person at a time.
Instruct the psychiatrist to listen carefully to every response in an effort to identify one consistent rule that applies to all responses.
Allow several minutes of questions and answers.
If you note that the psychiatrist is losing enthusiasm or interest, gently guide them towards a solution.
The game continues until the psychiatrist identifies the rule.
Invite a new volunteer to be the next psychiatrist to start a new round.
How To Play Narrative
To begin, you need one person to leave the room, so that they don’t hear what you will discuss with the rest of the group. You know, the standard set-up.
However, before they leave, you are best to describe what happens for the benefit of all involved.
Explain that after the volunteer (the ‘psychiatrist’) leaves the space, the rest of your group will decide on one specific rule to follow when answering all of the psychiatrist’s questions.
Answer all questions in five words;
Begin all sentences with a vowel;
Begin all sentences with the last letter of the question;
Subtly clear one’s throat just before speaking; or
Answer without blinking.
Guide your group to not make the rule too difficult, lest the volunteer may really need to seek professional help.
So, the group agrees on a rule, the psychiatrist re-enters the space, sits down in front of his or her ‘patients,’ and starts asking a series of questions, ala much like what a real psychiatrist may do in a therapy session.
Simple stuff like, “HARRY, DID YOU WALK TO SCHOOL?” and “HOW ARE YOU, BRUCE?”
The psychiatrist continues to ask questions – one question of one person at a time – until they finally discover the ‘rule.’
If several minutes have passed, or you note that the psychiatrist is losing enthusiasm, invite your group to start giving a few clues, ie by making the ‘rule’ more obvious.
Remember, this game is not a test, it’s supposed to be fun. If a group watches one of their own suffer for too long, you can bet no one will want to go next.
As soon as the first rule has been identified, invite a second volunteer to become the next psychiatrist, and the game continues.
Practical Leadership Tips
I am always reminded of the saying that “truth is obvious to those who know it” when I play this game. To the audience, the rule seems so obvious, but rarely so in the beginning from the perspective of the psychiatrist. Such fun.
Need I emphasise, again, everyone’s desire to have fun? While there is clearly a challenge involved, especially for the psychiatrist, please do not let them get too stressed looking for the key. Keep proceedings light and jovial.
Sometimes, a few well-placed and/or well-phrased statements or questions (following the appropriate rule) will guide the psychiatrist down the right path. For example, you could say something like “FOCUS ON THE BREVITY OF OUR QUESTIONS…” to give a clue to the rule of five words.
Note, the psychiatrist should direct their questions to one person (a different person) at a time. Naturally, the whole group will hear the question and the response, but to keep the level of engagement high, it is best to involve as many people in the audience as possible.
Do you wonder what is the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist? Yeah, me too. Click here to learn more.
You could integrate The Psychiatrist as part of a well-designed SEL program to promote and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse people.
Specifically, this activity offers ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Linking Feelings, Values & Thoughts
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits to one’s wellbeing of solving a cognitive challenge and perhaps, enjoying a good laugh.
In a small way, you could argue that the focus required to successfully crack the code may speak to the benefits of being mindful because identifying a solution requires singular attention to one thing at a time. There is also no doubt that one must apply a generous dose of resilience and emotional intelligence to solve this task as well, so it is ideal for integrating into any program that explores strategies for building this critical wellbeing skill.
Note also the recommendations for how you present this lateral-thinking exercise in the Leadership Tips tab to support the emotional and mental wellbeing of your group. If presented thoughtfully and as part of an appropriate sequence, it is highly likely that even those people who do not (traditionally) like these types of games may enjoy themselves.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which The Psychiatrist could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Team Psych: Try it with two or three psychiatrists working together as a team, each taking turns to ask questions.
Mannerisms: Mix this exercise with In The Manner Of The Word. The psychiatrist has to identify the adverb chosen by the group from the manner in which they answer their questions.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
The trick to bringing this activity to a virtual audience is to find a way for the volunteer psychiatrist to not hear the conversation of the rest of the group. The simplest and quickest method is to ask the volunteer to physically leave their room and switch their computer volume to mute. Work to a time (eg 30 seconds) lest you may have no other way to alert the volunteer to return back to the screen. Also, it’s not enough to simply ask them to switch to mute because it is possible sometimes to watch the video thumbnail gallery to read lips and/or the body language of the group.
If you direct every response via the chat room, this strategy can sometimes give the psychiatrist a few more obvious clues to unravel the secret rule.
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Useful Framing Ideas
There are many professionals that must ask a lot of questions of their clients in order to help them. Doctors, optometrists, mechanics, psychiatrists, just to name a few. In the case of psychiatrists, I’d like you to imagine that you are all reclining on their couch and will soon be answering a series of probing questions…
In the world of mental health, the profession of psychiatrists offers a wonderful service to many individuals all over the world. With all respect to the world of psychiatry though, their work is not often a barrel of laughs, but this next exercise certainly is…
Sometimes, the truth can be looking you in the face, and yet, you still can’t see it. Such is the experience of this next hilarious game…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this highly entertaining group game:
How much fun was this game? Why?
What was it like to be the ‘psychiatrist?’
What was it like to be the patient answering a question?
How were you challenged in this exercise?
How difficult was it to play by the rules?
Where else in our lives is it useful to observe mannerisms?
The inspiration for The Psychiatrist, and many more audience-style activities, was sourced in the following publication: