Dungeons & Dragons As Therapy

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You read that right, Dungeons & Dragons isn’t just an awesome game, it can also be used in a therapeutic manner to help teens learn social skills. Dr. Raffael Boccamazzo, the Clinical Director of Take This, uses D&D to help teens who are struggling to adapt solid social skills learn those tough-to-teach aspects of socialization like appropriate communication, forming friendships, empathy, and other social nuances. He recently explained how he uses D&D in therapy on the official Dungeons & Dragons  podcast, and it’s completely fascinating.

By using D&D in a therapy session, it basically takes therapeutic roleplay to a new and creative level. Instead of imitating a regular conversation, the kids get immersed into quests and are able to flourish in the game setting. Regular social situations often have much higher perceived stakes for “failing,” and often lead to increased pressure or anxiety. However, using D&D can provide carefully crafted, slower-paced, and highly monitored scenarios to offer socialization practice in easier-to-digest bites. Kids who struggle to react appropriately in “regular” social situations often feel more at ease when interacting in a roleplaying setting because they are responding to others under the guise of their character rather than themselves. Dr. Boccamazzo even noticed some of his kids who struggled to make eye contact in real life completely blossom and take on diplomatic roles in-game.

So how do parents respond to taking their kids to a gaming therapy session? Surprisingly, they’re thrilled about it. At the very least, it gets their kids out of the house and away from the TV, phones, and computers. But sending their kids to a monitored social situation where they can receive feedback on their behavior is incredibly helpful for parents. Additionally, the character alignments can help the teens build a character and articulate morality and motivation to parents and other people outside of the D&D sessions. Not to mention the fun it must be to see their kids blossom socially and flex their creative muscles.

In addition to tabletop roleplaying, there are also  video games designed to help with anxiety and depression, and fortunately, more and more clinicians are starting to see the value games can have in teaching and treating patients. While too much gaming can cause concern among parents, parents and clinicians are learning about and experimenting with the ways they can utilize games to help their kids.

Have you ever used a game in a therapeutic way? What other games do you think could be helpful to help kids learn better socialization? Tell us about how games have helped you and how you think they can help others in the comments!

Image credit: Marc Majcher/ Flickr.com

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