RPG Therapy for Kids is a Real Thing, and It Works

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For most of us gamers, childhood activities often involved family tabletop nights, SEGA in the living room, and a whole lot of sitting by ourselves sorting through Pokémon cards or rulebooks. We were lucky if we were able to find a friend group to game with, something that to this day can still be difficult.

Sure, technology and social media have made it much easier to locate a game shop that hosts tabletop events or a Dungeons & Dragons meetup of sorts, but the fact that these opportunities exist and are easier to find information on isn’t always enough to get gamers out of their homes and into the tabletop community.

For ages, geeks have been stereotypically labeled as introverted, a trait most likely developed during the younger years of learning to play a game on your own due to lack of gaming interest from others. This can lead to fatigue in making friends, or fear of rejection when making friends becomes a desire.

And, well, sometimes social situations and opening up to others is difficult because that’s the way we’re wired from the beginning. We’re all unique in our personalities, and as members of both the tabletop and therapeutic communities, Adam Davis and Adam Johns are committed to helping kids and teens, whether they’re experienced gamers or not, to build social skills with a hearty dose of tabletop gaming.

Adam Davis earned a Master’s degree in Education with a focus in Drama Therapy from Antioch University Seattle, and is a recognized member of the North American Drama Therapy Association, and Adam Johns earned his Master’s degree in couple and family therapy at Antioch University after earning his Bachelor’s in Psychology from the University of Arizona, and is a therapist in private practice. Davis and Johns have taken their career experience and married it with their passion for tabletop role-playing to create Wheelhouse Workshop, an incredibly creative pursuit in which they use role-playing games to help people understand themselves better, and to help them become more confident, creative, and socially capable.

“It’s a fun experience to be asked what we do, and to get to answer, ‘I’m a professional therapeutic game master,'” Davis told Geek & Sundry.  “Most people who are familiar with role-playing games understand the concept pretty quickly, because it’s intuitive. These games are inherently beneficial, and we’re harnessing that capacity and facilitating them intentionally.”

To someone that may not have experience with tabletop role-play, explaining Wheelhouse Workshop’s work may be a tad difficult. Through trial and error, Davis and Johns have discovered that giving examples of their work and success with their clients makes far more of an impact than trying to delve into the fantasy plots of the game. “We learned the power of stories in explaining what we do,” Davis said. “No matter how resistant someone might be to “geeky” approaches to self-improvement, a good story shows the profound impact of the work.”

A particularly outstanding story that the team at Wheelhouse Workshop shared with us involved a cluster of kidnapped, brainwashed fairies, and a rescue team. One of the characters did not want to be free, because the routine of their brainwashed life was comforting, and known. To the players in this particular session, breaking out of routine was a difficult thing to do here in the real world, but due to their work with Davis and Johns, and their time spent together role-playing, they were able to convince the fairy to be brave. “The unpredictability is the magic of life.”

“I found out later that one of the players in that group had been told by a psychotherapist that they would need years of psychotherapy before ever being able to function in a social group,” Davis said. “That player is now having weekend outings with friends, and is a role model in our group for new participants.”

Wheelhouse Workshop hosts their sessions in Seattle and Kirkland, Washington for children and teens. Hear Adam Davis and Adam Johns speak more about their work in their  PAX South 2016 panel.

Have RPGs helped you? Tell us about us in the comments!

Featured Image Credit: Scott Akerman, Flickr

Image Credits: Wheelhouse Workshop

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