• A newer trend in therapy, and one that I find myself using often is gaming in therapy.  How can this be helpful? How do you know you’re getting a therapeutic benefit from it?  How do you direct the discussion?  If done right, it can help open up discussions with your clients that you might not have been able to through normal reflection and probing.

    Why is it helpful? 

    Playing a game with your clients can help move through the relationship building phase quickly.  It puts you and your client on equal terms.  It shows them that it is okay to be vulnerable in the setting and that you are there for them.  It is also beneficial in helping a client get unstuck from what is going on in their mind by focussing them on something else.

    I had a client who could not put his thoughts into words.  So, I pulled out Settlers of Catan, we set up the game together, and within minutes of starting the game, it was if a lever had been turned and opened the floodgates of thought.  So many intense emotions filled the room and we were able to begin delving into his concerns.

    How is gaming in therapy different?

    You do not want to come off to your clients as someone who “just play games” in session.  Therefore, it is important to be able to attach a therapeutic meaning to the game you are playing.  For example, for a substance therapy group I ran, I would bring games like Codenames or Werewolf.

    The purpose of Codenames is to express what you want as clearly as you can only use two words while the others are trying to pick up on context information from those two words.  This helps with communication skills and opens up a discussion over the inevitable frustration they feel trying to communicate in such a way.

    Werewolf was especially interesting with substance use populations because you can see them beginning to single out one of the clients in the group (often their friend), regardless if they were an ally or an enemy to their team, well before the game even started.  The ultimate point of these games is to have them play it and express their feelings.

    How do you Direct the Discussion?

    In the Werewolf example above, that one singled-out client may have some grievances about what just happened in that game and giving them the space needed to talk about their feelings is important.  It is also beneficial to have them reflect on why they singled-out someone before knowing they were on their team or not and how that relates to them pushing away friends and/or family in their lives.

    The Benefits?

    As you can see, there are many benefits of gaming in therapy.  Some of the most popular and newest groups use Dungeons and Dragons.  You have the client create a character of how they want to be seen in their real world and have them explore and build on that experience and see how they can translate it back to their real world.

    But it is important to remember that this is a tool, just like any others we can utilize to help our clients open up in their therapy sessions, help them to reflect on difficult information obtained in the session, and is a good way to open up a flowing individual/group therapy discussion.


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