Using D&D in therapy to get kids to open up

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“Using D&D in therapy to get kids to open up.”

In 1995 as I finished my psychology degree I was playing a lot of single player D&D style games. My focus had been on therapy for children. Primarily art and music therapy. But I could see how the games I was playing in my free time could be retooled for therapy. For example, a therapist would be able to speak through any NPC’s like a much cooler variation of sock puppet therapy. The campaign could be tailored to expressing and exploring a person’s fears and feelings.

So the Monday after I finished my psych degree I started a post bac in CIS. Best choice I ever made. But sadly, I never found the time to work on the therapy game idea.


My son is 21 now but when he was a teenager one of his therapists made group therapy with D&D to help him and the other kids deal with their issues and it was amazing. The results at home were very noticeable. I am grateful to that therapist.


I think this approach with D&D is better than my old idea. Building and altering software takes time. D&D can be altered on the fly by a good DM. Same strengths without the overhead.


With as much role-playing that already goes on in therapeutic settings, it seems like a great fit. My therapist that I went to after my parents were divorced when I was about 10 didn’t use D&D per se, but all I remember from working with him was drawing on the floor on huge sheets of paper and talking about Redwall books. I still miss that dude.

I love that the explosion of D&D podcasts allows a diverse, intelligent and sensitive group of people to not only share actual-plays but also to just talk about what play means to them. The value seems undeniable.


Once my friend and I went to a new games shop that had opened near us, and they were hosting some kids DnD sessions. As we walked into the store we passed by one of the tables just in time to hear one preteen kid say loudly to his table “I cast the Find Parents spell because my parents are divorced!” My friend (who grew up through a messy divorce) and I shared a sad sort of wry glance with each other, and it’s been one of those moments etched into memory for us ever since, partly because of the tragedy, and partly for the cartoonishly on the nose comedy of it.
The Moral: Kids want to talk about it and DnD is a good place for them to do that.


I think this is fantastic. At my son’s school where there are lots of quirky kids (many of whom are on the spectrum), D&D is used exactly in this way (though not officially therapy sessions, they often turn out that way). It gives these kids, who often have a hard time relating to each other, a way to try out how best to interact with each other and learn to treat others with respect. Sometimes things get messy and sometimes feeling get hurt, but the kids learn so much about social/emotional skills, while having a great time. I’ve seen the progress first hand not, just in my son, but in other kids in his class.


I’ve never understood the logic behind the “Why haven’t you adopted the obvious solution?” lines of questioning. I suppose it has a structural resemblance to socratic method; but that’s only actually useful if the answer you are driving at is non-obvious and you think that ignorance of it is the subject’s actual problem. In absence of that it tends to be either condescending, nagging, or both.


Gaming as therapy is great. Before I transitioned, I used tabletops and larps to express my masculinity. My wife did the same, playing female characters almost exclusively, until she felt safe transitioning. I know a lot of trans folks that have done the same.



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