How Therapists Are Using Tabletop Games to Help People

“Our mortality is actually what gives things meaning and motivates us to do anything at all,” Levitt said. “For a long time I was more of a goal person than a travel person, and I think that’s really changed, thanks in part to this game.”

Role playing can be especially helpful for people who have experienced trauma and oppression. Cassie Walker, a clinical social worker and trauma specialist, sees play and roleplay as a valuable way to connect with clients and show that therapy doesn’t have to be serious or painful.

“Trauma separates us from ourselves, and one of the first things we become separated from is our imagination and creativity,” says Walker. Table games allow their customers to reconnect with their imaginations as the structure of the games offers some comfort and encourages people to think about what could be rather than what is.

While many people who attend geek therapy are children and teenagers, many therapists — including Walker — work with adults. Walker wants therapy to be a space that is fun and energizing for clients.

“Therapy is so important and has so much healing potential, but colonizing our health and well-being and spirit has made it such a stale, static and depressing thing,” says Walker. “I laugh with my clients, I cry with my clients. We play games, we explore what’s fun with them.”

Here’s how you can get involved

Geek Therapeutics has a directory of certified geek therapists on their website. In addition to TTRPG therapy, some providers offer forms of geek therapy, including therapeutic video games and less structured role-playing games. These therapists offer services both in the United States and internationally, and many accept insurance.

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Game to Grow has several in-house therapists who offer personalized therapies. They currently offer their services exclusively via telemedicine.

For those interested in leading group sessions and helping others, Geek Therapeutics offers training for mental health professionals, including therapeutic gamemaster training. The nine-week course includes training from professional game masters, some of whom were writers for Wizards of the Coast, the company behind Dungeons & Dragons.

“It can be very intimidating because they have over 30 years of experience,” says Bean. “But it’s also great to work with them and gain really masterful insights because they’re masters of their craft.”

To complement the Game to Grow methodology, Davis and Johns developed Critical Core with other mental health professionals and creatives. The game kit provides teachers, parents, and mental health professionals with all the resources needed to complete a TTRPG, including adventure modules, pre-made character sheets, and a moderator’s guide designed to integrate therapy into the games. The game is modeled after D&D but removes many of the rules and subtleties that can make TTRPGs intimidating for new players.

“We want to remove some of that complexity so it’s more about the narrative storytelling, the life magic of the narrative social game,” says Davis.

You don’t have to be a therapist to join either. Both organizations also provide training for people who are not mental health professionals, such as teachers, parents or anyone looking for a way to connect with themselves and others through games.

Geek Therapeutics’ Certified Geek Specialist program helps participants better support their peers and students through the lens of TTRPGs and fandom more broadly. The course is self-paced and offers more than 80 hours of content for participants.

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Game to Grow offers two forms of training outside of its Certified Therapeutic Game Master program – community training and educator training. According to Davis, educator training is geared towards pedagogical rather than therapeutic goals, and integrates common core competencies and 21st-century skills. The community training is for everyone who does not fall into the category of educator or psychotherapist.

Boccamazzo is clinical director at Take This, an organization focused on reducing stigma and promoting mental health in games. Boccamazzo also provides training on the practical use of role-playing in clinical and learning settings. He notes that playing a TTRPG is not in and of itself a therapeutic practice, even if the GM is a mental health professional, so keep that in mind.

“The game is not the therapy,” says Boccamazzo. “It’s therapy being therapy, using play as a vehicle.”

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