Therapy Through Gaming

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Last year, we at Game to Grow were featured on Paizo’s blog as part of Autism Awareness Month. Some autistic members of our community shared their own experiences learning and growing while playing RPGs. This May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we’re happy to be back with more from the frontiers of gaming therapy.

In the past year, Game to Grow has continued to rise to meet the emerging needs of individuals worldwide. We’ve broadened our RPG-based services to serve a wider group of individuals and address a new range of challenges. Specifically, we’ve expanded our youth program to serve youth in the foster care system and youth in hospitals, and we have new groups specifically for LGBTQ+ youth. We’ve also expanded our adult programming to provide RPG groups focused on empathy, empowerment, and personal exploration. Our individual counseling program now has even more geek-friendly therapists steeped in the language of game lovers to facilitate personal growth. Game to Grow’s training program has had over 1,000 professionals trained in the Game to Grow Method, multiplying the number of people around the world who can continue to grow with games.

So how does it work? How are RPGs such a powerful tool for insight, growth, and change for so many people?

When using RPGs as a tool for growth, Game to Grow and our trainees leverage some of the built-in benefits of playing RPGs to help players gain new insights, build new skills, and develop social confidence. Below are some of the benefits you might consider the next time you play. In our training program we call these the “Core Capacities.” The next time you play, we encourage you to think about each of these as a muscle. The more you work and flex the muscle, the more you can build strength!

Game To Grow Logo

Regulation
When playing games like Pathfinder, there’s a 5% chance a player will roll a 1 any time they roll their d20. As all players know, this can be incredibly frustrating! Because RPGs are so unpredictable, they’re wonderful opportunities to build the skill of regulation: the ability to handle both unpleasant and pleasant stress. Playing RPGs helps to build the ability to stay regulated, even to enjoy the peaks and valleys of triumph and disaster.

Collaboration
RPGs like Pathfinder are games of fellowship. No one character—no matter how meticulously a player has created them—is capable of handling every obstacle alone. RPGs remind us that we are stronger when we work with others and build on each other’s ideas. This is true on and off the RPG table!

Planning
When players are given an opportunity to solve problems together, they can plot, plan, and scheme. This is more than just looking before leaping, this is using logical sequencing and critical reasoning to construct plans based on facts and evidence. (Plans, of course, never go as planned. See why regulation is such an important skill!?)

Perspective-Taking
Though our characters might be, none of us are mind-readers. We have to actively work to communicate and understand the thoughts, feelings, and desires of others. In RPGs, this is built into the game! We are, but also aren’t, our characters. We’re constantly navigating player knowledge and character knowledge and communicating about both with our fellow players. Communicating clearly about our internal state, and confirming our assumptions of others’, is an incredibly valuable skill!

Pretend Play
Something often overlooked, especially for adults, is the life-enriching magic of play. Play is when our imaginations come to life, when we lose track of being perfect rule-followers, and when we become fully-engaged agents of change in our own lives. Play isn’t just important, it’s essential, and RPGs provide such a bounty of opportunities for true play!

These Core Capacities are just the beginning! To learn more about our methods or to join a group, please visit us at www.gametogrow.org.

We also always like to ask players themselves: What have you learned about yourself through playing RPGs? How have they helped you learn, grow, and change? Let us know in the comments!


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I know this is a little different to what is in the post but still mental heath stuff. There have been two times in my life that I have found the pathfinder society community to be amazing. The first time was a nine month period between 2014 and 2015 where my dad, granddad and one of my uncles passed away. The other was in early 2020 when my son was stillborn. Both times I could speak of how playing an rpg helped me get through it and how the friends I have made also where of great help.

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

This is very Powerful for me. At some of my lowest points Organized Play helped me stay out of my own head and enjoy life with new people. I had a horrible divorce and was at an extremely low point. Instead of just staying in, I pushed myself to go out. I meet many awesome people in OP and it helped me. Then in 3/15/16 – I was in a traumatic crash. Broken Pelvis & TBI. Many of my OP Friends came and visited me and spent time with me. Even after known for little less than 2 years.

Every TBI Is different, and unseen, with it can come great Mental Health issues. OP helped me get out of my comfort zone, to use my left side to move minis around, use my creative thoughts and switch back to the mechanical. This community became family to me, and I am grateful to be a part of it.

I will continue to be a champion for Male Mental Health Wellness & TBI awareness, in my Volunteering and speeches, and I strive to help the OP community feel welcomed. I know how hard Isolation is trapped in my own head, I want others to be welcomed and safe and grow. #youarenotalone #TBIsurvivor

Acquisitives

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Powerful stories <3


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I recently returned to role-playing after a hiatus of many years. I have managed to do so through the great online Paizo community, and am very grateful because it has given me another common activity to enjoy with my son, who is on the autism spectrum. As a therapist, I have been looking into the efficacy of role-playing for working with many different conditions as well, and think that one day I will be able to use these games to help people that I work with. Many thanks to the people at Game to Grow and at Paizo for all they do.

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