The Therapeutic Benefits of Dungeons and Dragons
It’s been well-documented in our community that Dungeons and Dragons is seeing a revival like it hasn’t in decades. Now, more than any time in recent years, friends are gathering for hours, sometimes days at a time, to take on the role of fictional characters, work together to pursue a goal, defeat bad guys, and collect treasure.
Why such the resurgence? We can likely point to the COVID-19 pandemic that has largely relegated us to our homes and limited outside social activity. The hit show, Stranger Things, also deserves a lot of credit.
That’s only part of the story, however. Increasingly, mental health experts ranging from school counselors to prison psychologists, are realizing the many benefits of play therapy that D&D brings about.
What is Play Therapy?
Play therapy has been around since the days of Freud and the infancy of the psychology field. Over many decades, play therapy has proven a useful way to help us come to grips with new information, experiment with different behaviors before enacting them in real life, enhance problem-solving skills, and improve social aptitude.
There’s a common misconception that play therapy only benefits young children. New evidence has emerged that its benefits can actually be realized by people of all ages. The problem has been finding ways that are socially acceptable for adults to engage in play therapy…
What Are the Benefits of D&D Play Therapy?
Playing D&D allows people of all ages to rekindle their childlike sense of play, fantasy, and adventure. Let’s talk about a few of the most notable benefits specifically.
Players engaging in D&D take on the role of someone different than themselves. As an example, let’s say someone is dealing with issues of always having to be “right.” Playing the role of someone else allows this person to literally see the world through a different set of eyes. This exterior perspective has proven to help people acknowledge other points of view and in turn, show elements of empathy toward other players in the game.
In most games, players compete against each other. In D&D, it’s quite the opposite as players work together toward a common goal. In doing so, they have to practice patience, openly communicate, get along, and even put the needs of the group before their own.
All too often, people are afraid of being judged for acting a certain way in a real-life social environment. This can manifest itself in many ways such isolation, lack of self-esteem, addiction, depression, and anger to name a few.
Because players in D&D are actively role playing, they have the chance to creatively test out new or different social behaviors in an environment where the consequences of their actions are low.
The majority of people deal with some level of social anxiety, especially when trying to make friends in a new group or in a foreign environment.
The structured nature of D&D breaks down many of the barriers and fears that exist in the real world. As a result, players feel less awkward around each other, conversation flows more naturally, and bonds are more easily cultivated.
There’s no shortage of data that proves creative pursuits are a tremendous therapy for all sorts of different things. In no other game are you allowed to express your creativity more than D&D. Whether you want to be the life of the party in the village, or the stoic warrior who commands respect, you can do it in D&D.
What Does a D&D Therapy Session Look Like?
Most therapy groups consist of three or four players, although some groups have more. To start, players arrive at the therapy session and check in.
For the next several minutes, the therapist facilitates a space where players can talk amongst themselves outside of their character. This time is used to discuss anything from the weather, to how the group’s progress is going in the game.
Once characters are assigned, the game begins. Here, the therapist acts as the Dungeon Master to keep things moving along and monitor everyone to make sure they’re having fun.
After the game portion of the session ends, time is set aside for a final conversation about how the game is going and what everyone’s individual goals are in the therapy group.
How long each therapy session lasts varies a lot depending on the group. Game time can last anywhere from an hour, to several hours.
What Are People Saying About D&D Therapy?
The benefits of D&D therapy have been largely positive for both participants and others. In a recent interview with Geek and Sundry, Dr. Raffael Boccamazzo revealed that the benefits he’s seen in young and adolescent children struggling with social maturation are quite promising. In one instance, he cites some children that had trouble making eye contact in their first session, have blossomed into confident, socially adept leaders that have even taken on diplomatic roles within the game.
Parents seem excited too. At a minimum, regular D&D therapy gets their children out of the house and away from the screens on their phones and computers. Even more, parents recognize the benefits of having a structured social setting for their kids to engage in. They also love the fact that they can receive regular updates on their child’s progress.
If the recent surge in the popularity is any indication, it appears D&D is here to stay. In a time rife with division, forced isolation, and perceived uncertainty, D&D provides a way for people of all ages and walks of life to come together and bond over a common pursuit.
What’s even more, we’re finding more and more evidence that the game’s therapeutic benefits have some real merit. If you want to find out more about the benefits of D&D play therapy, check out some of the resources below.
Geek and Sundry
Dungeons and Dragons as Part of Therapy
Geek Therapy Community Facebook Page