Therapeutic RPG

What is an RPG?

RPG stands for Role Playing Game. There are many different role playing games with various themes.  Table Top RPG's are games played at a table like a board game that also involve role play. Dungeons an Dragons is the specific table top RPG that I use therapeutically. 

What is Dungeons and Dragons (TM)?

Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is a table-top RPG that has been played since the 1970's by many throughout the world. Dungeons and Dragons is a collaborative story telling experience in which players create characters who go on adventures. The adventures can span a wide range of experiences and stories, but often involve puzzle solving, social relationships of various kinds, beating monsters, and finding treasure or other valued items. 

The Game Master (GM) tells a story and the players tell the GM what they want to do within the story. Both the GM and the players roll dice to help determine what happens, so there is always a surprise. The players have a lot of input into how the game progresses, turning it into a collaborative story telling experience. 

For example, the GM may tell the players that a rumor begins to circulate in the town where they are staying that people are going missing. No one sees them disappear but one day they are just gone. The players decide to investigate, and after asking questions of townspeople, tracking some footprints in the woods, and fighting through a giant spider nest they discover that there are a group of elves stalking the townspeople and taking them away at night. The elves’ motives are unknown, but once the players find the missing townspeople deep in the woods, they are surprised to find that the townspeople don’t want to go home. This is not what they were expecting! So, now the players have to figure out why the people don’t want to leave, and if they should do anything….

Benefits of Role Playing Games 

Individuals playing these games use and learn a huge variety of skills during play, which can transfer out into the rest of their lives. Below is a sampling of the kinds of skills people use and learn in this type of game.

Executive Functioning Skills

Attending to relevant details                     Staying focused on extended tasks

Shifting attention                                           Breaking tasks into smaller parts 

Prioritizing                                                        Multitasking

Recalling relevant information                Synthesizing information

Imagining possibilities                                Anticipating potential consequences 

Flexible thinking                                            Sustaining effort 

Delayed gratification                                    Time sense

Self monitoring                                               Inhibiting impulses

Emotional Awareness and Regulation

Noticing emotions at lower levels          Telling others about your emotions

Stress management                                     Tolerating anger

Managing excitement                                  Tolerating sadness & loss

Noticing emotions of others                     Facing fears

Tolerating unexpected change                Tolerating undesired outcomes

Tolerating the unknown

Critical thinking and Problem Solving

Curiosity                                                             Asking relevant questions

Analyzing complicated information      Drawing good inferences  

Deciding between two bad options       Evaluating effects of one’s actions 

Learning from other’s mistakes               Creativity & Improvisation

Spatial reasoning

Social Thinking & Social Communication

Reading others facial expressions           Guessing other’s emotions

Anticipating what others might do         Asking about others thoughts 

Tailoring your words to the listener       Self advocating  

Asking about other’s feelings                    Emotionally supporting others

Empathy                                                             Social “rules”

Being a good team member                      Working with people you dislike

Noticing social faux pas                              Recovering from social faux pas

Establishing new friendships                    Enhancing sharing in relationships

Self Awareness and Identity Development

Recognizing personal strengths              Recognizing personal weaknesses

Allowing yourself to be vulnerable         Acting braver than you feel

Trying something risky                                Recognizing we can all play “roles”

Learning to change roles                             Learning our limits and boundaries

Trying on philosophies of life                    Existential issue exploration

Exploring & accepting uncomfortable/undesired parts of self  

Academic Skills

Reading complex material                            Speed reading

Arithmetic                                                            Speed arithmetic 

Writing                                                                   Taking notes effectively

What is Therapeutic D&D?

There are additional benefits to participating in role playing games with a therapeutic game master. There is an added layer of emotional safety provided by the therapist's presence and management of issues that can arise. The game itself is modified to encourage work on particular skills that each player needs. The therapist provides questions or prompts for the players at the beginning or ending of each session to promote self reflection. In addition, mental health themes can be explored in safety as well as learning and practicing methods for dealing with mental health concerns. 

Most people who play D&D or other role playing games can tell you that their characters reflect parts of themselves- sometimes parts they like and sometimes parts they don't like. Other times characters may reflect ways of being a player wishes they could have in their regular life. The game setting gives people a chance to try out being different in a safe way. Because if it goes badly, it was your character who did that, not you! Therapeutic game masters help modulate players' experimentation with new ways of being so that it is more likely to be a positive or healing experience. 

For more information about therapeutic D&D check out the following resources:

Clinical Role on Twitch. A D&D group composed of therapeutic game masters who discuss this work and play D&D.

Game to Grow. A Seattle area nonprofit that provides services and education. Multiple videos on the site including interviews with TGM's.

About the GM: I first played D&D 25 years ago at the kitchen table. I play every Saturday with friends where I have characters including: a 5th level Human Monster-Slayer Ranger, a 5th level Half Elf Sorcerer and a 3rd level Gnome Arcane-Trickster Rogue.

NOTE: Dungeons and Dragons is a Trademark of Wizards of the Coast (Hasbro Subsidiary). I am not affiliated with, nor endorsed by Wizards of the Coast or Hasbro. 

Current Groups:

Winter/Spring 2020:

1. Girls and Great Swords

Girls  D&D group age 10-14. Wednesdays 4:00-5:30 pm.


2. D&D Teen Group

Age 15-22, co-ed.

Thursdays 5:30-7:00 pm.