The Ungame is no longer the hottest new therapy tool that it was when it was created in 1972. Then, it encouraged families to talk and really listen to each other, responding to questions on cards and moving markers around a game board. Now, young people sometimes have trouble engaging with this format.
If you work with adults or teens on the autism spectrum today, you might want to learn more about a new kind of counseling or therapy group: RPG (Role Playing Games). If you’ve ever played D&D (Dungeons & Dragons), you know what I’m talking about.
In a therapy group for young adults, RPG can be useful in helping clients to relax, open up, and learn to rely on their team to solve problems together.
In a school setting, if you have students on the autism spectrum with social challenges who are interested in D&D, consider starting an RPG club during lunch or after school. RPGs encourage cooperation, communication, and perspective-taking, looking a problem from another’s point of view. The club will attract typical peers who share your student’s interests, so a possible side benefit could be finding a friend.
In either scenario, adult counseling group or school club, the therapist, counselor, or DM (Dungeon Master) may plan specific quests and unexpected twists to the plot which will force the players to work together toward a common goal. Several therapists have already written about their experience using D&D with their clients. Here’s what some of them say:
Cecilia D’Anastasio, reporting for Kotaku, wrote “Therapists are Using Dungeons & Dragons to Get Kids to Open Up.” In her article, she interviewed Adam Davis, co-founder with Adam Johns of the Dungeons & Dragons therapy group Wheelhouse Workshop in Seattle, WA. He shared, “I believe you can explore consequence in an environment where nobody gets hurt physically.” D’Anastasio also interviewed parents of Wheelhouse clients, who shared that flexibility is a common issue among their children, including kids with autism. They told her, “Structure and rules can help kids with autism cope with a disorienting world, but also, make social interaction quite difficult.” This is where D&D can help kids open up to being more flexible, looking for different ways to conquer the ogre or find the treasure. Read D’Anastasio’s full article here:
Catriona White interviewed Adam Davis for BBC, in a piece called, “Dungeons & Dragons is Now Being Used as Therapy.” Davis described a shy, quiet teenager who chose as his character a loud, bumbling, and totally unapologetic dwarf barbarian. This provided a unique opportunity for him to try out a more confident, less fearful approach to the world, in a safe space. White also interviewed Jack Berkenstock, who runs the Bodhana Group, a nonprofit in York, PA, that uses tabletop RPG in therapy for the social and educational value. Read White’s full article here:
Kendall Ashley posted “Dungeons & Dragons as Therapy” on Geek & Sundry, writing about Dr. Raffael Boccamazzo, the Clinical Director of Take This, a non-profit in Raleigh, NC, founded by two journalists and a clinical psychologist in response to the tragic suicide of a colleague. Dr. Boccamazzo uses D&D to help struggling teens establish solid social skills. They learn “those tough-to-teach aspects of socialization like appropriate communication, forming friendships, empathy, and other social nuances.” Read Ashley’s post here:
Find more information from Take This about two experts explaining the therapeutic benefits of D&D:
…and a here’s a podcast from Take This, “Dr. B Talks Therapeutic D&D” on the official Dungeons & Dragons podcast:
The bottom line, in my opinion, is that if you are a professional working with autistic teens or adults, and you are interested in or knowledgeable about role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, you should consider RPG Therapy. Try modifying a quest to align with your therapy goals or social IEP goals. It looks like a good way to get kids in groups interacting and engaged, and that’s an important first step in any therapy or educational situation.