“Our mortality is actually what gives things meaning and motivates us to do anything,” Levitt said. “For a long time I was more of a destination person than a travel person, and I think that’s really changed, thanks in part to this game.”
Role play can be especially helpful for people who have experienced trauma and oppression. Cassie Walker, a clinical social worker and trauma specialist, finds games and role-playing a valuable way to connect with clients and demonstrate that therapy doesn’t have to be serious or painful.
“Trauma disconnects us from ourselves, and one of the first things we disconnect from is our imagination and creativity,” says Walker. Board games allow your customers to reconnect with their imaginations as the structure of the games provides some comfort and encourages people to start thinking about what could be instead of what it is.
While many people who participate in geek therapy are children and adolescents, many therapists, including Walker, work with adults. Walker wants therapy to be a space that can be fun and energizing for clients.
“Therapy is so important and has so much potential for healing, but the colonization of our health, wellness and minds has made it so stale and static and depressing,” says Walker. “I laugh with my clients, I cry with my clients. We play games, we explore what is fun with them.”
How to take part
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 provide services in the US and internationally, and many accept insurance.
Game to Grow has several in-house therapists who offer individual therapy. They currently offer their services exclusively through telehealth.
For those interested in leading group sessions and helping others, Geek Therapeutics offers training for mental health professionals, including therapeutic gaming teacher training. The nine-week course includes training from professional game masters, some of whom were former writers for Wizards of the Coast, the company behind Dungeons & Dragons.
“It can be very intimidating as they have over 30 years of experience,” says Bean. “But it’s also amazing to work with them and really get masterful insight, because they’re the masters of their craft.”
To complement the Game to Grow method, Davis and Johns created 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 run a TTRPG, including adventure modules, pre-written character sheets, and a facilitator’s guide designed to incorporate therapy into games. The game is modeled after D&D, but removes many of the rules and complexities that can make TTRPGs intimidating for new players.
“We want to remove some of that complexity so it becomes more focused on storytelling, the vital magic of narrative social gaming,” says Davis.
Nor is it necessary to be a therapist to participate. Both organizations also offer 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.
The Geek Therapeutics’ Certified Geek Specialist program helps participants better support their peers and students through the lens of the TTRPG and fandom in general. The course is self-paced and offers over 80 hours of content for participants.
Game to Grow offers two forms of training outside of its Certified Therapeutic Game Master program: community training and educator training. Davis says that educator training is more aligned with educational goals than therapeutic ones, integrating Common Core Standards and 21st Century Skills. Community training is for everyone who does not fall into the category of educator or mental health professional.
Boccamazzo is the clinical director of Take This, an organization focused on decreasing stigma and increasing support for mental health in gaming. Boccamazzo also provides training on the applied use of role-playing in clinical and learning settings. He points out that playing a TTRPG in and of itself doesn’t constitute a therapeutic practice, even if the GM is a mental health professional, so keep that in mind.
“The game is not therapy,” says Boccamazzo. “It is the therapy that is the therapy, using the game as a vehicle.”