Utilizing Video Games in Treatment

Something that I have grown to love over my years in mental health, is utilizing video games in treatment. I have been utilizing video games for roughly the past 5-6 years, and have seen growth with client’s when utilizing video games. Not only in my young individual client’s, but in families, couples, siblings, etc. Below are some reasons why utilizing video games in treatment is useful.

  • Socialization
    • When we first learn how to communicate, it is not with words but with non verbal methods. Such as facial expression, through play, body language. So when a client does not want to speak, utilizing video games is a wonderful way to return to the basics of communication, and then bring in the verbal socialization. As seen next in co-op play, socialization through non threatening play can build rapport and increase socialization.
  • Cooperative play
    • It can be easily rehearsed to speak to someone one on one. But what happens when we throw a task into the mix. Individuals often are unsure of how they communicate with others, but are often told they are brash, unapproachable, or even too timid. Through co-op play, these things are highlighted and then can be discussed, worked through in game, and utilized in the real world.
  • Social skills
    • Verbal and non verbal skills can be learned through utilization of games. “You got wrecked!” is probably not the best way to communicate to someone that you enjoy playing with them. Instead utilizing this in session can orient the individual to appropriate social skills, or insight to how others might feel about that statement in a safe place.
  • Ice breaker
    • It can be intimidating to talk to a new person, especially about things that maybe have never been spoken out loud. Playing video games creates a safe space, familiarity, and allows the client to get to know the space, the therapist, and the flow of treatment without the intimidation.
  • Resourcing
    • Resourcing is from the Trauma Resiliency model, and is a tool to bring in something of peace, calm, strength, or happiness to mind to utilize in bring us back to a place of managing. In games, there are many different levels of resourcing, music, textures, characters, nostalgia, memories etc. One can draw from this to build their own resource and be able to call upon it whenever they notice they are not in their space of managing, and then be able to return to it on their own.
  • Grounding
    • Silly as it may sound, utilizing video games can be grounding. At times a gamer may lose their sense of being and feel as though they are running with their character. But orienting an individual to the space they occupy, the surfaces they are making contact with, and where they are in space can be a helpful tool to practice while utilizing games.
  • Non-threatening
    • Life can come too much too fast at times, but with games they can be put down, discussed, paused, and the individual can reorient themselves to the situation. Thus building confidence to work through a situation without the threatening aspect that causes our survival response to kick in, preventing the thinking brain from being able to assess and respond to the situation.
  • Family bonding: Having families, spouses, partners, siblings etc speak the same language
    • From a young age we begin our communication through play. Video games are a way to communicate also, and often in session discrepancy’s in communication can be identified.
  • Self-esteem/confidence building
    • Some individuals that engage in RPG (role playing games) often identify with their character in some way. Maybe that is a strong barbarian who can protect their group from harm, when in the real world, this individual feels as though they cannot protect those around them. Or a druid, who can heal others, when in the real world the individual has a difficult time being able to speak up for others or themselves. The empowerment, and at times sense of purpose, individuals feel through playing games can increase their self esteem and confidence and can be utilized in their day to day.

These are just a few examples of the ways that I personally utilize games in treatment. It is also a wonderful rapport building activity for individuals that are worried about coming to therapy, and assists in building a safe space.