Therapist Journal, Thoughts on Therapy

Role Playing Games, Family, and the Like: A Brief Follow Up Conversation

Previously, I have shared that role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons have been shown to be helpful in allowing adolescents to work on their anxiety (see here). Since then I have taken the time to follow up with my own research of what the peer reviewed psychological journals say about the use of role playing games in therapy and the benefits we gain from them in everyday life.

Blackmon (1994) describes the use of Dungeons and Dragons in the treatment of a client with schizoid personality disorder. Blackmon describes that throughout the beginning of treatment his client would not engage fully in therapy as a result of his previous history with male figures in his life. As a result, the client was engaged “superficially” in the therapy process and the therapist did not feel that a good therapeutic alliance was being developed between the two of them. In the second year of therapy the client had finally made success in making a social connection beside with the therapist by joining a group that was playing Dungeons and Dragons. Slowly over time the client would bring summaries of the Dungeons and Dragons sessions into therapy so that the therapist and him could analyze the characters motives, emotions, etc. After six months of this therapeutic intervention the client started to talk about emotions without the context of the role playing game adventures with the therapist showing a distinct change in the client’s behavior (Blackmon, 1994). Dungeons and Dragons and other role playing games draw on the use of imagination. Blockman (1994) summarized that his work with his client by describing what he found to be the benefits of role playing games in therapy as:

A process whereby fantasy is used to overcome the inability of obsessives,
schizoids, borderlines, adolescents, and alexithymics to work toward emotional
change may have considerable merit. The high degree of structure
engendered by the rules of Dungeons and Dragons seems to bypass some of
the risks of fantasy-based therapies such as Guided Affective Imagery while
allowing emotions to emerge within the therapy in a nonthreatening manner.
At the same time, the therapist’s interest and attention may serve a function
of mirroring approval as patients become familiar with their own, but
displaced, psychic structure. The use of this game as an adjunct to therapy
can allow patients an opportunity to explore their mental dungeons and slay
their psychic dragons.

Dungeons and Dragons and other games through the use of imagination allow clients and individuals to develop their skills through the use of creativity. Creativity has been examined over the years and been found to be a skill that has started to diminish in our culture.There has been a “creativity crisis” in our nation as scores in creativity have declined. As these scores have declined research has shown that “creativity is a normal brain function” that is helpful in our development (Bronson & Merryman, 2010).  Through creativity everyone is able to develop skills and play out scenarios they can not do in every day life. “The nation’s reported “creativity crisis” weakens much more than the arts. It diminishes productive problem-solving as conflicts are often met with a “fight (violence, anger, bullying) or flight” (alcohol, suicide, drop-outs) response” (Drawn to Diversity, 2014).

What benefits do we as players receive by playing role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons? Betz (2011) investigated this idea by breaking down the game mechanics of role playing games in order to determine what we learn from the games. He broke them down into seven rules:

  1. To be successful you need a team—it is very difficult to succeed alone
  2. To be successful you need diversity—we do not need to be the same
  3. To be successful, you need to agree on the fundamentals—we need to share the same values and visions
  4. Work can be fun—as long as it is not an obsession
  5. Learn and grow—what is impossible today will be possible tomorrow
  6. Manage your downside risk—things will happen that nobody (or at least you) did not foresee
  7. You can make a difference; you can change the world

These rules are investigated and discussed more in Betz (2011) paper but an important discussion point is how these lessons are able to evolve into our daily lives and be used in psychotherapy. These rules or norms if you are looking from a group therapy lens allows a group of players in a role playing game to develop and practice social skills, coping skills with frustration and ambiguity, and how to be an individual in a group format. Throughout this process of group imaginative play the players are using creativity to solve problems, establish relationships, and achieve goals. The difference here is between Dungeons and Dragons the tabletop role playing game and the various massive multiplayer online role playing games or MMORPGs. When you are at a table with your character sheets there is a different atmosphere and interpersonal interaction that takes place in comparison to an online gaming experience. Some of Betz (2011) rules are able to be applied to both online and table top role playing games but the most effective and beneficial experience seems to come from table top gaming in which you have face to face interpersonal interactions with other players. These interactions are able to be explored and improved upon through discussion and interaction in a counseling or psychotherapy setting.

Rosselet and Stauffer (2013) explored the use of these interactions to help gifted children and adolescents improve their interpersonal skills. As they explored the use of pen and paper role playing games for this use they found that these role playing games were not only good at helping the clients develop interpersonal skills but helped the clients in their social and emotional development. Specifically, Rosselet and Stauffer (2013) explain ” Role-playing games offer players, and especially older children and adolescents, opportunities to work on their self-concept and to further develop their personal identity and awareness of social rules and functions.” With these benefits coming from the use of pen and paper role playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons it is important to recognize how these skills can be beneficial in therapy, child development, programming, and more.

In order to continue exploring this topic feel free to check out my references and come back to explore with me in future posts.


Betz, U. K. (2011). What fantasy role‐playing games can teach your children (or even you). British Journal Of Educational Technology, 42(6), E117-E121. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2011.01209.x

Bronson, P., & Merryman, A. (2010). “The Creativity Crisis”. Retrieved December 14, 2014 from:

Blackmon, W. D. (1994). Dungeons and Dragons: The use of a fantasy game in the psychotherapeutic treatment of a young adult.American Journal Of Psychotherapy, 48(4), 624-632.

Drawn to Diversity (2014). “Creativity Workshop” Retrieved December 14, 2014 from:

Rosselet, J. G., & Stauffer, S. D. (2013). Using group role-playing games with gifted children and adolescents: A psychosocial intervention model. International Journal Of Play Therapy, 22(4), 173-192. doi:10.1037/a0034557


1 thought on “Role Playing Games, Family, and the Like: A Brief Follow Up Conversation”

Join the Conversation...

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s