Games as Therapy

Tuesday, December 9, 2008
No, it's not a hair brained scheme, it's a possibility. I'm sure most of you know the feeling of unwinding after a hard day at work with a nice frag session. It feels good to let out your aggression, and it's more than just an escape as so many under appreciative psychologists have stated. Games are more than that, we all know it. They help us through difficult times, breakups, deaths, loneliness, etc. We've used them for years to help us better understand the world we are a part of, so isn't it time that the professional world start taking notice? I think so.

The issue has been burning at the back of my brain for months, but it wasn't until recently that circumstance really brought it to the forefront. A close friend, a therapist (not mine), approached me for advice on a treatment plan for a client. My friend (who for the sake of confidentiality will remain nameless) was considering adding a certain amount of game time to the treatment plan.

As my friend says"Studies have shown that people with disorders such as ADD are helped to focus by the use of video games. Games are also helpful in developing cognitive reasoning and problem solving skills as well as helping people who may, in the real world, have trouble relating to each other, connect in the context of the game."

Play therapy has been used in children and adolescents and is an accepted therapeutic technique. "It makes sense to explore the possibilities of some video games' therapeutic capacities," says my friend. My friend isn't sure of many specific games that could be used but I have recommended Rock Band and Shadow of the Colossus to grieving or depressed friends before, to resounding success.

So what makes games so helpful? "As a distraction from negative thinking patterns, games are a wonderful tool." Just as someone with an addiction might try to find a replacement activity when they feel a craving or urge, one could easily use games to the same effect. Distracting the brain from negative thinking patterns is a staple of cognitive therapy, as they engender feelings which influence behavior. Surely we've all had similar patterns in our own lives, some of us may have already used games to similar ends. I know I have.

It certainly isn't that far fetched an idea when you look at the success of play therapy and replacement strategies. Games are perfect candidates for use in therapy, they're just a new and less understood method of treatment. Hopefully my friend will meet with success in her treatment plans and others may take notice of said success. Who wouldn't want to see a treatment plan demanding three hours of Rock Band twice a week?