Gamifying Mental Health Can Score Points

June 26, 2023

Gamifying Mental Health Can Score Points

Great mental healthcare is tailored to meet the needs of the individual, and today we’re highlighting a niche therapy group that aims to do just that. The group, RPG IRL, is being held virtually and will be led by Frances Bunzl Clinical Services clinician Sherri Cauthen, LCSW, RPT-S, and Shira Preiser, Clinical Intern. Shira explains what this new therapy is and who it appeals to.

What is RPG?

Shira: RPG stands for Role-Playing Game.  In this context, an RPG is a game where a group of players create characters and work together with a facilitator to create a story.  Telling stories together is one of the oldest and most profound exercises in what it means to be human.  RPGs draw on this rich tradition to create a deeply engaging experience.

The group uses a popular RPG called Dungeons & Dragons. What will the experience be like for participants? 

Shira: Dungeons & Dragons draws on the genre of high fantasy worlds. During the game, heroes go on perilous quests, struggle against the odds, and learn to harness the magic within themselves.  Using their imaginations, clients will build a world together and imagine themselves as the heroes who inhabit it.  No high-end computer graphics are needed, just some dice to add an element of chance.  To help or hinder the player's quest, a Dungeon Master (DM) helps set up challenges for the players to overcome. In this setup, Sherri and I will be the Dungeon Masters.

Who is invited to participate in this group? What are the benefits?

Shira: While people of all ages enjoy RPGs, this group will focus on adolescents who are 13-18.  Since RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons are group storytelling games, they can be excellent conduits for group therapy. The game itself provides a structure to facilitate group interaction and provides ways to work through the problem-solving process together in real time.  It's also extremely fun!  Clients in therapeutic RPG groups often develop a great deal of investment in the group process, which has a positive impact on client involvement and retention.

How does this therapy group help people build social skills?

 Shira: Each character in an RPG has their own unique set of skills and struggles.  For example, the brave fighter might be reliable in battle, but clumsy and awkward while negotiating at a local inn.  Clients can explore the ways that different characters support each other on an adventure, while supporting each other in the here-and-now.

Clients can also use RPGs to experiment with different ways of interacting with others.  They may choose to play a character who represents someone they aspire to be, or they may choose to experiment with a new way of interacting with others.  For example, someone who's naturally shy may choose to play someone brash and impulsive.  RPGs give players a chance to explore sides of themselves they may not otherwise feel comfortable expressing, and RPG IRL will give clients an opportunity to do so with full therapeutic support.

Do you know someone between 13-18 who might be a good fit? To learn more and to register for this group and get more information about future sessions, contact Shira Preiser at

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