Through careful examination of the core elements of role playing games (RPGs), any person can gain significant benefit developmentally, emotionally, socially, or even morally. The trick to using RPGs therapeutically is a balancing act. The core practice is to allow the person playing to first and foremost have fun. This is the doorway to the benefits of the hobby. While someone is having fun, they are heavily interested and engaged. This allows a person to let their guard down. In a relaxed state someone is more amenable to change and growth. This is when the other side of the balancing act takes over. The game and how it is structured plays a large part in this part of the process. You can craft storylines, interactions, and conflicts around central issues that the person is experiencing. The goal is to establish three central pieces. The first piece is a character who can act as a Therapeutic Avatar, whom the player interacts as and speaks through within the game world. This allows the player to engage and confront challenging material from behind the shield of their character. They can beta test solutions, options and try out different approaches to problems. The second piece is to create a space in which the safety of the game world allows for a person to experience consequences. The boon is that within that safety of the game world, real world effects do not discourage experimentation. This is not much different from the safe space and trust between a counselor or therapist or during a group session. The third piece is the stories or sessions themselves. These are created by both the players and the Game Master and can be crafted with certain issues or concerns in mind. This is a stage that can be the most rewarding and impacting, therefore it can also be the most challenging.
In concert with the approach described, The Bodhana Group focuses on more targeted and clinical approaches using role-playing games. This approach is being explored for use as a form of adjunct therapy, combining aspects and philosophies from varying methods of therapy. We are designing clinical trials for persons who have suffered trauma and ways that RPGs can be used for diagnoses such as Attention Deficit Disorder, Anger Management Disorders, and Social Anxiety Disorders.