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Therapists are now using ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ to talk to troubled kids

Sometimes it can be hard to express how you feel inside. What better place to open up emotionally than in a magical realm of wizards, warriors, and mythical beasts?

Adam Davis is the co-founder of Wheelhouse Workshop, a therapy group that engages kids in a setting that’s more comfortable than their school counselor’s office. Davis and his partner Adam Johns create scenarios for the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons in which troubled children have the chance to express themselves and experiment with other types of communication.

So, rather than struggling to give voice to their inner demons, a shy child can just become a demon instead and work as part of a group to recover some legendary gemstones from the bottom of a haunted mine or something.

The D&D persona gives breathing room and a safe space to learn how to relate to others. Each character is different and so, despite being a group activity, each child involved has a chance to feel valued. It’s hard to feel like an outcast when you’re summoning winged monkeys for all your friends.

Davis explains that he encourages kids to act in the manner of their chosen characters while sitting at the gaming table. He recalls one painfully shy boy who would sit in class with his body withdrawn as if trying to disappear. But when he came to the D&D therapy, he would slam his elbows on the table and spread his legs like the Dwarf Barbarian he had chosen.

Check out this recording of a presentation by Wheelhouse Workshop at PAX East 2017.

Dungeons and Dragons

This is just one aspect in which Dungeons & Dragons therapy can help young people. Other practitioners have used RPGs to work with young offenders, treat mental health conditions, and teach negotiation skills and charisma.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that Wheelhouse Workshop has also welcomed kids with autism and has succeeded in helping them cope with a disorienting world, as well as improve their social skills in a safe space.

So next time you feel less than 100 percent, don’t run straight to the doctor or grab some painkillers. Instead it might be worth getting a couple of mates round and slaying some goblins. Although beware, we all know the D&D can lead to some pretty, ehem, stranger things.

About the author

Milo Sumner is a day-dreamer, living and breathing in London. When feeling low, he tends to cut loose and chase after dogs in the park. Otherwise he can usually be found pondering what to have for lunch.