Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
D&D Therapy

Mur Lafferty | 29 Aug 2006 12:00
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Last September, Derek suffered a stroke; specifically what's called a "bleed."

"A bundle of small blood vessels at the base of my skull ruptured and started to fill my skull with blood," Derek said. "They had to go in and drill three or four holes and insert tubes into my head to let out the excess blood." He was in a coma for 45 days.

We figure Derek lost at least three-fourths of his hit points that night in September. His recovery has not had any Cure Light Wounds speed, sadly. It's been slow, proceeding in baby steps to begin to get back the skills he lost during the stroke.

At the beginning of the 2006 summer, Derek was nearing the end of his official speech therapy appointments. His therapist, Karen Patterson, asked him what he did for fun, since a lot of everyday activities count as therapy for stroke victims, and if they can have fun during therapy, all the better. When he mentioned his D&D playing, Karen asked for more information.

"Once she read more about D&D and other games of the type, she realized that it is a good use of my time at home to get myself back to talking normally and with friends and coworkers," Derek said. "She also found out that in the early days of the creation of D&D, it was used at hospitals and schools for kids and others that had issues with talking and other problems with relating to others, or with the world in general. So, she became a big fan of me getting back to doing the gaming with friend on a normal schedule. Who was I to argue?"

Patterson was right that D&D has been used in speech therapy before, but the ironic thing is that there are several examples of it being used in psychotherapy. In 1994, Wayne D. Blackmon published an article in the American Journal of Psychotherapy titled "Dungeons and Dragons: The Use of a Fantasy Game in the Psychotherapeutic Treatment of a Young Adult." In his study, Blackmon had a suicidal patient by the name of Fred who resisted conventional therapy with great hostility, but his therapy had a significant turning point when Fred joined a D&D game. Blackmon writes, "It did allow him some social contact, and the eagerness with which he told me about the game indicated to me the importance of his sharing this material. I began to encourage him to bring summaries of episodes into therapy and to ask about motivation and feelings of characters."

After exploring issues regarding his parents and his mentally challenged brother, Fred began to recognize the range of feelings from love to hate within therapy, and to master them.

Games are easy targets for the fundamentalist leaders and uninformed parents who want to blame the Problems of the Youth Today on one easily defined and censorable hobby. Have gamers killed people? Yes. But so have sports fans, rifle enthusiasts, military personnel, NASCAR devotees and people with other hobbies. And yet roleplaying is the one hobby that is vilified; it's the one that people always assume has a definite connection to violence.

Detractors point to the fact that you can worship demons, cast spells and kill innocents in games, and that these lead to more violent thoughts that escalate into actions in real life. But, as the case of Fred showed us, sometimes the violent actions in our imaginations can act as a valve on a pressure cooker, letting us pretend to do things that we know are socially reprehensible. Fred's character had killed a rich man's sons and was conspiring to marry his daughter in order to gain the man's fortune. Blackmon writes, "As he recounted this material in the therapy we focused on two questions: the motives and feelings of the character as he schemed and acted, and whether Fred had ever had such feelings, and in what situations. Gradually, he was able to relate that he had felt his brother had always gotten the family 'treasures' of love and attention and that he had wanted to murder him much of the time."

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