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What Are Therapeutic Games?

By Gregory Hanson
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Therapeutic games are designed to address certain psychological issues through structured play scenarios. These games are most often used with children, but versions may be employed by adults. Some therapeutic games are used in a formal clinical setting and are based on formal psychological research. Other varieties are available as consumer products and have not generally been evaluated by the scientific community. Game therapy can be used to allow patients to work through issues, or to foster certain sorts of behavior.

One of the most important uses of therapeutic games is in facilitating communication with children. Children often have an easier time expressing themselves and communicating through play than through more formal conversation. Some games take advantage of this fact and are designed to facilitate the communication of feelings or experiences that might otherwise be very difficult for children to articulate and which the children might not even consciously understand.

Formal play therapy often includes elements of role play. Psychologists can use carefully-structured games and scenarios to elicit feelings about traumatic experiences such as abuse or the breakup of a family. In many cases, these games allow several children to interact under observation as children typically interact more freely with one another than with adults, especially unfamiliar adults.

In some cases, psychologists may use therapeutic games to teach coping skills or to mitigate some destructive patterns of behavior. Games have been developed and used in a clinical setting to reduce the impact of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This condition makes it difficult for students to retain focus on any particular task or object. Therapeutic games have been used with some success to train children to be better able to focus, using a progressive system of challenges and rewards.

Other therapeutic games have been designed to allow children to cope with other specific psychological needs and issues. Some games make it easy and acceptable for children to express anger, which they might not otherwise be able to process. Games can allow children to learn skills FOR dealING with stress or building self-confidence by imagining and then drawing on internal symbols of strength.

Parents may also opt to select therapeutic games from the marketplace for use with children. These games are less carefully-researched than the games used in a formal therapeutic setting, but may still confer benefits. Games of this sort are designed to address a wide variety of personal and behavioral issues. Some are meant to teach self-respect, others are meant to enhance empathy or improve attention.

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Discussion Comments
By irontoenail — On May 23, 2014

@pastanaga - It's interesting how different people react to different games though. I would often give tarot readings to my friends when I was a teenager and I was always completely clear that it wasn't intended to be magic. It was just a game.

But people would still read deep things into the cards and end up thinking I was some kind of psychic, just because they managed to tell their own future, given a few simple prompts.

By pastanaga — On May 22, 2014

@pleonasm - I suspect that the kids and the therapists are usually pretty honest with each other. I know whenever I went to counseling, my therapist was absolutely willing to answer questions. No one wants to feel bad and children can understand that the point of the game is to help them learn to feel better about themselves, or to explore their reactions so that they can learn more about themselves in general.

There is no trick to therapy, really. The person has to have their eyes open and be willing to work on their own well-being, or there's no point. Games can make this easier for children.

By pleonasm — On May 21, 2014

I'm kind of suspicious about this sort of technique because I can imagine kids would pretty quickly figure out the point of the game and feel manipulated.

Children who have been in bad situations in particular are very good at figuring out social cues and trying to figure out the rules behind a scenario. If you are trying to earn their trust or help them the last thing you would want to do is to trick them into revealing themselves through a game.

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