“Our mortality is actually what gives things meaning and motivates us to do anything at all,” Levitt said. “For a long time I was more of a destination person than a journey person, and I think that’s really shifted, in part thanks to this game.”
Role-playing can be especially helpful for people who’ve experienced trauma and oppression. Cassie Walker, a clinical social worker and trauma specialist, sees games and role-playing as a valuable way to connect with clients and demonstrate that therapy doesn’t have to be serious or painful.
“Trauma disconnects us from ourselves, and one of the first things we get disconnected from is our imagination and creativity,” Walker says. Tabletop games allow their clients to reconnect with their imaginations, as the structure of the games provide some comfort and encourage people to start thinking about what could be rather than what is.
While many people who participate in geek therapy are children and teenagers, many therapists—including Walker—work with adults. Walker wants therapy to be a space that can be fun and energizing for clients.
“Therapy is so important and has so much potential for healing, but the colonization of our health and wellness and minds have made it into such a stale, static, depressing thing,” Walker says. “I laugh with my clients, I cry with my clients. We play games, we explore what’s fun with them.”
How to Get Involved
Geek Therapeutics has a directory of certified Geek Therapists on its website. In addition to TTRPG therapy, some providers offer forms of geek therapy, including therapeutic video games and less structured role-playing. These therapists provide services in the US as well as internationally, and many accept insurance.
For those interested in leading group sessions and helping others, Geek Therapeutics offers training for mental health professionals, including therapeutic game master training. The nine-week course includes training from professional game masters, some of whom were writers for Wizards of the Coast, the company behind Dungeons & Dragons.
“It can be very intimidating since they have 30 years-plus experience,” says Bean. “But they’re also amazing to work with and to really gain a masterful insight, because they are the masters of their craft.”
To supplement the Game to Grow Method, Davis and Johns created Critical Core with other mental health professionals and creatives. The game kit provides teachers, parents, and mental health professionals with all the resources needed to run a TTRPG, including adventure modules, prewritten character sheets, and a facilitator guide designed to incorporate therapy into the games. The game is modeled after D&D, but it removes many of the rules and intricacies that can make TTRPGs intimidating for new players.
“We are wanting to remove some of that complexity to make it more about the narrative storytelling, life-magic of narrative social play,” says Davis.
You don’t have to be a therapist to participate, either. Both organizations also offer training for people who are not mental health professionals, like teachers, parents, or anyone looking for a way to connect with themselves and others through gaming.
Geek Therapeutics’ Certified Geek Specialist program helps participants better provide support for their peers and students through the lens of TTRPGs and fandom more broadly. The course is self-guided and offers more than 80 hours of content for those participating.
Game to Grow offers two forms of training outside of its Certified Therapeutic Game Master program—community training and educator training. Davis says the educator training is more aligned with educational goals than therapeutic ones, integrating Common Core and 21st Century Skills. The community training is for everyone who doesn’t fall into the category of educator or mental health professional.
Boccamazzo is the clinical director at Take This, an organization focused on decreasing stigma and increasing support for mental health in games. Boccamazzo also provides training on the applied use of role-playing games in clinical and learning settings. He notes that playing a TTRPG in and of itself doesn’t constitute a therapeutic practice, even if the GM is a mental health professional, so keep that in mind.
“The game is not the therapy,” Boccamazzo says. “It’s the therapy that’s the therapy, using the game as a vehicle.”