Wizard Therapists? Video Games That Target Depression, Anger Management, and Social Skills

Technology is playing more and more of a role in our lives today and the mental health field is taking advantage of all there is to offer as well. I was happy to come across some creative uses of this technology in treating mental and behavioral health. Video games!!

While there are just a few listed here, and two are not even ready for distribution, I am still excited to see the possibilities in using video games for good, rather than just promoting violence. In addition, these games are created with clinical professionals and undergoing clinical testing.

SPARKS- Using Avatars to Treat Depression

SPARKS video game in New Zealand has created a video game to combat teenage depression using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.According the the Sparx website, this game is NOT yet available for distribution as it is still going through clinical trials. I will keep watch though!

...And here's your new therapists: the SPARX computer game uses cognitive behavioural therapy to try to remove depression

“…And here’s your new therapists: the SPARX computer game uses cognitive  behavioural therapy to try to remove depression
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2181640/Meet-new-wizard-therapists-New-Zealand-trials-video-game-uses-role-playing-games-try-beat-depression.html#ixzz24fN7hOsV

Rather than simply encouraging players to  engage in combat or destruction, the SPARX video game developed in New Zealand  attempts to teach teenagers how to deal with depression using the psychological  approach known as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Just as importantly, its creators set out to  make the game exciting for those teenagers who are often reluctant to seek  counselling and bored by well-meaning advice on how to cope with  depression.

The result is a role-playing fantasy game,  where teenagers adopt a warrior avatar and get to blast negative thoughts with  fireballs while trying to save the world from sinking into a mire of pessimism  and despair.

Project leader Sally Merry, a child and  adolescent psychiatrist at Auckland University, said the unconventional approach  had proved popular with teenagers, allowing them to address their issues in  privacy and at their own pace.

‘You can deal with mental health problems in  a way that doesn’t have to be deadly serious,’ she said. ‘The therapy doesn’t  have to be depressing in and of itself. We’re aiming to make it fun.’

RAGE CONTROL (Regulate And Gain Emotional Control)

According to an online article by Harvard Magazine, this video game is being tested as a way to help kids deal with anger and gaining control of their emotions.

The pilot study at Children’s Hospital Boston tests an intervention that features a video game based on the 1980s arcade favorite Space Invaders. Players shoot down space aliens, but with an important modification: they wear a monitor on one pinkie that tracks heart rate as they play. If that indicator rises above resting levels—signaling that they’re overexcited—players lose the ability to shoot.

Succeeding at the game, known as RAGE Control (Regulate and Gain Emotional Control), is a careful balancing act. “You need to learn how to control your level of arousal,” he says, “but just enough that you can still react rapidly and make quick decisions.”

Participants play during sessions with Peter Ducharme, a licensed clinical social worker who has adapted traditional anger-management therapy to complement the game. During the course of five hour-long sessions, he teaches kids strategies to regulate their emotional states—including deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation—and then encourages them to experiment to see which strategies aid their game play.


Second Life is a real world style of video game where players create their own avatar and interact with the social world around them. It is now being used to help individuals with Aspergers and others on the Autism spectrum learn to interact socially, but at their own pace. Brigadoon is the project leading this trend. I can see where there would be some controversery surrounding the use of Second Life for this purpose, but, while games are not a replacement for real social interaction, it’s a good start for some. After all, we need to meet them where they are first.

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Author: Kim Peterson, MA, LPC-S, RPT

Kim is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Clinical Supervisor, and Registered Play Therapist in Dallas, Texas.

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