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  • Gonzalo Laje

Therapeutic Tabletop Role-Playing Games

You hold a brightly-burning torch up overhead, hoping it casts some light ahead of you. The dark cavern you find yourself traversing through is dripping with moisture and clicking with noise. Your sword weighs heavily in your other hand as you continue to move forward. You wend and weave your way through the catacombs until you emerge into a large room - but you're not alone. A massive beast crosses your path, malicious energy powering its undead body right at you. It roars, loudly, and you prepare for combat.

That is what happens in Tabletop Role-Playing Games (TTRPG) - in fact, it's the scenario I used when I introduced my parents to the concept over the holidays (my mom did NOT like playing, but my dad acknowledged how people can get very invested in it). It's an encounter that might be familiar to those who play fantasy games or other tabletop games, but it's not one you might find in therapy - yet. Therapeutic TTRPG is an offshoot of play therapy, of using tools to express how you feel in various situations. I've been playing TTRPG for over a decade now, but have only started using it for therapy in the last year or so, and the rest of the world is catching onto this idea as well.

There are three main ideas that I work with when using TTRPG for therapy. The first is from the basis of play therapy - how does someone interact with the tools I've given them? When it's not cards or blocks but their imagination? Running these groups helps people build their communication skills and lateral thinking. The second is that every interaction can be used for therapy. Take the encounter I described above - it doesn't sound like it could be therapeutic, but it can. For example, let's say you're claustrophobic, and your character has to crawl through a narrow space. How would YOU react to that? Who would your character be? Are they a complex original creation, or is it just you with a sword? Both are perfectly acceptable at the table, what matters is what you do with it.

The third rule is quite simple - to have fun. It is a game, and if for two hours a week, I can spin a tale of adventure and fantasy and excitement to take someone's mind off their troubles, then that's quite beneficial. And if the players at the table don't realize that they're growing and learning but still retain that knowledge, well - they had fun, practiced cooperation and problem solving, and

likely learned a thing or two about themselves without realizing it. And at the end of the day, that's all important.

Join me, experienced Game Master and therapist Aaron Sterling, LMSW, on a wild adventure through a fantastical land in one of our new TTRPG Therapeutic Groups! You’ll be a member of a guild dedicated to defeating monsters that threaten the safety and security of a peaceful land. Along the way, you'll meet powerful allies, fight monstrous foes, and learn about yourself, too. You’ll also grow team building skills, learn new problem-solving techniques, and improve lateral thinking.

We are currently offering groups for Middle School students (ages 11-14) and High School students (ages 15-18). We welcome all gender, races and demographics. You can be an experienced gamer or brand new to TTRPG. Each group will cap at 5 clients. Groups will meet for 2 hours per week. Dates and times TBD based on therapist and group member availability.

Therapeutic Goals include:

1. Building self-confidence and advocacy skills in challenging situations.

2. Developing communication abilities with different kinds of people, in different kinds of roles.

3. Using language and cooperative techniques to advocate for and navigate towards a specific goal.

4. Practicing thinking 'outside the box' to logically analyze and solve problems.

If you are interested in joining one of our Therapeutic TTRPG Groups, email:


Aaron Sterling, LMSW

Licensed Master Social Work

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