Mindarie psychologist using Dungeons & Dragons in treatment of teens


Clinical psychologist Dr Chris Howard. Picture: Martin Kennealey
Clinical psychologist Dr Chris Howard. Picture: Martin Kennealey

FANTASY tabletop game, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), takes on a new role this month in an effort to help teenagers battling depression and anxiety.

Clinical psychologist Chris Howard from Mindarie Mind & Body is using D&D as therapy at his clinic for those aged 14-18.

“The idea came to me while consulting with several teens who struggled to even attend therapy let alone engage in traditional cognitive-behaviour therapy,” he said.

“From a range of recreational activities that I’ve recommended to these teens I observed a dramatic improvement in mood, anxiety, communication and social skills for those that decided to take up D&D.”

A self confessed nerd, Dr Howard has played the role-playing game on and off since childhood.

“It helped me come out of my shell as a kid and it has been a fun way to keep in touch with friends and form new friendships,” he said.

“I met some great minds while playing; some very intelligent people who found their way of fitting in and were able to explore great imaginations.

“All of those people have gone on to be successful in their own fields when perhaps they weren’t socially fitting in so well during their schooling years.”

Dr Howard said D&D was a pen and paper game involving a narrator outlining a challenging story to a group of players.

These players take on the perspective of fantasy characters such as wizards, thieves and rangers.

“For teens, there is an element of exploring identity safely,” Dr Howard said.

“At one level of role play, you’re taking yourself out of your own self consciousness and anxieties and how you come across, and you’re just performing a role.

“Often those roles are different elements of yourself, both good and bad, and you get to explore them safely and it encourages self expression, spontaneity and appropriate risk taking where the consequences are not enormous; you’re not going to be embarrassed in public or shamed in the playground.”

Dr Howard, also a football and cycling coach, said sporting and recreational groups had a vital role in helping teenagers realise they were a valuable part of the community.

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