Why We’re Starting a D&D Therapy Group

| March 24, 2021
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We’re starting a brand-new therapy group that we’re really excited about. It’s called (Social) Skills Quest: A Dungeons and Dragons Therapy Group.

In light of it being new and somewhat different from our standard group offerings, we want to provide a more detailed look into it, answer some questions, and hopefully increase the awareness of what it might offer to students at Hopkins.

Q: Why should I try group therapy?
A: Group counseling is an evidence-based way to address mental health concerns.

Humans are a social species, so most of the things that people deal with concerning mental health are going to be related in some way to relationships with family, friends, peers, classmates, romantic partners (or lack thereof), colleagues, professors, advisors, etc. It’s pretty much with anyone we interact with (or try to interact with).

Group may sound scary, or it may sound exciting. One thing’s for sure: when it comes to the ability to appropriately navigate interpersonal relationships (i.e., any type of relationship with other people), group is recommended OVER and has MORE therapeutic benefit than individual therapy. See the Counseling Center website for a full listing of Spring 2021 treatment groups and drop-in groups.

Q: So what exactly is going on with (Social) Skills Quest: A Dungeons and Dragons Therapy Group?
A: The group we’re offering here at the counseling center will be a mix of playing Dungeons and Dragons, a Table-Top Role-Playing Game (TTRPG), and interacting with others in a traditional process group format.

Q: What’s a process group format?
A: It’s generally an unstructured, discussion-based approach to group counseling that examines what is happening in the here-and-now during the group session in order to increase understanding of self and others.

Q: What will a (Social) Skills Quest session be like?
A: Often, we will play for around half or more of the time, then spend the rest of the time processing what happened in the game.

The game part of the group offers students a chance to try out new things and ideas, communicate, and experience safe consequences, both good and bad. After that, everyone present will have the chance to talk about what happened, get feedback, and check on how actions might have impacted others.

One of the group co-facilitators is responsible to run the game, set up the situations, and help tell the story of what happens in the world. The second co-facilitator plays alongside students and helps keep things running and interesting at the gaming level.

Though we have an overarching plot (think like a season of a show), each session is an “episode” is really allowed to take shape based on the specific needs and goals of the group participants. Having trouble meeting new people? Maybe you’ll spend time forging connections in a city, trying to develop new friends and contacts. Struggling to set boundaries? Maybe the group has a very pushy new neighbor to deal with. The possibilities are endless!

While social skills and related concerns are great for this group, other concerns such as isolation, depression, anxiety, and anything else served by therapy might fit well in this group too.

Q: Can you explain the general concept of TTRPGs?
A: Dungeons and Dragons is one of many TTRPGs, arguably one of the most popular. (Some other well-known ones are Pathfinder, Cyberpunk 2020, and Call of Cthulhu.)

They all boil down to some simple mechanics: you construct a character with attributes, class, and race (species), and then set out on adventures co-created by the game or dungeon master (one of the group co-facilitators, in this case).

Characters can be good, evil, or something in between. Some people create characters who are very much like themselves; others do the opposite. Most often, we create characters with some aspects of ourselves present.

During adventures your characters might investigate a mystery, fight through an old ruin filled with traps and treasure, or even just make new friends at the pub. The game world is persistent and has consequences though, so those friends may come back to save you later, and the treasure might be valuable in saving the day somewhere else. So all the little things build up to greater stories.

The most basic tenet of a TTRPG is, “If you can imagine it, you can do it.”

Q: How is this therapy?
A: Other than the obvious fact that people can and do really love gaming and it should be brought into all things, including people’s jobs and treatment spaces, the use of TTRPGs in therapy has been on the rise and increasingly researched in the past few years.

Benefits such as increased problem-solving skills, self-esteem, confidence, and empathy have been observed using this style of group therapy.

Additionally, this group style has been found to be effective treatment for concerns like social and general anxiety and depression. It’s also a good way to practice engaging in social or interpersonal interactions (including for those with or without autism spectrum disorder). It works especially well when combined with other therapy services, better than just one treatment by itself.

Research on the topic is still growing and ongoing, but we like what we’ve seen so far, and want to be a part of building it further here at the Homewood Counseling Center.

Q: Who is eligible for this group?
A: The Counseling Center primarily serves students in full-time programs on the Homewood and Peabody campuses. Visit this page on the Counseling Center website for additional information about eligibility for Counseling Center services.

For more information about (Social) Skills Quest: A Dungeons and Dragons Therapy Group or to set up a group screening appointment, contact Will Nation (wnation1@jhu.edu) or Ali Lane (alane26@jhu.edu).