Online gambling is the therapist’s new office

In the beginning weeks of the pandemic, Monet Goldman tried different strategies to deal with stress. “I was exercising, I was meditating, I was doing yoga,” says Goldman, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Santa Clara, California. But he only started to feel better after turning to a familiar hobby: video games. In the bright, immersive world of online gaming, Goldman found solace and he started having fun again. As he and his colleagues struggled to connect with clients virtually, he wondered if gambling could help his patients as well.

Goldman has started training other clinicians to use online games in their work, starting with Roblox, a platform with millions of games that is particularly popular with children aged 5 to 12 in the United States. . In a Zoom session with two elementary school kids, Goldman kicked off by asking the kids to name their favorite Roblox game. At first, “it’s like radio silence. Everyone turned off their cameras, ”Goldman says. Finally a boy mentioned Brookhaven, a role-playing game set in a bustling city. Soon the children enthusiastically trained around the play space, their shyness forgotten.

Like conventional play therapy, which uses toys to help patients express their thoughts and feelings, online games provide another way to communicate. For some people anxious about their appearance or their speech, the game is an opportunity to discover “a voice in its various forms”, whether through avatars, works of art or other digital creations. , explains Goldman. He noticed that children who struggled with face-to-face therapy began to come to life and develop more self-confidence in a virtual environment. “This has been the biggest advantage,” he says. Today, Goldman advises children, teens and adults, incorporating a mix of play and talk therapy.

While the reuse of video games for therapeutic purposes is not new, clinician interest in the format has grown dramatically after the pandemic caused a sudden shift to telehealth. “Many therapists were panicking”, explains Josué Cardona, founder of Geek therapy, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the use of video games and other popular media. As of December 2019, Geek Therapy’s Facebook group had just under 1,000 members, according to Cardona; there are now more than 5,400. Clinicians use online games in different ways, from reaching clients on platforms like Roblox or Minecraft or by having patients play independently for a specific therapeutic purpose.

How the game can help you

“Video games have this way of attracting and keeping attention,” which may be the first step in helping patients control their distressing thoughts, says Aimee Daramus, clinical psychologist and author of Understanding bipolar disorder. In his work with adults with chronic mental illnesses, including anxiety, depression and schizophrenia, Daramus uses video games as a bridge to other coping skills. If someone is overwhelmed by intrusive thoughts during a session, playing a video game for a few moments can help reduce anxiety. At this point, Daramus explains, a strategy like mindfulness becomes much more accessible to the patient.

Some research suggests that video games can be as effective – and potentially more effective – than other mental health interventions, especially for anxiety. A 2017 study published in Prevention sciences found that the game MindLight was as effective as a cognitive behavioral therapy program in reducing children’s anxiety. In another study, prescribing video games reduced patients’ anxiety more than adding a second drug to their treatment.

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