The Role of Video Games in Therapy
Video games are the top form of entertainment in many American households, with over 164 million adults in the U.S. playing regularly. But gamers have gotten a bit of a bad reputation over the years. Video games are often associated with laziness or a lack of motivation. There’s even been plenty of debate over whether violent video games can cause anger and aggressive behavior, though most experts say it’s unlikely.
With all of the negative attention video games get, it’s important to recognize that there are a lot of positive aspects to gaming. Some of the most notable benefits include:
- Improved coordination
- Enhanced social skills
- Better problem-solving skills
- Increased focus and concentration
- Improved memory
But did you know video games have also been linked to mental health? Gaming therapy is used to reduce stress and anxiety, and can even improve brain function. When it’s used along with other forms of treatment or medication, it has also been used to help those suffering from PTSD, including disabled veterans.
So, can video games really be a viable option when it comes to improving mental health?
Tracking Behaviors and Observable Assessments
Therapists are often limited in how much they can help people because they’re not with their patients all the time. They can only base their findings and treatment advice on the behaviors they witness and the information a patient gives them. Video games can change that, as they offer a trackable way to observe behaviors, such as how patients respond to stressful situations.
When a therapist is able to observe how a person responds to certain aspects of a game, they can create a behavioral assessment. Behavioral assessments help to:
- Discover triggers for certain behaviors
- Learn about possible underlying causes
- Determine how behaviors might change over time
The ultimate goal of a behavioral assessment is to create a treatment plan that can help an individual to learn more about their specific behaviors and what might trigger them. Once you know the underlying reasons behind your behaviors, it can be much easier to tackle them and accept treatment. You’ll learn to avoid triggers and limit the situations that can cause you to feel stressed or anxious.
Taking the Controller to Battle Depression
Depression is the number one mental health condition in the world, with over 300 million people affected by it. It can be treated in a variety of ways, from medication to therapy. But, video games might be able to help with depression in more ways than you might think.
Video games can have a positive effect on the brain because they’re utilizing the idea of play. According to a study in the 1950s and 60s by psychologist Brian Sutton-Smith, both children and adults benefit from play, and they are more likely to be:
Think about when you were a child and you had all the time in the world to play. Chances are, you were too focused on how happy it made you feel to be depressed. As adults, most people certainly don’t play as much, so video games can provide that playful outlet that can bring you back to childhood and make you feel good.
Video games can also help those with depression by stimulating reward pathways within the brain. There’s always a new goal within a game — smaller ones and larger ones. It gives you something to look forward to, something to work toward, and a reason to stay motivated. Some games even use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques by teaching players skills that help them to advance from a beginner to an expert level. Most of the time, they’re skills you have to repeat over and over again and practice until you continue to get better.
New Skills and a Brighter Future
Your mental health can be impacted by anything from boredom to a disability that has changed your life somehow. You might feel unmotivated, fatigued, or you just don’t have the stimulation you need to think positively.
Video games are more than just mindless forms of entertainment. They can be used to teach you new skills and concepts, whether you realize it while you’re playing or not.
Gamification has become a bit of a buzzword in recent years, especially when it comes to businesses and marketing techniques. The process is simple; introduce aspects of a game to a product or service to make it more appealing. Things like loyalty programs, “reward points” from stores and even competitions within the workplace are all examples of gamification.
When it comes to playing video games, gamification occurs through the goals of the game. Maybe you have to reach a new “safe” spot to save the game, or maybe you need to fight against a powerful villain, or rescue someone. Those goals keep you motivated, and you’ll learn new things as you play in order to reach them. You’ll need to implement problem-solving techniques and stay focused on multiple things at once to achieve what you really want.
Those are skills that can carry over into real life, especially if you’ve been feeling down or unmotivated to try anything new. Video games show you the power of reward. So, you can look for the rewards in your everyday life, and how you can reach them on a daily basis by taking charge of your mental health.
Magnolia Potter is a blogger from the Pacific Northwest. She loves writing on a variety of topics from technology to lifestyle. When she isn’t writing you can find her traveling far and wide or reading a good book.