by Katherine Hadley Cornell, Psy.D.
The Loyola Clinical Centers (LCC), Loyola University Maryland’s graduate training clinic, continues to carry out its mission to serve the underserved by creatively exploring ways to help increase access to mental health services. The Diabolical Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) group is a brief (one-month) therapy group that helps to build social and emotional skills in a way that is accessible and fun. Recognizing the significance of interpersonal relationships to one’s quality of life, as well as the importance of practice to social skill building, the Psychology Division of the LCC has been running groups for over a decade. Longstanding groups include a series of 8- to 10- week child social skills groups as well as an ongoing adult interpersonal process group. The Diabolical D&D group takes things to another dimension through the incorporation of a role-playing game (RPG) to better engage teenagers and young adults who might otherwise not seek out therapy services to address their social or emotional issues. By playing the game in this therapeutic setting (rather than simply at home), social and emotional difficulties can be thoughtfully addressed in a supportive manner. As doctoral candidate and co-facilitator, Mackenzie Dody, explained: “The clients were able to bravely explore depression, anxiety, and social isolation under the guise and safety of their developed character, while also utilizing their individual strengths.” While the use of RPGs in therapy is not novel in the United States, the Diabolical D&D Tabletop game appears to be the only one of its kind in the Baltimore area. Or, at the very least, certainly the most affordable, at just $20 per session, with reduced rates also available for those in financial need. Although there is little research that has been conducted on the use of RPGs in therapy, role-playing is widely used in therapy to address interpersonal challenges.
The Diabolical D&D group is facilitated by psychology graduate students under the supervision of Harriette Wimms, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and Affiliate Faculty member at Loyola University Maryland. In addressing the rationale for the group, Dr. Wimms reported:
Young people enjoy playing table top games and can find ease in socializing when interacting as a character in the game with other players. We use the D&D format to provide lessons about collaborative problem solving, managing anxiety and sadness, finding ways to overcome social stress, and setting and achieving goals . . . all while having the teens take part in an exciting quest that feels more like fun than "therapy.”
Previous participants have shared they enjoyed the sense of belonging that the program creates. In reflecting on a group after its completion, another doctoral candidate, Lyla Wadia, who co-facilitated a DD&D group said, “It was wonderful to watch the group members, most of whom have varying degrees of social anxiety, slowly become more comfortable with one another and engage more fully in the game and with one another.” The Dungeon Master, who controls the story’s pace and referees the game (and in this instance is doctoral candidate, Christine Truong), writes:
This group is a unique workshop that blends many elements of tabletop role play and therapy- such as social engagement, frustration tolerance, and creativity all while promoting teamwork and a sense of camaraderie. Clients who feel shy or isolated are given the opportunity to meet others like them, discuss their struggles in a safe and accepting environment, and can interact in a structured, yet dynamic world they build together. The role play aspect of D&D allows individuals to develop characters that embody idealized aspects of themselves, such as bravery, strength, cunning, kindness, and empathy. In addition, the narrative structure encourages clients to work together in order overcome thematic challenges that encapsulates anxiety, depression, loneliness, and fear.
The next Diabolical D&D group is geared towards teenagers ages 13-17 and runs on Wednesday nights from 5 pm-6:30 pm March 20th through April 24th. For more information about this group or other services at the LCC, call 410-617-2000, or go to https://www.loyola.edu/department/clinical-centers.