Using Video Games in Therapy and Education

Have you ever seen the Verizon television advertisement where the father informs the kids that they need to spend a few hours at grandma’s house?  This is bad news, because grandma’s house is BORING! But when the kids get to grandma’s, they find that she has a high-speed Internet connection and video games to play. Later, when Dad calls to pick them up, the kids call out, “Can we sleep over, PLEASE?” They have changed their minds about wanting to stay over her house because grandma has the goods, the technologies that all kids like. Clinicians, educators, and other child care professionals can be like grandma when they use video games in therapy and education.

Being a good educator or clinician is measured not just by popularity. However, by being up to date with technology and using it as part of your approach, you are likely to find that kids are more apt to engage in learning new skills. Technology can improve their motivation, and you can use it to help kids explore things they might not normally do. For example, the use of Google Earth in child therapy could allow a child to explore his home and school environments. The process of helping him to find his home, school, and friends’ homes could encourage him to start talking, then to talk about going to school, playing with friends, or going from house to house if his parents are divorced. You would be surprised by what the kids choose to talk about! Educators could get a child to learn about science by giving him a homework assignment on the official website of the Nobel Prize, where cool games teach about DNA and Pavlov’s dog.

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Using video games in therapy and technology as a part of homework might sound like a futuristic idea to clinicians. However, virtually every kid in the United States gets homework assignments that are technology based, so it’s about time that clinicians started to begin to do the same. Therapy homework could be as simple as playing games and/or using an app that might help a child improve a particular skill he or she  is working on in treatment. Other homework could include using online diaries or similar tools that can help a child keep track of specific concerns or issues. Children are more apt to respond to you if you use technology that relates more to their own lifestyle, and parents will be able to see them being more engaged in treatment.

Here are a few suggestions for using video games in therapy and education:

Videos

Digital Technology in Play Therapy with Children (An instructional video using the Smart Tabletop. Cool idea, first part of video shows its promise, latter part of the video is instructional.)

Can We Use Video Games to Treat Depression? ( A Video on SPARX, a video game for teens on depression. University of Auckland researcher Dr Sally Merry describes a video game based upon cognitive behavioral principles to treat depression.)

Articles

Your Next Psychologist May Prescribe ‘The Legend of Zelda‘ (Discusses a variety of strategies for using commercial and non-commercial games for therapy.)

Video Games in Psychotherapy  (An article from the Review of General Psychology by T. Atilla Ceranoglu, M.D. about strategies for using popular games in treatment.)

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We Need Your Advice: How Do You Deal With Transitions?

In my work as a child psychologist, one of the things I see worrying parents the most is the “addictive” nature of social media and video game play. While I view most technology usage to be cognitively challenging and useful for kids, many parents worry about their kids only wanting to do things that involve a screen. And when it comes to kids with ADHD, Autism, and Learning Disabilities, stopping video game play can cause intense distress and arguments, to the point where many parents no longer want them to play games, no matter what the potential benefit may be.

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