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  • Writer's pictureGreg Schoeneck

Dungeons & Dragons & Therapy with Justice Involved & At Risk Youth Part 2

What If We Stopped Thinking of Kids as Defiant and Understood Them As Having a Skills Deficit?

Building Executive Functioning with TTRPGs

What if we thought about the young people, we work with who are justice involved and likely have the, very unhelpful, diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder as young people who have a skills deficit. If we thought of this young people as needing to develop cognitive skills that, honestly, all young people need to develop, but they are likely just behind in. How would we really work to help them?


How could we work to get them to practice and develop skills like, rotating the room?  Thinking and trying to understand how another individual might feel when they say or do something to them.  Thinking about what another induvial might be thinking and why they might behave in this way or that way.


How could we get them to think down the line and see what their behavior might lead to?  How do we get them to practicing thinking down the line and not seeking the first rewarding thing with the least amount of effort despite long term consequences?


As a therapist I was tasked to do this with young people for years, in individual therapy and in groups like the JCIP. I was asked to get young people to ask these questions out of context and with no immediate consequence or reward for doing so. Especially, not the rewards we are looking for; feeling good, feeling connected, feeling proud, feeling successful. Feeling those sensations that tell our brain, "Do more of that!" So, we were and are still being asked to teach a group of people; who struggle to think about other people’s thinking and feelings and struggle with working hard in the moment to see the value down the line, by offering the reward of getting out of detention or a residential somewhere down the line as the only motivation and reward.


So, places may use token economy because they know the value of immediate reward because of this. But even here the stakes are high, if one of these kids makes a mistake it could have real long-term consequences that make it harder and harder for young people to pull them out of the cycle and really develop what they need to develop. It also misses the mark of an immediate sensation of feeling proud, good, successful, connected that all humans crave and a lot of these young people have been deprived of for a long time.


What if we could find a safe place to practice these skills and develop these skills in a way that we could talk about what others are feeling and thinking in a safe way.  What if even if they made mistakes, we could take it all back and try again.  What if we could motivate these kids with immediate reward that was meaningful to them when they successfully practiced these new skills.


I fully believe that TTRPGs like Dungeons & Dragons hold the key to developing these kinds of skills with SOME of the at-risk youth out there, who are struggling developmentally to gain these executive functioning skills.  By implementing a Therapeutically Applies Therapeutic Table Top Role-Playing Game into residential facilities we offer young people a place to learn and develop these skills in a safe and fun space.  When provided intentionally by a Licensed Clinician I believe that we have the ability to start really helping some of these young people grow and develop instead of just punishing and housing “bad” “oppositional” kids and hoping that “natural consequences” over and over again will somehow teach these kids the skills they need to lean in order grow into a healthy function adult.


The Therapeutic Workshop has ideas about how to provide this kind of therapy framework for youth in a flexible yet structured way to help our at-risk youth actually grow.  If you are working with or responsible for young people in a residential program please reach out and let us help you develop a therapeutic TTRPG program in your facility, that we know, could really help the outcomes of these young people.

Please feel free to connect with me through my web site The Therapeutic Workshop and take a look at some of the other ways I have been working to develop and utilize the framework of Dungeons & Dragons as well as other Table Top Role Playing game for; grief processing, anxiety / social anxiety, social skills building, depression, building connection, empowerment, and family therapy.

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