Video Game Therapy: A New Way to Treat Anxiety and Depression

There’s extensive research on the benefits of video games to treat anxiety and depression. While successes have been documented, there’s still strong resistance to its efficacy. Admittedly, there are some problems into the research because of the dynamics involved. For instance, there’s no universal terminology that researchers use and technology is constantly evolving. The society also frowns upon video games by default, which makes understanding that much difficult. Video Game Therapy: A New Way to Treat Anxiety and Depression.

Nevertheless, community efforts have sustained the employment of video game therapy as an alternative treatment for alcoholism or drug addiction.

The pervasiveness of Video Games

The pervasiveness of video games makes one think why the gaming industry hasn’t thought about investing some money into the research about their potential to treat anxiety and depression.

It’s not the money they would have spent considering that the industry is worth billions by itself. For instance, a report from CNBC published in mid-2018 revealed that by the end of this year, the industry would have been worth $138 billion.

There used to be a time when you buy a title at a fixed price point, and that would go to the sales of the manufacturer. However, with online games, the possibility to monetize one single title is endless. That explains why the industry is raking in billions per year.

In addition, video game consoles are ubiquitous.

According to the Entertainment Software Association, almost half of Americans today are playing video games. More than 6 in 10 households in the country have a family member who regularly plays video games for three hours or so each week. Meanwhile, 6 in 10 Americans can either be playing on their consoles or computers every day.

Society’s perception of the negative impacts of these games to the impressionable minds of the youth should not be a huge issue considering that the average age of a gamer today is 34 years old. More than 7 in 10 of gamers are already of legal age.

The survey by the ESA also claimed that parents see the benefits of games on their children’s lives, and almost everybody monitors the types of titles that their kids play.

Video Game Therapy: A New Way to Treat Anxiety and Depression

Ways Video Games Help With Anxiety and Depression

Video games have one essential ingredient that psychotherapists and drug rehab facilities can only dream of—fun.

Nobody likes to open up to a total stranger and talk about their inner demons and greatest pains. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), considered as the benchmark for anxiety and depression, as well as drug and alcohol treatment, involves a lot of introspection as you bring all these emotions that have remained buried for many years back to the surface.

Here are some practical reasons why video games can help with anxiety and depression:

  1. They are fun – With the right tools and approaches, individuals would be able to address their mental problems without really overthinking it. They just play the games, and with the guidance of the therapist and the support of their families, they are able to thresh out their issues that may have factored into the causes of mental illness or drug addiction.
  2. They are engaging – Ever wonder how gamers can spend hours on their gadgets? But when you are inside the game, time literally just rushes by. CBT and other psychotherapy methods are trying to engage the patient in working with the tools available to deal with their issues. But these methods are boring. But games can be used to engage the youth while also helping address their anxiety and depression. They are no different from books and educational materials, except they come in 4D.
  3. Practical experience – Another area where CBT struggles with is for the patients to apply the theories and really take them to heart. In fact, the CBT approach includes role-playing in the therapy methods. How different is it from the role-playing games that are very popular today? With video games therapy, you won’t have a hard time motivating patients into doing their “homework.”
  4. Personalized treatment – Video game therapy has the potential to be extremely personal. Although CBT can be modified to fit the patient, it’s still bounded by its own limitations. Counselors can’t really go beyond the approaches and the theories of CBT. Think of it like teaching a book to a class of 50 students. They are going to have varying degrees of comprehension, but the teacher can’t teach beyond what the book contains. There’s nothing like picking up the game that you like. Again, you don’t need external motivation to go through with therapy.

Lastly, there’s a lot of stigmas involved in anxiety and depression treatment. Although society has gone a long way from the time electric shock therapy was the norm, getting everybody to accept that you are not crazy is still a challenge. Video game therapy will take out a lot of that stigma because you are not out visiting some psychologist’s clinic for your CBT sessions. You are at home playing your game and having fun. That helps a lot with self-stigma.

Video Game Therapy: A New Way to Treat Anxiety and Depression

Video Game Therapy: Does it Work?

You can say that research is still in its infancy even if technically, researchers have spent many years trying to get empirical data on the efficacy of video games to treat mental problems, with varied results. For the most part, however, there are more hits than misses.

The research by Steven Barnes and Julie Prescott for Bury College and the University of Bolton, UK tries to look at the empirical evidence that supports the success claims of video games therapy. They concluded that there’s a huge potential in using video games to engage teens and adolescents to manage the symptoms. But they also conceded that research into this field is extremely limited.

The problem faced by researchers is obvious. The academe and the gaming industry should work together to come up with titles backed by extensive research and knowledge to help people with anxiety and depression. The video game therapy can also be expanded as a potential treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction.


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