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Psychotherapy through video games: is it effective?

Psychotherapy through video games: is it effective?

June 12, 2024

The videogame is a sector in constant development and with almost infinite future possibilities . While in the beginning videogames consisted of simple codes that executed very simple commands, at present the level of recreation of reality is impressive and, nevertheless, it continues to evolve in leaps and bounds.

If we add to this factor the commercialization and the increasingly massive development of Virtual Reality products, we have a really interesting cocktail to start producing Videogames dedicated exclusively to a therapeutic practice or, at least, to use the existing means to perform some types of therapy under the supervision of a professional duly trained in the subject.

The therapeutic potential of the video game

In a previous article we talked about the educational use that could have a genre of video games, with great projection, called sandbox. This genus especially has great qualities to be used, also, as a tool to carry out therapies of different types, such as cognitive rehabilitation therapies.

The key element that this genre of videogames possesses is the freedom of action within a world that, in general, simulates the real world. This element is enhanced its action if we also add social game functionalities that, for the mere fact of promoting the social relationship, already assumes a therapeutic element, as we saw in a previous article in which we analyzed the therapeutic possibilities of Pokémon Go .

The power of virtual worlds in videogames

The human mind is capable of performing amazing feats, and among all of them, the ability to establish emotional and intellectual connections with virtual worlds opens the possibility of performing a myriad of therapeutic practices that would not be possible if the video game industry were not at the point where it is.

The capacity for empathy that we have as humans allows us to enter the virtual worlds that videogames offer at a very high level, especially if we add the new techniques of Virtual Reality that greatly enhance the player's immersion in the game, making the sensation to be inside him is amazing. This opens a new way of possibilities to perform psychotherapy, allowing the user to enter a world in which we establish the desired parameters so that their experience is enriching and therapeutic according to the contexts.

As an example of this, there are more and more experiments carried out with this theme, and the results in the vast majority of studies show great potential from videogames in the methodology of therapy .

Some examples of video games with therapeutic potential

A good example of this type of studies is the one carried out by Llorens et al. (2015), in which they performed group therapy based on video games in individuals suffering from some type of traumatic brain injury. One hour per week for six months, this group carried out a type of therapy designed by the authors, and the results showed that it was a very effective and motivating experience, since they substantially improved self-awareness , social skills and their behaviors, taking into account that they were patients with traumatic brain injuries.

Another interesting study is carried out by Fernandez-Aranda et al. (2015) in which videogames were tested as a tool to perform cognitive-behavioral therapy in patients with bulimia nervosa. In this study it was proved how cognitive-behavioral therapy, together with the so-called serious games, could be of great help in the emotional deregulation of patients. Making use of both, they observed that patients with bulimia nervosa suffered less abandonment and greater remission of symptoms, both partial and total, in comparison to the control group that only performed cognitive behavioral therapy without the support of the video game.

On the other hand, studies like those of Krzywinska (2015), Younbo et al. (2015), Servais (2015) or Smethhurst (2015), show us that videogames can be used by therapists to enhance the insight of patients and get more in-depth information about their person, especially in videogames survival horror, first person shooters Y role playing games, since they deal with topics that in many cases are taboo, such as funerals, death and even trauma. Under a therapeutic context, the immersion of the patient within these virtual worlds where these issues are treated can provide valuable information that could otherwise be much more difficult to achieve.

Finally, a study carried out by Sevick et al. (2016) in which they performed a type of movement therapy in the upper extremities in patients with cerebral palsy, using video games and the Microsoft Kinect movement sensor. In this studio observed that the levels of motivation in performing the exercises were considerably higher when they made use of this platform that integrates video games and movement, thus obtaining greater performance and the possibility of transferring the intervention to the patients' home, due to the high performance compared to the exercises performed in the clinical center or laboratory.


As we see, the results of these studies show the great utility that videogames can have in psychotherapy and counseling, thus increasing the range of tools that the therapist can use, since, like the technique of the chair empty or of the exhibition, They offer new possibilities that should not be overlooked despite the skepticism that exists in this new paradigm . All these studies discover a new world in the application of video games to perform therapies and treatments of all kinds, as long as the use is supervised by professionals trained in the field.

Emphasizing the importance in the early stages of life development, video games are a tool with great expectations for the future, especially if we take into account the speed at which the videogame sector evolves and the new platforms that develop in parallel, such as Reality Virtual or motion sensors, which open even more a range of possibilities, which in itself is very interesting and which should be taken into account much more given its characteristics.

Bibliographic references:

  • Fernandez-Aranda, F., Jimenez-Murcia, S., Santamaria, J.J., Giner-Bartolomé, C., Mestre-Bach, G., Barn, R., etal. (2015). The use of videogames as a complementary therapeutic tool for cognitive behavioral therapy in bulimia nervosa patients. Cyberpsychol Behav. Soc. Netw. 18, pp. 744-751.
  • Krzywinska, T. (2015). Gaming horror's horror: representation, regulation, and affect in survival horror videogames. J. Vis. Cult. 14, pp. 293-297.
  • Llorens, R., Noé, E., Ferri, J., and Alcañiz, M. (2015). Videogame-based group therapy to improve self-awareness and social skills after traumatic brain injury. J. Neuroengineering Rehabil. 12, pp. 1 - 8.
  • Servais, O. (2015). Funerals in the 'World of Warcraft's: religion, polemic, and styles of play in a videogame universe. Soc. Compass 62, pp. 362-378.
  • Sevick, M., Eklund, E., Mensch, A., Foreman, M., Standeven, J., & Engsberg, J. (2016). Using Free Internet Videogames in Upper Extremity Motor Training for Children with Cerebral Palsy. Behavioral Sciences, 6 (2), 10.
  • Smethhurst, T. (2015). Playing dead in videogames: traumain limbo. J. Pop. Cult. 48, pp. 817-835.
  • Younbo, J., Hyun Jee, O., Sng, J., Joung Huem, K., and Detenber, B. H. (2015). Revisiting gender preference for a first-person shooter videogame: effects of non-verbal sensitivity and gender on enjoyment. Interact. Comput. 27, pp. 697 - 705.

Psychotherapy (June 2024).

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