Video game therapy is a mental health treatment option that has its roots in game theory. It is used to address physical and mental weaknesses in kids and young adults.
This type of treatment does not replace traditional treatments but may work better for some people because it targets their unique needs. The process can be done with a therapist or in an unassisted environment.
Video games can reduce symptoms of ADHD in both children and adults because they offer a distraction from other problems or challenges. A video game may also offer immediate feedback on the progress made through simply playing games. This system rewards positive behavior in the game, which is an effective way of teaching positive behavior.
Video games are found to improve cognitive abilities such as memory, concentration, attention span, social skills, language skills, and problem-solving, making them a helpful tool for treating ADHD symptoms.
ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It is a neurological disorder that causes an individual to have difficulty staying focused on tasks, long-term planning, or being still. ADHD affects children more than adults, making it difficult for children to perform well in academic and social settings as these are often very structured environments.
For children up to 16-years-old to be diagnosed with ADHD, they must have six or more symptoms of inattentiveness or six or more symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Adolescents and adults require five or more symptoms of inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness.1
Young adults with ADHD commonly experience some or all of the following symptoms:
Using play in therapy with children is a technique that psychotherapists have used for many years. The concept was formed by psychotherapists Anna Freud, Margaret Lowenfeld, and Melanie Klein, who introduced play therapy to psychology professionals everywhere. These women saw how play therapy could greatly benefit young patients, and they used it as part of treatment plans for specific disorders or behavioral problems.2
Role-playing is a group therapy that uses narrative and role play therapies combined into a game. Through the use of storytelling and gameplay, participants work as a team to solve problems, improve interpersonal effectiveness, increase distress tolerance, and increase critical thinking skills. Role-playing therapy games can be used to create a safe and comfortable environment for people with ADHD as they work on social skills development.
SPARX is a game-like computerized program that helps people with mild to moderate depression. The software developers were careful not only to have young adults help design it but also consulted experts in their field for guidance through every stage of development and testing. SPARX was designed carefully based on Cognitive-behavioral therapy, aiming at repairing cognitive distortions.4
Video game therapy is also available as mobile apps that children can use when they are not in therapy. Mobile video therapy games can be used at any time, both at home or at school.
Personal Zen is a scientifically validated app for reducing stress and anxiety. It’s based on 20 years of clinical research and has been found effective when used for only a few minutes a day.
Personal Zen uses the power of perspective-shifting techniques that have helped people deal with difficult life situations by practicing mindfulness meditation regularly from their phones.
Video game therapy will differ depending on the therapist and the specific needs of the child. The therapist may observe the child as they play, or the therapist and the child may play together.
Sessions last 30 minutes to an hour and are held at least once a week. How many sessions a child needs depends on their response, which can vary from child to child. Video game therapy may be done individually or in groups.
Sessions usually take place in an environment where the child feels safe. Additionally, sessions take place under the guidance of an experienced therapist.
A study published in the European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry found that video game-based therapeutic interventions generally improved cognitive areas and decreased ADHD symptoms.5
A recent study published in The Lancet found that kids with ADHD who played Endeavor (an FDA-approved video game) for 25 minutes per day, five days per week for a month, had significant improvements in attention scores.6
Despite these promising findings, additional studies are needed to examine the long-term efficacy of video game therapy for ADHD and its efficacy in the broader population of children with ADHD, including those who have comorbidities and receive evidence-based therapies.