CAPS combines therapy, Dungeons & Dragons to help students improve mental health

The BYU Counseling and Psychological Services office is located in room 1500 of the Wilkinson Student Center. CAPS offers many services dedicated to helping students address any mental health concerns. (Emily May)

BYU’s Counseling and Psychological Services provides students with opportunities to explore their identities and connect with others through group therapy involving popular role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons.

CAPS offers “D&D group therapy,” which allows students to practice being the type of person they want to become through gameplay and discussions on how to improve during each therapy session.

Sami Chun, a pre-doctoral psychology intern at CAPS, is one of the clinicians that runs D&D therapy. He discussed his experience running D&D therapy groups and said these groups began running approximately two years ago.

“Essentially, we use the gameplay elements of a game like Dungeons & Dragons to do what group therapy is already designed to do,” Chun said.

Group therapy typically contains 5-9 patients and 1-2 therapists, allowing for collaboration to help overcome mental health concerns, according to the BYU CAPS Instagram.

These D&D therapy groups give students a social setting to try out new identities and hear feedback from others on ways to change their behaviors, Chun said.

During the first couple of sessions, students collaborate to create a fantasy world, Chun said.

“Once you build that world, you fill it with rumors, the kind of stuff you’d hear at a tavern while you’re out adventuring,” he said. “After that, everyone generates a plot hook, a pilot episode essentially, and then the group votes on which pilot episode we choose as our story.”

Then, each student creates a therapeutic character to place into the world. In Chun’s opinion, this is the most significant part of the process, and students can create a character with qualities they wish they had.

“If someone were very shy and filters their opinion all the time and they’re like, ‘You know what? I want to be able to voice my opinion more often.’ They might pick a character that is very good at voicing their opinion,” Chun said.

Chun also discussed the “shadow self” which contains qualities one may repress or be ashamed of. By giving these qualities to a character, students can explore how to overcome these weaknesses in and outside of the game.

Once the characters have been made, each session is split in half — the first half consists of gameplay in a social arena and the second half consists of reflection and feedback on the gameplay, he said.

Chun said when students create characters built on their therapeutic goals, it creates a powerful parallel to their own lives.

“You go and do your therapy, pretending you’re somebody else and then, ta-da, it’s actually been you the whole time,” he said.

Therapy groups run each semester and last for 12-15 weeks. Each session lasts two hours.

Chun said one of the best ways to overcome social anxiety is allowing people to connect and create interpersonal relationships with others, and a great way to accomplish this is through group therapy.

“The fun of D&D combined with the power of therapy makes it such a good draw that people come back over and over,” Chun said. “Because they get so into their characters, they feel so safe that they commit harder to the therapy.”

Infographic on D&D group therapy provided by BYU CAPS. D&D group therapy is offered through BYU CAPS, helping students overcome mental health struggles through roleplay and discussion. (Instagram/@byucaps)

Through this therapy, Chun hopes students meet their mental health goals, gain confidence, learn new ways to express themselves and regulate their experiences and emotions.

Brett Merrill is another clinician that runs D&D therapy. He supervised Chun when CAPS first began D&D therapy and thought getting involved in it would be something he would enjoy.

D&D therapy can help students learn to make and keep friends, Merrill said. It can also relieve mental health symptoms, increase one’s well-being and help students with specific therapy goals, such as more functional daily living, better eating habits and better sleep.

This therapy can help address anxiety, perfectionism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, stress and more, according to CAPS. Chun said it can also teach students how to create boundaries and listen to feedback.

Chun recommends this type of therapy for those who are exploring their identities, including adolescents or anyone experiencing a mid-life crisis. However, this therapy is not recommended to those who have life-threatening mental health concerns or anyone who struggles with differentiating between reality and fiction, such as anyone with schizophrenia or who experiences hallucinations.

Therapy sessions are confidential, according to CAPS. Information discussed at these meetings is not disclosed to teachers, parents, doctors, the Honor Code Office or ecclesiastical leaders.

Students can sign up for D&D therapy at the beginning of each semester by calling the CAPS front desk at 801-422-3035. Groups fill up fast, according to CAPS, but students can enter a waitlist if all groups are full.

Students enrolled in nine or more semester hours are eligible to join a therapy group at CAPS, according to its website.

Further questions can be emailed to Sami Chun at .

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