Video games: Taking mental health treatment to the next level


Since the 8-bit era of video games, popularity has soared. Video game consoles continue to upgrade and take over living rooms and bedrooms throughout the world. In many cases, teenagers and young adults now spend too much time in front of screens. Recently, video games have been found to hold benefits in the treatment process of certain mental illnesses and rehabilitation.

The limits of video games

The idea of video games being used in treatment or recommended by a doctor is every gamers’ dream. Yet, in most studies finding proof of video games being a part of treatment, it is as an adjunct to treatment and not as the sole factor. In a study led by Emily A. Holmes, Ph.D., it was found that playing the game Tetris can help to treat PTSD symptoms.

40 participants in the study watched a 12 minute graphic film with images of death and injury. Half of the participants played Tetris after the video and found that it decreased flashback frequency in the following week. “Playing ‘Tetris’ after viewing traumatic material reduces unwanted, involuntary memory flashbacks to that traumatic film, leaving deliberate memory recall of the event intact,” Holmes concludes.

This study finds results possibly requiring further research as Holmes adds, “Pathological aspects of human memory in the aftermath of trauma may be malleable using noninvasive, cognitive interventions,” such as playing a bit of Tetris.

A possible tool of rehabilitation

Another study published in the Journal of Mental Health, focuses on creating a video game designed to help treat mental illness in therapy. The game is known as Playmancer and results found that, “[eating disorder] and impulse control disorder patients feel comfortable using such a video game [usability over 85 percent].” Results also show that gameplay related to, “Negative and positive emotions [namely anger and joy, respectively] are positively linked with higher physiological reactivity in mental disorders.” Since the video game was developed directly for the use in therapy, there were more positive results, opposed to other video games designed for entertainment. ­

Look mom, no hands!

The consensus from most studies and the scientific community is that, video games could play a role in treatment of mental illness as well as therapy. Neurofeedback is one example of a video game controlled by the user’s mind. explains the use of specially-designed video games to help self regulation in the neurofeedback process. From jet skis to, car racing, pong, to ships orbiting outer space, the patient controls the outcome with relaxation, focus and their mind. Set to calming music, the videos offer mental stimulus rewards periodically when calm is maintained. Patients can even watch their favorite videos and visibility will fade or be obscured when heart rate and mental stability waiver beyond normal fluctuation.

“We apply electrodes to the scalp to listen in on brainwave activity,” explains, adding that, “the person is effectively playing the video game with his or her brain.” It is important to note that in this sense, “The frequencies we target, and the specific locations on the scalp where we listen in on the brain,” are specific to the individual person. There is no single method or treatment for the regulation of the individual’s brain. This is one strong example of how video games can be used for treatment and will hopefully continue to develop in the future.

White River Academy is a boarding school for troubled boys from ages 12 to 17, struggling with issues at school and interpersonal problems. The academy provides treatment and care for the boys through disciplined guidance, continues a strong education program and instills character values with service projects promoting positive growth. For more information or to register, feel free to call 866-520-0905.

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