How a Dungeons & Dragons fantasy game provoked real-life change

Recovery Coach Alex explains how role-playing in a fantasy game provided the safe space for a newfound reality and gave one of his clients, Kaine, a new lease of life.  

“When I first met Kaine over a year ago, he was closed, withdrawn and suffered from selective mutism, making communication very hard,” said Alex. “To give you an idea – it could take up to four minutes for him to respond to a question.  

But, with time and patience we slowly built a relationship, and then, choosing my moment with care, I suggested he try out a session of the table top role playing game (RPG) Dungeons & Dragons.  

Kaine created a fantasy character and then, amazingly, as soon as he took on the role of his fantasy character, he suddenly found his voice. He effortlessly and enthusiastically described how his character would navigate the situations he faced, often coming up with intricate and novel solutions to his predicaments. 

Kaine has now attended many game sessions and has even been happy to go on his own when I wasn’t able to go with him. What’s even more wonderful, is this newfound ability to express himself has progressively spilled out into the real world.  He now communicates clearly and openly about his hopes and fears, and plans for the future.” 

Kaine is a client with Second Step’s Step Together service in Somerset which works with people with complex needs.

Therapy through play 

Graham, one of the service’s psychologists, has long been fascinated by the therapeutic possibilities of role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons.  He said:

“We can’t underestimate the value of role-playing games in helping our clients. It gives them a coping mechanism and a voice they often didn’t know they had. This is something that I am passionate about, not only as a psychologist but as a player and Game Master as well – someone who provides the narrative structure and challenges for the game. 

I carried out research into the therapeutic value and community-building qualities these games hold as my doctoral thesis. I found they can be profoundly therapeutic because they offer a safe and supportive environment for players to explore different aspects of themselves by experimenting with different ways of being.

This can allow them to gain insights into their own beliefs and values, as well as symbolically work through some experiences of trauma and adversity through the characters they portray. Also, the social interaction and sense of community that comes from playing tabletop RPGs can provide a valuable source of connection and support for players, particularly those who may be struggling with isolation.”

Going deeper 

Over the past year Graham and Alex have led 12 sessions for two regular clients, including Kaine. They started with ‘one-shots’ – short adventures which can be completed in one sitting. They have now moved onto longer campaigns where the same characters take on challenges that span a number of sessions, allowing a deeper dive into building the characters and thinking about their motivations and behaviours. 

Graham added:

“It is important to note that we do not use the sessions as therapy. Instead, we set the scene for the games to be therapeutic, by providing a safe, exploratory and fun environment with a chance to talk about the choices and situations that occur within these games.” 


Step Together is one of a few organisations using this innovative approach with clients. Two others are Game Therapy UK and The Camden Game Club.

Below we’ve pulled together some wonderful feedback from people who’ve found playing these fantasy games truly game-changing.  

Harris said, “… table role playing has in essence saved my life… at some points, through distraction, through working through things, through seeing things through different eyes…” 

Adrian said, … I’ve commented for a very long time that RPGs have been somewhat the most important things for me working out some of my own issues.”   

Jo (not their real name) said, “There’s no shame here. It’s kinda like being a kid again. You’re told as adults you can’t do this, you can’t have that imagination. And here you can have as much imagination as you want and that’s really fun. You feel way less self-conscious and able to lose yourself in it”. 

We would like to thank Mind in Somerset in Yeovil for providing the room and space for the sessions and for opening the games up to their own clients. 

Find out more about our Step Together service in Somerset.

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