Therapeutic Benefits of Role-Playing Games

By: Matt Nolan

Role-Playing Games are a popular form of games that people throughout the world play. Role-Playing Games or RPGs come in many forms in both video game, board game, and table-top formats. Examples of RPGs are Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer, or World of Warcraft. This type of game provides opportunities for players to be creative as well as interactive. The games can also be utilized in a therapeutic sense and have benefits for those who engage in this form of therapy. Below we will outline a few of the different aspects and benefits to participating in RPG group therapy.

Creativity is a cornerstone of role-play games and allows players to create a character with unique characteristics and backstories. Furthermore, players can customize almost every aspect of their game down to the way their dice look. This gives the players control to create the character they would want and gives them an avenue to play as this character. In some cases, players have characters that act vastly different than they might handle a situation which gives players a unique opportunity to go outside their comfort zone within a supportive environment. Role-Play Games are in many ways a blank canvas in which players can help paint and create a world around them within the game.

Role-Play Games are collaborative and interactive with other players while giving individuals a chance to build social and problem-solving skills. Role-Play Games are designed so that the group members are given tasks and from there the group must figure out how to best proceed forward. This type of open-ended play gives players the chance to be innovative in their problem-solving while giving players the opportunity to collaborate and build social skills that not only work within the context of gameplay but outside of the therapeutic setting as well. The relationship building aspect of RPGs is one that makes each game campaign unique.

RPGs provide a safe space for player to explore not only within the game but themselves as well. Therapeutic Role-Play Games work to create an environment that gives players a chance to engage in growth with the other group members as well as themselves. Players are given a chance through this interactive type of play to explore problem-solving and decision-making through their character. Within therapeutic gameplay players are asked to explore their character’s actions and how this is similar or different to how they would handle a given situation. Furthermore, the group is always encouraged to explore the challenges as well as areas of enjoyment that they experienced and engage in discussions with other group members.

Role-Playing Games are an opportunity for individuals from middle-school through adulthood to engage in an interactive creative game. It is a game that is both social and collaborative. Here at North Texas Counseling Associates, we utilize Role-Play Game therapy and are currently taking applications for this season’s Dungeons & Dragons Therapy group. All types of experience levels are welcomed so whether you’re new to games such as Dungeons & Dragons or have played your entire life and are currently in a campaign we would encourage you to consider whether this group would be a good fit for you. If you would like more information, please reach out to our main office (817-281-6822 or and we can provide you with more information about these groups.

Dear Santa…Should my Children Believe in You?

By Ashley Geerts-Perry, M.S.

The day after Thanksgiving at my house means the tree is going up, lights are getting hung, and Hallmark Christmas movies won’t leave the TV until December 26th (okay, you got me… Hallmark was on long before Thanksgiving). For most children, the Christmas season means one thing…SANTA! While standing in line surrounded by fake snow and high schoolers dressed as elves to take a picture and share your Christmas list may not be in the 2020 cards, on Christmas Eve Santa will still head out from the North Pole to spread Christmas magic…presumably wearing a very stylish candy cane mask.

So let’s talk Santa…I get it, technically we are lying to our children about a big fat man in a red suit who will determine if they’ve been good enough for toys that year, but there’s also cultural traditions rooted in the myth of Santa Claus that can’t be overlooked. From the toddler years, children begin practicing magical thinking and have the capacity to believe. Even if you don’t introduce Santa, they are going to hear about him from somewhere…a commercial on TV, Santa’s Village at the mall, a catchy Christmas jingle, or a visit from jolly ol’ St. Nick at school…Santa is inescapable all December. If you are hoping for an answer on whether or not to propagate this belief in Santa, you’re out of luck, but here are some thoughts to consider either way:  

So you want your kids to believe in Santa…

There are varying degrees of belief in Santa that families proliferate. Maybe your family does a more traditional Santa…a visit to the mall with letter in hand, a plate of cookies by the fireplace, a full stocking in the morning, and a new present under the tree. Or maybe you do like my parents and play up Santa as a REALLY BIG DEAL, and trust me, we did it all…cookies for Santa and carrots for the reindeer on the “special Santa plate”, letters mailed with hand-written responses confirming that you’re currently on the “good” list but be careful because it gets revised all the way until Christmas Eve, and special Santa wrapping and tags. There is no right or wrong way to foster belief in Santa, but whatever way you choose, COMMIT, because from year to year your kids will probably remember.  

Santa can also be a tool for establishing meaningful family traditions and positivity. Santa creates this connection around the world. A shared feeling on Christmas morning knowing something magical happened to everyone while you slept. I look back and it’s not the gifts Santa left that I remember, it’s the way Santa brought us all together. I remember decorating his cookies as a family on Christmas Eve before opening our one Christmas Eve present and laughing with my brothers while writing Santa letters before family game night began. Every year I put up the “Santas from Around the World” with my grandma, and even though we live hundreds of miles apart, I think of her when I place them on my mantle. Christmas hasn’t been about Santa for a long time, but the traditions, magic, and connection never faded away. So if you choose to believe in Santa, take the opportunity to create your own family magic.  

While Santa is useful for getting your kids to stop fighting in the middle of the produce section, he also provides an opportunity for teaching valuable life lessons. Christmas is a season for giving and who gives better than Santa. Historically, the story of Santa begins with a monk named Saint Nicholas, who is said to have given away all his wealth to travel the country helping the less fortunate. He is known as the patron saint of children for the good deeds he did and generosity he spread. There are a lot of messages about receiving at Christmas, but Santa can help us remember the importance of selflessness and giving (Bonus! There is significant research about the benefits of altruism on our mental health). Santa can also teach us about equity and fairness. My husband grew up thinking Santa liked his cousins more because they always had more gifts from him …doesn’t seem very fair! When selecting Santa gifts and helping your children make their lists, consider framing Santa as someone who gives what you need, not necessarily exactly what you want. Perhaps in your family, Santa has a rule that includes no electronics. However you do it, be mindful of the power of peers. How might your child make someone feel if they got a Nintendo switch from Santa and a less fortunate child got a new backpack or vice versa? We could all benefit from keeping Santa simple. Belief in Santa means belief in kindness and generosity, so help your kids want to be like Santa, not just get from Santa. 

What do you do when your kids start asking questions about Santa…

If there is one thing we can count on, it is a child’s curiosity, and when use of logic and reason kick in, they will start questioning the Santa narrative. You’ve got two choices…dig in or spill the beans! There may be lots of reasons for keeping up the ruse. For my family, it was younger siblings because while my 3-year-old self didn’t care that our chimney couldn’t fit a small doll, let alone a large man, my 6-year-old brother started to. My parent’s response was to amp up the story. That Christmas Santa got a house key alongside his cookies so that he could use the front door instead of squeezing down the chimney, and the next morning boot prints out the front door and reindeer bells as a ‘Thank You’ for being so considerate. Inconsistency reconciled and the magic lives on for another year!

However, maybe it is time for the jig to be up, then what…you could tell them Santa isn’t real or you can just stop trying so hard to foster belief and allow your child to put two and two together. “Wow, all of sudden Santa’s handwriting looks just like Dad’s!” Honestly, either way is harmless, so long as your child isn’t left feeling stupid for having believed in the first place. You can always go back to the meaning behind Santa…Giving! While their belief in Santa may have faded away, they now have opportunities to be Santa for others and spread kindness and joy. 

But what if you don’t want to go the Santa route…

This is perfectly fine too! The lessons and meaning of Christmas are unique to each family and you shouldn’t feel pressured to conform. Even without belief in Santa Claus, your family can foster the spirit of Christmas, establish connecting traditions, and embrace the season of giving. However, you also don’t want your child to be the one ruining Santa for others. If Santa isn’t for you, then have a candid conversation with your children about how your family’s traditions differ from Santa traditions. In the spirit of Christmas, your children are being kind and giving by not taking away other’s beliefs. 

In the words of Edwin Osgood Grover, “Santa Claus is anyone who loves another and seeks to make them happy; who gives himself by thought or word or deed in every gift that he bestows.” However you celebrate, enjoy making memories with your family this holiday season!

‘Tis the Season to Stay Connected

“We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.”
― William James

As soon as October ends it seems the whole world goes into overdrive preparing for the upcoming holiday season. Christmas lights go up, stores start advertising their Black Friday deals, and people start preparing for the next two months of festivities.

 Although the holiday season is a time of joy and revelry for many people, it can also be a source of stress and unhappiness. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the season, and sometimes the holidays are unwelcome reminders of unpleasant events from previous months and of loved ones who aren’t able to celebrate with us. This year the holiday season may look a little different from those of years past, which can add even more stress. As we continue to find ways to balance the joys and demands of everyday life with protecting the health and safety of ourselves and our loved ones, it’s important to be mindful of where we are directing our energy. By staying connected with ourselves, others, and the world we can learn to cope with the anxiety and uncertainty and move wholeheartedly into the holiday season.

Tips to Help Stay Connected

  1. Practice Mindfulness

“First I need to buy the turkey, then I need to decorate the house, then it’s time to shop Amazon Wishlist…” No wonder the holidays can be overwhelming! It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement, but it’s important to take a break and appreciate the present moment. Feel the cool wind on your face, relish in the “crunch” created by stepping on a fallen leaf, and enjoy every sip of that delicious Peppermint Mocha! By staying in present moment we aren’t letting ourselves be overwhelmed by “need,” “should,” or “have to;” we are focused on ourselves and what is happening in our immediate environment.

2. Be Thankful for the Little Things

The annual Thanksgiving visit to grandma’s house may be canceled and the Christmas pageant may look a little different, but do not fret! It’s ok to miss the celebrations and traditions of years past, but there is still so much to be thankful for. Try making a “Gratitude List” identifying all of the things you are thankful for this holiday season, big and small: cooler weather, pumpkin spice- or peppermint-flavored everything, the Harry Potter marathons on ABC. Despite everything that’s gone wrong this year (let’s be real: there’s been a lot) there is still so much left to appreciate.

3. Spend Time with Loved Ones (face-to-face or virtually)

I never thought I would be so grateful to live in the Age of Technology! With travel restrictions and bans on large gatherings, digital communication is a true blessing. Schedule a regular get-together to catch up with family and friends through Zoom or Facetime. Spend some socially-distanced time in a backyard or park talking and enjoying the fresh air. It doesn’t matter how you spend time with your loved ones, as long as you’re able to do it!

4. Embrace “The New Normal”

There’s one big realization I’ve come to this year: people are remarkably adaptive! The rules and guidelines that have been put into place have compelled people to find new and creative ways to live like they have in the past, and the holiday season is a prime example! Host a “Virtual Thanksgiving” during which family and friends show off their favorite holiday dishes or use the Netflix Party feature to watch a fun holiday movie (Elf is my all-time favorite) together no matter where y’all are! While hopefully “The New Normal” isn’t here to stay, there’s no reason we can’t have a blast in the interim.

5. Have Fun!

Four people warming their feet by the fireplace and drinking hot chocolate.

While large gatherings (like my wedding—boo!) have been cancelled this year, fun definitely was not! With all of the stress and uncertainty abounding, now more than ever it’s important to let go and have fun. Visit an apple orchard or pumpkin patch, bake Christmas cookies (or eat the cookie dough—no judgment here), or just curl up in front of the fireplace with a cozy blanket and mug of hot chocolate. As Vivian Greene once wrote, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain!”

I hope these tips help you find peace and joy this holiday season. Stay safe, stay connected, and dance on!

Written by Courtney Sanders, M.S.:

Courtney is working toward a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at the University of North Texas. She previously earned a master’s degree in psychology from the University of North Texas. Courtney has worked with children, adolescents, and adults of various backgrounds and identities. Clinical areas of focus have included depression, anxiety, trauma, psychosis, and emotional/behavioral dysregulation.

Creating Healthy Boundaries

By: Erin McCall, M.S., LPC-Associate (Supervised by Jennie Fincher, Ph.D., LPC-S)

“If you want to live an authentic, meaningful life, you need to master the art of disappointing and upsetting others, hurting feelings, and living with the reality that some people just won’t like you.” —Cheryl Richardson

When people talk about boundaries, they usually think about relationships with significant others. Healthy boundaries are something we should all be practicing on a daily basis. Whether it be in the workplace, with family or with friends it’s important that we identify our needs clearly and communicate our limits. There are many different reasons why we have unhealthy boundaries and it’s important that we understand the template of where our values stemmed from in the past and recognize the signs of unhealthy behaviors.

Types of Boundaries:

Physical- These refer to personal space and how you interact with people. Are you a hugger? Do you recoil when someone touches your shoulder? Knowing and communicating this ahead of time will help others respect your personal bubble.

Mental/Intellectual- What are your values, thoughts and opinions? Do you have an open mind or are you rigid with your beliefs? Someone who is strict with these types of boundaries may react in a defensive and highly emotional manner.

Emotional- Being able to accept that you are not responsible for ‘fixing’ other people’s problems or how people react to certain situations. When you have a healthy emotional boundary, you understand that you have a choice and don’t let guilt get in the way of making decisions.

Moral- Being aware of your core values and knowing what type of behaviors you can and cannot tolerate. Behaviors such as lying, cheating and stealing can be violations of your moral boundaries.

Financial- Setting limits on your expenses and prioritizing what you spend on materials/goods and experiences. For example, buying something you can’t afford to win others’ affection.

Sexual- These can be included in physical boundaries mentioned above but more specifically, knowing what you are comfortable with when it comes to intimacy and sexual behaviors.

Spiritual- Understanding and defining your beliefs (or non-belief) whether it pertains to religion and/or faith. Honoring your beliefs around the holidays instead of “buying in” to what others say or do.  

Common Reasons for Unhealthy Boundaries:

Need for approval: If our only experience is always trying to live up to everyone else’s expectations, our needs get put on the backburner. We become a people pleaser and we’re terrified to make a mistake or that we won’t win the approval of others.

Growing up in unhealthy environments: Perhaps our needs/wants were not respected growing up therefore we internalize that we are not important. We’ve always been taken advantage of because we didn’t know how to say ‘no’ or always settled for whatever was given.

Caregiving: If we grew up in a household as the eldest with siblings, or perhaps caregivers who were not there, we are used to taking care of everyone else before ourselves. Our needs are not priority and doing something for ourselves was considered “selfish”.

Trauma and/or abuse: Any type of neglect or abuse in our history usually causes unhealthy boundaries. Being told we were never good enough or that we didn’t live up to others’ expectations, we constantly second guess ourselves in what we truly need and want. 

Tips on Setting Boundaries:

  1. Be clear- How will people know they have crossed a boundary if it is not clear to begin with? Where will you draw the line? If you are not clear with your boundary you cannot expect others to be as well.
  2. Create consequences- Make sure to determine a consequence beforehand. The consequence will be determinant of what boundary has been crossed. It’s important to follow through with the consequence otherwise there’s no point in setting that boundary to begin with.
  3. Expect resistance- You can be sure that creating a boundary after not having one, there will be push back. Usually the people who will have a problem with your new boundaries are the reason why you need them in the first place.
  4. Be consistent- It may seem easiest to create boundaries based upon your mood or feelings, but this leads to confusion for others if it’s “OK” one day but not the other.

The only person who can set these boundaries is you. It’s important that you communicate these needs to others because as much as we’d like to believe, they cannot read your mind. I’ve often heard “If they knew me, they would know what I want”. Although this sounds like an ideal situation, it’s not always true when it comes to setting limits and communicating needs. Simply saying, “I’d really appreciate it if you let me know when you’re going to be late next time” helps communicate your need to the other person without inviting confrontation. Setting clear boundaries is essential for having healthy, functional relationships with the people in your life. It not only strengthens your connection but it also honors what you have with that other person, creating mutual respect between one another.

10 Ways to Boost Self-Esteem for Teens

Written By: Kaitlin Cross, MS, LPC

Adolescence can be a challenging time for many teens as they figure out who they are and who they want to be. For many, this journey is filled with self-doubt, insecurity, and challenges as they search for their place in the world. Though teens may not say this directly (or even at all!), they still value your influence, support, and encouragement as they navigate through these times. With that, here are 10 ways you can support your teen and boost their self-esteem.

  1. Seek to Connect Before You Correct: Every teen needs to feel heard, seen, understood, and connected. While they definitely long to feel a sense of belonging and connection with peers, they will do well to have a foundation of meaningful belonging with the adults in their life. It is wise to LISTEN and reflect what you hear your child saying without correcting them. Always help them to feel connected, heard, and seen first. Let them know all their feelings are accepted.
  2. Providing Positive Redirection Instead of Correction: Along the same theme as the top above, your teen will be more open to receiving guidance or direction if they are first seen, heard and feeling connected to the adult who is listening. When you feel their behavior is personally offensive to you or unsafe (yelling at you, cursing, destructive actions) first thing to do is help them regroup and cease the unsafe behavior. The way you go about it will lend to how effectively they will be able to receive it. Try affirming the feeling and then provide an alternative that is not punitive or corrective.

For example, “I can see and hear you have a lot of big frustration right now and it seems like it feels like you need to move all that intense energy that is there. Instead of yelling/throwing things how about going for a run, or shooting some hoops, or I wonder if you have an idea that might work for you?”

  1. Be Curious and Remove the Judgment. If you want a teen to be able to share with you what she/he is feeling and experiencing so that you can help them navigate the stress, you have to drop the judgmental feelings you have and lean into curiosity about what this experience is like for your teen. Don’t assume you know how she/he feels or what she/he is going through. Their experiences are their own. Listen openly and invite them to help you better understand what they are feeling and why.
  2. Encourage Diversity in Their Activities and Interests. Teens who are regularly involved in activities such as sports teams, volunteer opportunities, and educational clubs tend to have a higher sense of self-esteem. Your teen is going to be more resilient when experiencing a setback in one area because they have other things contributing to their self-worth.
  3. Be the Change. Set a Good Example. Let your teen see you using healthy assertiveness, polite requests of others, and let them hear and see you processing the healthy way you navigate adult social stresses. Model for them by taking personal responsibility and apologizing when you yourself stumble and over-reacting, even in situations with them! Confident, clear, and persuasive communication does not come easy to everyone. Many teens don’t have a grasp on the differences between assertive, passive, and aggressive communication. Make time to practice and model this for them.
  4. Make Time for Regular Talks. Set up a ritual of talking on a regular basis so the tone will be set for your teen to feel comfortable talking with you when the going gets tough. For example, chat with them on a consistent basis while riding in the car together, invite them to help you prep meals together so you can talk, go for a special outing together on a weekly basis, or take walks together. Find time to casually open the opportunities for communication so your teen will open up to you.
  5. Praise the Process and Tie It to the Outcome. As a caregiver, it’s easy to go overboard, gushing about your teen’s awards, accomplishments, and positive outcomes. What parent or caregiver wouldn’t be proud? Unfortunately, these things can become tied to their self-esteem, causing them to place a condition that they’re only worthwhile if they achieve. On the flip side, they also aren’t worthwhile if they fall fail or fall short making them feel anxious or at times give up. Instead, congratulate your teen’s endeavors, and growth by emphasizing their hard work, effort, and perseverance. Focusing on the characteristics that got them to that point will help them make the connection between their effort and the result.
  6. Encourage Your Teen to Use Self-Compassion. Often, having a growth mindset requires kindness and patience with ourselves as we grow and learn. Contrary to social media, influencers, and their peers, your teen doesn’t need an outside opinion to prove personal worth. If you notice your teen is stuck in a negative or fixed mindset about their worth, encourage them to embrace self-compassion.Kristin Neff offers many resources for teens and young adults about this topic. Also encourage your teens to explore mindfulness activities. Have them try the Calm app or the Headspace app, go to a yoga class or a meditation course together (if socially distanced and accessible to you). Learn together the power of slowing down the breath. Not only will doing this together help your bond but it will also prepare them to self soothe when the social stresses get tough.
  7. Help Your Teen Feel Confident They’ll Get Through It. Sometimes a teen needs to hear that they have what it takes to get through a tough time and when they feel they don’t, reaching out for help is always available.
  8. Consider Professional Support. Sometimes even if a caregiver does all tips listed above, a teen may simply need a neutral, unbiased professional adult to help them. If your teen is showing signs of not handling the social stresses to the point they appear persistently sad, withdrawn, anxious, or other signs, it may be time to reach out and get them to see a therapist who specializes in helping adolescents.

In support of September being National Suicide Prevention Month, we here at North Texas Counseling Associates hope to remind everyone who may be struggling, in pain, or in a dark place that you are not alone and can reach out for help at any time. We are all in this together. With this belief, we also aim to promote community care, awareness, and the need to provide education and resources to help.

Please visit Nami or Self-Care is For Everyone  for more information, free resources, and support.