After a weekend of rain, I asked my sister to bring over a board game last night. She chose to bring Therapy the Game, which I’d heard about but never played before.
It’s a game for three to six players but since there were only the two of us we made my Digby-puppy play. He kept eating the cards, though, so we had to put him in his crate and then take turns playing from his point of view.
The game is similar to Life except instead of driving little cars around the board, your marker is a therapy couch. You collect pegs as your couch circles through the six Stages of Life, infancy to seniority, and whomever collects all the pegs and reaches the Finish space wins.
At first it was hilarious. My sister and I have both been in therapy for years, so we were laughing hysterically as we pretended to be each other’s therapist as each couch landed in the therapy spaces. “So tell me, Erin, on a rating scale from 1 to 10, how much do you enjoy meeting people?” I’d write down my answer and then my sister would write down what she thought I’d say. If she guessed my answer correctly, she as the therapist would get a peg.
There were also insight questions that related to each stage of life, usually a true or false question or multiple choice. If you guess incorrectly, your couch goes to the middle of the board into the realm of psychosis. “Oh no, my puppy is psychotic!” I wailed. “I knew it!!”
So, it was fun. I really got into trying to answer the questions that were based on real psychological literature and studies. When I landed on the odd “thinkblot” space, my sister quizzed me about what image I’d most likely see in the Rorschach-like ink blot. We laughed and swore and teased each other as we each ended up back in psychosis land, only to roll the dice and end up back in therapy.
Eventually we got tired of it, however, as the game stretched on and on. We started to talk about the possibility of the game giving people the wrong idea about therapy and treatment.
First of all, therapy isn’t a game you can win or lose, and your therapist isn’t your opponent. Seeing a therapist usually doesn’t involve a couch these days and you aren’t usually given a Rorschach test to see if you’re crazy. And if you lose at therapy, you don’t immediately start experiencing psychotic symptoms. And people experiencing psychosis don’t just roll the dice to stop their symptoms, either.
But most people are smart enough to understand that a board game doesn’t reflect the real world, no matter what the game is. It’s the underlying messages, however, that sneak their way into our ideas about the world. Mental illness is something that people joke about, so basing a game on its treatment enforces the idea that not only is mental illness funny, it’s a fun game to play. Having surgery isn’t fun, and people rarely joke about it, so I don’t believe that the game Operation is as potentially damaging to societies’ beliefs as the Therapy game can be.
On the other hand, by basing the questions in the Therapy game on real facts and findings, the game does give some useful information. Weaving correct information into a game format makes learning more fun for everyone. And I’m sure we all agree that society has a lot to learn about mental illness and treatment, so why not turn it into an activity for friends that just might kick-start some real conversations?
If I could change the Therapy game, I’d make each player’s marker a person and not a couch, to subtly remind everyone that real people go to therapy, not pieces of furniture that have no emotions or needs. I’d take away the psychosis part in the middle and make players go to school instead if they got a question wrong. The “thinkblot” tests are fun so I’d leave those in, but maybe add some information about how they aren’t common diagnostic tools anymore.
I recommend this Therapy game if you understand mental health treatment but need a break from being so serious about it all the time. Laughing is good for your mental health! And if you want to play a mental health game to educate others, head over to the Reach Out game at mindyourmind.ca. Teams and points give some competitive fun while you learn real information to help you and others.