Using Games in Counseling 

By Laura Driscoll
Read Time:  min
Games deserve a place in your counseling sessions

Using games in counseling is 100 percent something every counselor should be doing. It's the perfect way to practice newly learned skills and engage students. Nothing makes a student light up quicker than realizing they get to play Jenga. I know you might have some colleagues who think all you do is play games, but there is magic in a game of Uno. Let's dive into how to school counseling games really work plus different types of games to have in your office.

How to Use Games in Counseling

A game by itself is not the best use of your time with students. To make sure you get the most out of it, do two things: Set the purpose and take time to reflect.

Set the purpose. Tell students why you are playing the game and give them a specific skill to practice.

For example, "Today we are playing Jenga. It will be a fun way for us to practice some skills we have learned. I want us to focus on three things: waiting our turn, encouraging others when it is their turn, and being a good sport when the tower falls."

BONUS: Write down the skills you are targeting somewhere students can see.

Take a few minutes in the end to reflect with them. How did they do with the target skills? Was there something they feel like they could do better next time? Finally, ask them if there is anything else they learned today while playing the game.

Traditional Games for Counseling

Traditional games, like Uno, are a great fit for counseling. Students are familiar with them and are immediately excited to play. They are built to practice social skills like sharing, losing, turn-taking, and being fair.

You can stick with social skills practice or you can create a list of prompts focused on specific topics.

For example, questions related to handling worries or strategies to manage anger. You can randomly choose a prompt or connect them to numbers and colors in the game. 

My Top 3 Traditional Counseling Games

Don't Break the Ice

Get Moving - Physical Games

For some students, moving around may be the key to getting them engaged. Like traditional games, they are perfect for practicing social skills and building relationships. This is also a great opportunity to develop group rules and routines. How will you decide who goes first? What is a safe way to play this game inside? What do you do when are out?

Just like traditional games, build in time to set the purpose and reflect when you are done.

Check out Playworks game library to find new games to try.

Cooperative Games in Counseling

Cooperative games often have very similar game play to traditional games, but there is a more overt focus on collaboration, group decision making, and kindness. Students have to share their opinions respectfully, listening to others, and work on other communication skills. This goes beyond your typical social skills.

My Top 3 Cooperative Games for Counseling: Secret Door, Race to the Treasure, and Max.

My Top 3 Cooperative Counseling Games

Secret Door

Race to the Treasure

Therapeutic Games

Even when you set the purpose, display the skills, and reflect, traditional games do not provide enough focused practice. This is when you want to bring in games that are specifically designed for counseling. They are made thinking about self regulation, anxiety, anger, or impulse control.

There are some physical games you can purchase, but many are quick digital downloads that you can print yourself.

My Fave Counseling Games

CBT Game: I'm in Charge of Me 

A CBT-based counseling game to help students identify feelings, practice coping skills, use positive self talk, see others' perspectives, and problem solve.

Destroy the Worry Weeds

This game provides students with practice opportunities to identify negative and positive thoughts, change negative thoughts to positive ones, manage negative thoughts, and use positive thinking strategies.

Get Started with Games

Games can be a great way to engage elementary students in counseling sessions and help them practice important skills such as turn-taking, cooperation, communication, self-regulation and more. Whether using traditional games like Jenga or Uno, recess games for physical activity or cooperative games that require collaboration between players; the possibilities are endless when it comes to using games in school counseling. Therapeutic games designed specifically for counseling provide an even greater opportunity to focus on topics related to self regulation, anxiety and impulse control. 

What game are you going to use today? Comment below!

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I’m a school psychologist who left her office (closet?) and got busy turning a decade of experience into ready to use counseling and SEL resources.

I live in New York City with my adventurous husband and relaxed to the max daughter who’ve grown to appreciate my love of a good checklist.

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