Dr. Mick's Story - You'll Grow Out of It Someday

A Story by Dr. Mick, DaBR Content Partner and Curator of the “Demystifying the Science of Health and Gaming” Series.

“You’ll grow out of it some day” – parents & family circa early 2000’s.

“Or, I’ll find a way to make a career out of it” – me circa always.

Video games are, quite possibly, the great common denominator of my life. Santa brought me a SEGA Genesis when I was five years old, and I never looked back. Where most might have seen a kid staring at a screen holding a piece of plastic with buttons on it, I saw worlds of complexity, nuance, and varied aesthetic. Worlds I belonged in, could navigate, could interact with, and could explore. When I wanted to connect with my friends, video games were there. When I’d want to escape the stresses of school and life for awhile? Xbox had my back. Video games continue to play a massive role in my life.

What role you ask? Protector. Companion. Outlet. Challenger. Motivator. Nurturer. Confidant. Therapist. Not all at once, necessarily, but certainly some combination of those words at any given point in time. Video games have even played the role of drawing my fiancé and I closer together when we navigated a long-distance relationship.

Though I spent a lot of time in my childhood convincing others that I wanted to be a video game designer, I never did pursue that career path. My brain just doesn’t work that way. So, I dedicated my college years to learning how to be a couple and family therapist. I got a masters, then a PhD, and let me tell you – neither of those feats would have been accomplished without video games. In fact, if you seek out my dissertation in Virginia Tech’s dissertation archives, you’ll see my Destiny raid group mentioned in the acknowledgments.  

As I’ve settled into my career as a therapist, educator, supervisor, and researcher, video games have been along for the ride. In the back of my mind, I’ve always known that I wanted to figure out a way to combine my love of therapy/mental health with video games. Yes, I specialize in working with gamers in therapy (which I very much enjoy), but I wanted to have a bigger impact.

There is one very explicit problem that gaming and therapy share – stigma. Talk to anyone who doesn’t understand either concept and they’ll generally hit you with common misconceptions such as “video games make people violent” or “therapy is for the weak” among many, many others. I’ve always wanted to take on the challenge of de-stigmatizing both, so I recently figured out a way to do it.

Twitch. It’s come to my attention recently that gamers try to talk to big-time streamers about their mental health. My hypothesis is that they feel a connection to these streamers – people who represent them on a bigger stage that directly fights the stigma that oppresses so many gamers. But many of these streamers have come out, understandably so, to say “I’m not a therapist” and “you should talk to a professional about that”. Helpful sentiments, but where do gamers turn? How does one get the process rolling?

That’s where I’ve come in. I finally figured out how to combine my love of gaming with my love of therapy and mental health by creating a Twitch channel called [Game] Sessions with a Therapist. I, a real therapist with a PhD, play games and facilitate discussions about various mental health topics while growing a deeply supportive and warm community. We openly talk about mental health, stigma, therapy, anxiety, depression (you name it really) in a context that allows people to engage at their own pace. It bridges the gap between not knowing how to access mental health services and actually seeking out therapy. I look forward to the channel’s continued growth, and I encourage any gamer out there who’s always wondered about mental health and therapy to join my stream and community. You’ll be welcomed with open arms, I assure you!

Gaming can be healthy.  We can learn skills, develop leadership roles, explore identity, and expand our social skills just by playing games. These skills are translatable to the real world with the right scaffolding or the right conversations. I wouldn’t be who I am today without video games, and I know there are countless others who would agree, and with whom my sentiments resonate.

When people ask “who are you” or “what’s your most salient identity?”, my answer is really simple.

“I’m a gamer.”

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