Stonewall YDC Psychologist Brings A-Game to Youth Therapy

psychologist plays board game with youth and others to teach coping skills
Friday, January 4, 2019 - 3:45pm

(CONCORD) Games are found throughout our daily lives. Some games are played simply for amusement and fun, while others are often played to pass on skills and lessons to the next generation. Games are also used to teach us about ourselves. Such is the case for Stonewall Jackson Youth Development Center staff psychologist, Jerica McIntyre, who incorporated the creation and use of a board game into psychotherapy for one of the juveniles in her care.

McIntyre has been training in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) over the past year as part of the North Carolina Child Treatment Program’s (NCCTP) 2018 learning collaborative. NCCTP’s learning collaborative offers high quality training in TF-CBT via in-person learning sessions, with group and individual coaching calls between sessions.  This evidence-based mental health intervention focuses on treating children and adolescents who are suffering from trauma-related disorders and experiencing symptoms of PTSD.

Over the course of the last year, McIntyre was required to complete psychotherapy courses (using TF-CBT principles) with two youth. Working diligently with each one to revisit their trauma histories, McIntyre helped them recognize and alter the negative effects these events have had on their beliefs about themselves, others and the world. Before treatment is complete, TF-CBT guides a psychologist to work with youth to reduce the likelihood of future re-traumatization by using tools that help the youth recognize and prepare for the potential future threats to safety.

Working together, McIntyre and one of the youth approached this in unique fashion, by creating a board game (designed) to teach youth recognition and coping skills for risky situations.  Depending on choices made, the player can make either positive gains or small negative setbacks (green and red cards) toward the journey home. Some elements of the game were personalized, thereby helping the youth rehearse situations associated with family dealings or other issues that may present themselves.

The game helped the youth recognize threats and how to respond to them, while also learning that while life often presents unforeseen or unexpected events, victory can be achieved by persevering in the face of obstacles. It also teaches that life can open doors when and where we least expect, thus cultivating the ability to maintain a positive outlook.

The use of this board game has proven therapeutic for others as well.   McIntyre replaced personalized elements with items appropriate for a general audience prior to sharing with other clinicians (in a digital format) for use with their students. Nine licensed mental health clinicians across the state’s four youth development centers are trained to deliver TF-CBT to juveniles committed to the state’s custody.  The board game is now available to them, as well as to nearly 500 other licensed mental clinicians across the state who have been trained to deliver TF-CBT by the NCCTP.

“It’s really important to me to make this game available to my peers working with other adolescents who may be facing similar situations,” stated McIntyre. “Teens are responding well to its use, especially when they learn the game’s key developer is a youth - someone who understands their feelings and what they have been going through rather than an adult, who they perceive doesn’t get it.”

Matt Jenkins, Communications Officer