Role-playing games have multiple uses related to mental well-being and therapy.
It is a technique that does not require costumes or makeup and is a valuable technique for students learning about mental health and psychotherapy as it is a powerful tool in the treatment itself (Rønning & Bjørkly, 2019).
Role-play scripts can be particularly helpful with reticent clients, replacing more traditional talk therapy techniques when individuals are feeling cautious or suspicious.
It is also a helpful and relatively safe approach that can assess, intervene, and engage clients, especially children, in therapy (Hackett, 2011).
This article explores the value of role-playing as a therapeutic technique and provides scripts, exercises, activities, and questions to help.
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This article contains:
- How role-playing works in therapy
- 4 examples from real psychology
- It works? 9 Proven Benefits
- 3 scripts and worksheets for your sessions
- 9 techniques and questions for customers
- A look at role play in group therapy
- Best resources from PositivePsychology.com
- A take-home message
How role-playing works in therapy
“Role play in supervised groups seems to encourage reflection and insight not only for students in the patient and therapist roles, but also for peers observing the group sessions” (Rønning & Bjørkly, 2019, p. 415). Indeed, learning and practicing techniques in such a safe and controlled environment can foster competent practitioners.
For clients in therapy, role play scripts offer a substitute for some aspects of more typical talk therapy (Hackett, 2011). “Roleplay has emotional, cognitive, and behavioral components” that can produce disorders that help clients “transform unhealthy feelings into healthy ones” (Corey, 2013, p. 300).
When people act out scenes from their lives, they tend to become more psychologically engaged than when they just tell anecdotes about themselves (Corey, 2013).
Clients can use such exercises to process their feelings and irrational beliefs in an imagined past, present, or future situation. Children, in particular, may find it helpful to act out problematic behavior while providing a performance-based learning experience (Corey, 2013; Dobson, 2011).
A typical role-playing game involves two or more people re-enacting a specific problematic scenario—actual or imagined—that is authentic enough to elicit an emotional response. For example, the therapist may play the role of a parent or teacher, using words, behaviors, and responses collected (through systematic questioning) from the child to explore a situation (Hackett, 2011).
As a therapeutic technique, role play provides helpful insight into how individuals view their surroundings and function interpersonally. For this reason, it can be particularly effective in treating trauma by allowing therapist and client to revisit past experiences through reenactment (Hackett, 2011).
It can be helpful to move furniture around the office to replicate the environment, e.g. a family living room or work environment to better capture how customers are currently responding to a situation (Nelson-Jones, 2014).
4 examples from real psychology
Role-playing games are often used in cognitive behavioral therapy to train skills.
Clients can practice and improve their assertiveness and social skills while learning to manage their anxiety, aggression, and other interpersonal difficulties (Hackett, 2011).
Examples of real-life role-playing games modified from literature include:
- A student who is afraid of applying to graduate school feels stupid and unworthy.
Role-playing an imaginary interview with the college dean uncovers the client's specific beliefs and fears and challenges their thoughts about what it might mean to not be accepted (Corey, 2013).
- Client and parent Rich usually gets overly angry when his daughter is late.
Therapist asks him to re-enact a previous situation using the newly learned coping skills to provide a safe opportunity to make mistakes and improve future handling (Nelson-Jones, 2014).
- One client consistently performed poorly in executive interviews.
The client acts out a future interview, with the therapist acting as the interviewer, using a series of questions that may cause difficulties for the client. The meeting will be videotaped for later review and skill assessment.Guided mental imaginationis then used to practice aiming skills prior to future interviews (Nelson-Jones, 2014).
- A student has communication and trust issues with his professor.
The Therapistteaches you assertiveness, then role-playing meetings with the professor to try out their newly acquired techniques (before an actual meeting). Practice helps the client manage their fears and improve their relationship with their professor (Corey, 2013).
Role plays are helpful in putting clients in safe environments to practice difficult or stressful situations and to try new thingscoping skillsand emotional responses (Dobson, 2011).
It works? 9 Proven Benefits
Role-play scripts have many proven benefits (some have been identified anecdotally rather than research-driven) to aid in the therapeutic process and increase the likelihood of positive patient outcomes.
Potential benefits of role-playing include (Nelson-Jones, 2014; Hackett, 2011; Corey, 2013):
- Providing valuable assessment opportunities to uncover how customers think and act in specific situations.
- Provides an opportunity to practice skills learned during treatment.
- Together therapist and client can develop and try out styles and approaches for verbal and verbal formsnonverbal communication.
- Practice dealing with a range of responses from others.
- Testing the transferability of learned skills to real life to see their value while practicing overcoming obstacles.
- Beneficial skills training through the opportunity to practice social skills, assertiveness and other interpersonal and communication skills.
- Using therapist interruptions to create disruption in what clients are telling themselves and help transform unhealthy beliefs into healthy ones.
- Providing the opportunity to role-play problem situations that clients face in their daily lives.
- Help you learn coping skills to avoid impulsive and aggressive behavior, social anxiety, test anxiety, eating problems and public speaking fears.
3 scripts and worksheets for your sessions
Role-play scripts provide clients with an opportunity to practice desired behaviors observed by the therapist and then review them (Corey, 2013).
Introducing role play into therapy is a skill that requires practice and focus to ensure the client is able to try out their new skills and coping mechanisms. The therapist needs to be clear in their expectations and help the client by (Nelson-Jones, 2014):
- Explanation of the reasons for role-playing
- Set the stage
- Assess their current communication skills and behaviors
- Formulate new or changed communication skills and behaviors
- Rehearsing the new skills and behaviors
- Encourage the client to practice their skills inside and outside of counseling sessions.
Scripts (even incomplete ones) can help by focusing attention and giving the client clarity about what is expected.
Theempty chair(sometimes called two-chair work) experiment is one of the most widely used methods ingestalt psychologyand offers a slight twist on the role-playing game idea. It “provides a voice for the client's experience and is a way of recognizing and reclaiming alienated qualities” (Joyce & Sills, 2014, p. 100).
The client is asked to imagine someone from their past or present sitting in the chair opposite. They then talk openly about how they feel, as if the person were there.
A typical script might be a variation of the following:
If your husband were in the room, how close would he sit or stand?
Now, with your eyes closed, imagine what he is wearing. How does he sit or stand? What expression is on his face?
Now slowly open your eyes and imagine looking at him sitting (or standing) in front of you.
What emotions are you feeling?
what do you want to say to him
At this point, the therapist is likely beginning to understand the client's difficulties with the person, situation, or emotions. For example, you might say, "He looks stern and criticizes me."
The therapist may ask questions such as: "How risky would it be to tell him to stop?”
Role play with the empty chair encourages the client to think about how they feel about the situation and the person and to explore alternative ways of coping and behaving.
Sometimes a client feels stuck in their relationship with someone living or dead. The client may need to remain with such feelings of discomfort or "being stuck".
Role-playing—where the therapist plays the other person—can help move the conversation forward and keep it going without avoiding things changing (Joyce & Sills, 2014).
The therapist may temporarily interrupt the role-play to ask the following questions, delving deeper into the client's thoughts and beliefs (modified from Joyce & Sills, 2014):
What do you fear will happen if you assert yourself and make demands on X?
[The client replies.]
And what would happen then?
[The client replies.]
And then what?
[The client replies.]
And what would that look like?
While the therapist should be cautious about asking questions, gently nudging the client's thought process and getting them to face reality can be effective. After the answer, the therapist can continue with the role-play.
Assertive news RPG
This worksheetprovides a helpful script and role-play exercises to solve assertiveness issues at work.
Possible scenarios include:
A colleague is rude to another colleague.
Someone in the office comes up to you and wants to gossip about your friend.
Your colleague will not return your calls.
A colleague takes personal phone calls in your area and discusses very personal issues that you would rather not hear.
Role plays, scripts, games and exercises
Activities and games can increase the effectiveness of role-playing and provide new opportunities to explore the client's thinking, feelings, behavior and learned skills (Mann, 2010).
Top dog – outsider
If the therapist notices that clients have two opposing (and sometimes extreme) opinions or attitudes, it is helpful to ask them to role-play both.
The customer playstop dog, who demand that everything be done their way, and thenoutsider, where they play the disobedient, rebellious self that doesn't do what it's told.
For example (modified from Mann, 2010):
top dog:I need to get to the gym and get in shape.
Outsider:Who cares! I want to grab a burger and have a lazy day!
This variation of the two chairs exercise aims to help the client experience a moment of insight (Mann, 2010).
"The 'aha' experience can be facilitated by experimentation" (Mann, 2010, p. 222). For example, let's say a client is faced with deciding whether to take a new job. In this case, they move to the other seat that represents their new position (literally and emotionally) to comment from that seat. They can role-play the effects of inaction and action from both positions and see how it feels, how they think and the impact on their potential behavior.
When other techniques fail to help a client resolve, the following cognitive behavioral therapy role-play may be helpful (Beck, 2011).
In an existing or imagined situation, the client is first asked to take on the role of his ownemotionalthemselves. They act and behave according to their dysfunctional or unhelpful beliefs. Next, they approach the same situation with theirsintellectual self, where they realize that their ideas were wrong or unhelpful. For example:
Emotional Self:I'm useless because I didn't get all the A's
Intellectual Self:It was a tough test; no one got all the A's.
9 techniques and questions for customers
Role-playing exercises can be helpful for clients and provide an opportunityself reflection.
After the role-play is complete, it is helpful to ask the client several questions to encourage metacognition (Beck, 2011; Mann, 2010):
- What have you learned about yourself?
- How have you felt in every role you've played?
- what did you discover
- Have you developed a better understanding of how you or others were feeling?
- If so, what was that understanding?
- What do you think you will do differently next time in this situation?
During the role-play, it is helpful for the person playing the role to think aloud and explain their thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and reasons for their behavior (Baim et al., 2007).
Acting out each side of a role play means that the client steps into each character, slips into their shoes, and reflects on how the same situation can be experienced differently (Baim et al., 2007).
Past and future
Any character (living or dead) from a real past or an imaginary future can be brought to life and worked through as many times as needed. There are no boundaries and a situation can be better understood the more often it is revisited.
A look at role play in group therapy
group therapyshould never be viewed as second-rate to individual therapy as it offers a wide range of experiences for self-development, particularly through role play (Mann, 2010).
Role play can be helpful for children who may not yet have the words to describe how they are feeling or to establish coping mechanisms to deal with extreme emotions such as anger (Snowden & Rebar, 2018).
2 games for your group sessions
Group sessions can use games to explore and understand difficult situations and experience strong emotions.
The best and the worst - anger management
Anger can be a difficult emotion to anticipate and manage.
In a group setting, ask children (or adults) to make a list of situations that usually make people angry.
Ask volunteers to come forward and play one person handling a situation well and handling their anger, and another handling it badly and showing their worst side.
Think about how the person might have felt when they became angry and how it might affect those close to them.
I ask for what I need
It's not always easy to ask for what we want.
Ask the group to imagine a situation where they don't speak up (perhaps in class or at work) and how they react. Discuss how they are feeling.
In pairs, practice asking what they want in these situations, using one of the following approaches (modified from Snowden & Rebar, 2018):
I feel (e.g. upset)...
and I have to (e.g. explain how I feel).
It's hard to speak now, but I (e.g. need a few moments).
Can we talk later?
I feel (e.g. very angry)...
And I'm not sure what I need/want. Can you help me figure it out?
After working through the exercise in pairs, ask volunteers to identify what worked well before the group.
Best resources from PositivePsychology.com
Roleplay scripts are one of many ways to learn to manage emotions. We have other techniques available to help therapists understand their feelings when working with their clients.
Some important free resources are:
- Image-based exposure worksheet
This helpful worksheetwas developed to support clients in exposing themselves to strong emotions.
- Decatastrophization Worksheet
Thisfive progressive questionsguide the person through the process of decatastrophizing a disaster.
- Radical Acceptance Worksheet
This exercisehelps the client deal with intense negative emotions and experiences by acknowledging that it is possible to respond mindfully rather than emotionally.
- Emotion regulation skills
We often focus more on the negative than the positive.This valuable exercisehelps us restore balance.
Richer versions of the following tools are available with a subscription toPositivePsychology.com Toolkit©, but they are briefly described below:
- Passengers on the bus group activity
Acceptance and attachment therapyuses the metaphor of the passengers on the bus to practice observing and accepting emotional experiences.
The bus driver (volunteer from the group) talks to his passengers (other volunteers portraying distressing emotions) and tries to calm them down and allow the bus to continueestimatedDirection. The goal is to learn to acknowledge each individual without reacting and just see them as part of the journey.
- When hot buttons are pressed
Strong emotions can be associated with tendencies to act in certain ways. This tool aims to alert group members to things that can easily trigger negative emotions and lead to impulsive reactions.
- Step One - Identify what triggers strong emotional responses.
- Step Two - Understand the reactions.
- Step Three - Identify coping strategies.
- Step Four - As a group, discuss their effectiveness.
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If you're looking for more science-based ways to help others improve their well-being, check out this collection of signatures17 Validated Positive Psychology Tools for Practitioners. Use them to help others thrive and prosper.
A take-home message
Role play in therapy has the potential to help clients who have previously not been helped by other treatments. By creating this safe environment, it provides a controlled place to revisit past, present and future situations that create emotional upsets in customers.
Individuals recreate scenes, work through problematic behavior, and then reflect on emotional, cognitive, and behavioral aspects of their experiences.
Role-playing games are particularly helpful for practicing new skills - social or communicative - in potentially difficult situations. The client can identify coping mechanisms that work for them and uncover unhelpful or problematic behaviors that need to be addressed.
Where appropriate, role play scripts can draw attention and focus on specific aspects of a situation. The therapist may interrupt the action to question what the client was thinking or feeling, or suggest alternative approaches to dealing with what is happening.
Role play offers a valuable approach that can be incorporated into most therapeutic treatments to encourage changes in thinking and behavior and to learn how to manage emotional responses.
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- Baim, C., Burmeister, J., & Maciel, M. (2007).Psychodrama: advances in theory and practice. Routledge.
- Beck, JS (2011).Cognitive behavioral therapy: basics and beyond. Guilford Press.
- Corey, G. (2013).Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy. Engage.
- Dobson, KS (2011).Handbook of Cognitive Behavioral Therapies. Guilford Press.
- Hackett, D (2011). Role playing game. In S. Goldstein & J.A. Naglieri (eds.),Encyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development(S. 127). Springer.
- Joyce, P. & Sills, C. (2014).Knowledge of Gestalt counseling and psychotherapy. Sage.
- Mann, D. (2010).Gestalt Therapy: 100 Key Points and Techniques. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
- Nelson-Jones, R. (2014).Practical advice and helping skills. Sage.
- Rønning, S.B., & Bjørkly, S. (2019). The Use of Clinical Roleplay and Reflection in Learning Therapeutic Communication Skills in Mental Health Education: An Integrative Review.Advances in medical education and practice, 10, 415–425.
- Snowden, S., & Rebar, S. (2018).Anger Management Workbook for Kids: 50 fun activities to help kids stay calm and make better decisions when they're angry. Althea Press.
What is an example of role-playing in therapy? ›
Role play is one way in which to utilize this form of therapy to benefit a client. For example, with a client who is dreading an interview, the therapist takes on the role of the interviewer. By analyzing his/ her responses after enacting the mock-scene, the client can see what s/he tends to do.What are the examples of role-play? ›
- 1 – Cooking in the kitchen. Your little ones have inevitably seen you cooking in the kitchen a time or two. ...
- 2 – Tea party. ...
- 3 – Post office. ...
- 4 – Supermarket. ...
- 5 – Hair salon. ...
- 6 – Cops and robbers. ...
- 7 – Pirate ships. ...
- 8 – Castles.
- Provide a focused and reviewable assignment. ...
- Immerse people in the situation. ...
- Base situations on practical experience. ...
- Work with follow-up assignments. ...
- Think outside the box.
In a role-playing session, the therapist takes the identity of someone that the person is afraid to confront, such as a parent or employer. The person then interacts with the therapist, utilizing behaviors that she has learned during therapy.What is a role-play script? ›
Roleplay involves imagining the perspective of a person in a certain role and a specific situation, then speaking and behaving as one would imagine or would hope. Roleplay facilitators provide the setting and situation, then the players roleplay without a script.What are the 4 types of role-play? ›
There are four types of roleplay; Illiterate, Semi-Literate, Literate and Advanced Literate. Roleplaying is like creating a story with two or more people. Only difference is that you use one character rather than explaining all of the characters. Roleplaying helps you with your writing skills and creativity!What is a good play script? ›
When writing a play script, your script should include the settings, dialogue, and actions that take place throughout your play. This type of script outlines who says or does what when and how as well as describes the setting of the stage, like backdrops, lighting, and props.How do you roleplay for beginners? ›
- Talk about it. Image Source. ...
- Set your boundaries. Everybody has certain limits that they are unwilling to cross. ...
- Choose your fantasy. ...
- Don't give up if you feel silly. ...
- Put on your acting hats. ...
- Have a safe word. ...
- Boss and employee. ...
- Strangers in a bar.
In Role-play interviews, the interviewer gives you a scenario and asks you to imagine yourself as someone else and solve a problem. These questions test your creativity and allow the interviewer to have a clear idea on how you would fill in someone else's shoes.What are the six steps in conducting a role-play? ›
- Step 1: use real case studies. ...
- Step 2: choose a scenario to role play. ...
- Step 3: set it up properly. ...
- Step 4: know when to use pause! ...
- Step 5: know when to finish. ...
- Step 6: manage the debrief.
What is an example of role playing method of training? ›
Role-play training is an active learning strategy that requires participants to perform realistic scenarios under the supervision of a trainer or facilitator. For instance, participants might simulate the interaction between an employee and a customer.What is role give example? ›
For example, a high school football player carries the roles of student, athlete, classmate, etc. Another example of a role is "an individual in the role of a parent is expected to care for their child and protect them from harm".What are role-play activities? ›
Role play exercises give students the opportunity to assume the role of a person or act out a given situation. These roles can be performed by individual students, in pairs, or in groups which can play out a more complex scenario.What are the two types of role play? ›
Two types of role playing: Threats to internal and external validity.What are the three phases of role playing? ›
Role-play involves three steps: (1) preparation and instruction, (2) dramatic action and discussion, and (3) evaluation.What are the most common types of roleplay? ›
There are three main types of roleplay: text-based, live-action, and tabletop. Text-based roleplaying takes place online and focuses on writing. Live-action roleplaying takes place face-to-face; you interact with other people through talking, acting, and occasionally combat.What are the 7 types of scripts? ›
- Original script. Original scripts include those that you create from your own ideas. ...
- Adapted script. An adapted script re-imagines an existing story or narrative. ...
- Screenplay. ...
- Storyboard. ...
- Spec script. ...
- Standalone script. ...
- Pitch script. ...
- Shooting script.
- Boogie Nights.
- Forrest Gump.
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
- Jerry Maguire.
- Little Children.
- Lost in Translation.
- Straight Outta Compton.
- Latin alphabet. The Latin alphabet is the most widely used script, with nearly 70 percent of the world's population employing it. ...
- Chinese characters. ...
- Arabic alphabet. ...
- Devanagari. ...
- The Bengali alphabet.
- Finish your script.
- Read along as you watch.
- Inspiration can come from anywhere.
- Make sure your characters want something.
- Show. Don't tell.
- Write to your strengths.
- Starting out - write about what you know.
- Free your characters from cliché
What are the 4 things that a script must have? ›
There are only four elements you can use to tell a screen story: images, action, sound effects, and dialogue.How do you write a play step by step? ›
- Determine your story. Brainstorm a few ideas that translate to the stage. ...
- Determine the main character. Stage plays are largely character-driven stories. ...
- Outline your idea. ...
- Input stage directions. ...
- Write your acts. ...
- Use proper formatting. ...
- Reread and revise. ...
- Proofread and edit again.
- Write your logline. A logline is a one-sentence summary or description of a movie. ...
- Create an outline. ...
- Build a treatment. ...
- Write your screenplay. ...
- Format your screenplay. ...
- Edit your screenplay.
The first line of the script is important. It is a special construct, called a shebang, given to the system indicating what program is to be used to interpret the script.What are the five steps in writing a script? ›
- Craft Your Logline.
- Write a Treatment: Your First Sketch.
- Structure Your Screenplay's Outline.
- Write a Flash Draft.
- BONUS: Screenplay Format Must-Haves.
- 1.1 Do Not God-mod.
- 1.2 Do Not Meta game.
- 1.3 Do Not Auto (Auto hit, Auto walk, etc)
- 1.4 Do Not Lore break.
- 1.5 Do Not Power-play.
- 1.6 Do Not Play Mary-Sues or Gary-Stus.
- 10 ways to make role-playing fun. ...
- Use role reversal. ...
- Fully take on the character. ...
- Make the role-play silly. ...
- Include other family members. ...
- Play a board game or activity. ...
- Role-play at unexpected times during the day. ...
- Call it practice.
- You have to actually do it. If you only Role-play once a year, it's going to be awkward. ...
- Reward yourself. ...
- Start with something comfortable. ...
- Keep it short. ...
- Don't beat yourself up. ...
- Give yourself permission to be silly.
- Research potential scenarios. Think about the role for which you are applying and consider potential challenges or scenarios you might face in that position. ...
- Practice with a friend. ...
- Review the job description. ...
- Enlist help from others. ...
- Ask questions. ...
- Stay calm.
Role-play interview examples
A customer brings in an article of clothing purchased from your store a week ago and claims that it's damaged. They can't find their receipt and the situation has turned volatile after another employee told the customer that they couldn't return the item without a receipt.
How do you write a role play lesson plan? ›
- identify and correctly use vocabulary related to specific scenarios, places, etc. when speaking and writing.
- identify appropriate dialogue used in different real-life scenarios.
- create a simple narrative based on a real-life situation.
Taking these revelations and combining them with our definition for role-play, there are three major components needed to successfully implement role-playing: scenarios, roles/characters, and guides/facilitators.What is Roleplay in counseling? ›
Role-playing allows clients to identify their own feelings surrounding a given situation while simultaneously learning how others may feel. These exercises also help clients learn to apply words to their feelings and more successfully navigate any interactions they may have with others.What is role play explain it with sample example? ›
Role play is the act of imitating the character and behaviour of someone who is different from yourself, for example as a training exercise. We have to communicate with each other through role-play. American English: role-play /ˈroʊlpleɪ/What is role playing in psychology? ›
a technique used in human relations training and psychotherapy in which participants act out various social roles in dramatic situations.How do you start a Counselling session script? ›
Hi Jane, thanks for coming in today. It's nice to meet you in person. I know it can be nerve-wracking to meet a new therapist, and I'll be asking some personal questions today, so I thank you for taking the step to come in. Today we have a little bit of a different meeting than a regular therapy session.What is the main purpose of role-play? ›
Benefits of Role Playing
Provide real-world scenarios to help students learn. Learn skills used in real-world situations (negotiation, debate, teamwork, cooperation, persuasion) Provide opportunities for critical observation of peers.
Merton describes "role set" as the "complement of social relationships in which persons are involved because they occupy a particular social status." For instance, the role of a doctor has a role set comprising colleagues, nurses, patients, hospital administrators, etc. The term "role set" was coined by Merton in 1957.