Dungeons and Dragons: How Youth Use their Love of the Arts to Drive Therapeutic Outcomes

Oct. 4, 2023
A new play will be performed and produced by past and present GCH behavioral health patients

GCH’s Division of Pediatric Behavioral Health and Wellness outpatient Services has grown significantly in response to the national pediatric mental-health crisis. Its mission—to help all children reach their full potential by promoting healthy development—is evident in the program’s commitment to expanding services and launching new initiatives to address the needs of children and families in the greater Rochester area.

During the past seven years, the Creative Arts Therapies program has emerged to provide an opportunity for patients to utilize their creativity and interest in the arts in supporting their therapy goals and healing through foundational skill development. The program is facilitated by Margaret Powell, senior staff clinician, licensed creative arts therapist, and registered drama therapist, and is supported by colleagues including Robyn Broomfield, licensed mental health counselor, and Caitlyn Camp, licensed creative arts therapist and board-certified art therapist. It features a variety of offerings available to support the needs of patients.

“Social-skills development, community, problem-solving, and role playing are at the heart of this work,” said Powell. “The challenge, however, is getting youth to use what they are learning (in therapy) in real world scenarios.”

Creative Arts Therapy groups are one aspect of the program, which looks to apply the creative process to these real-world scenarios. These groups use art, music, drama, and other innovative interventions, such as the Dungeons and Dragons concept (D&D), to drive positive outcomes in children and adolescents.


D&D is a popular tabletop role-playing board game in which there is a basic storyline with a game master who serves as the story leader. The players create characters—like knights or rogue spies, wizards, and sorcerers—with different powers and areas of weakness who come together to support the accomplishment of a goal.

The use of D&D-style role playing in therapy has become more popular over the years as a method used by practitioners to treat issues associated with tough topics for children, such as self-esteem, bullying, gender identity, sexuality, addressing and recovering from trauma, and building healthy relationships. This D&D concept ultimately drove the Creative Arts Therapies program toward a new idea: producing a play.

“The idea is that the youth feel empowered to have a voice and be who they are and express themselves in a way that they may not usually be able to.” said Powell. “We want to give kids the power to build upon for their own therapeutic well-being.”

The group, comprised of current and past patients aged 13 to 18, is planning to stage the play She Kills Monsters: Young Adventurers Edition by Qui Nguyen. The play, which has three versions, is about a high-school student named Agnes Evans, who tragically loses her little sister, Tilly, in a car accident. In working through this traumatic event, Agnes begins an adventure to get to know and understand her sister better by playing a Dungeons and Dragons narrative that Tilly had written before her death. On this journey, Agnes discovers new things about her sister and herself by exploring themes of sexuality, trauma, and other issues that high-schoolers typically experience during their formative years.

Youth are participating in the play as actors as well as making contributions by providing assistance with the management of the technical aspects of the production; the development of a logo and flyer; assisting with costume, backdrop, and prop development; and providing artwork for the art-show component of the event.

OFC Creations, a local theatre organization with a focus on youth theatre education and performances, is providing the venue for the play. OFC hosts professional productions as well as community events.

“Resources and donations have been imperative to making this happen, and OFC Creations is an amazing partner in this work,” said Powell. “I really strongly believe in the value and importance of community and creativity—it is important to kids’ mental health to have connections that are rich and that are supported. Creativity is an important part of that. Expressing themselves, being understood, working towards a goal, being seen and witnessed and supported by a larger community are all important to their growth and development.”

“Community connection and empowerment—that’s the next step in their development,” added Broomfield. “Feeling empowered and connected and knowing that they can do it on their own.”

The production will be held at the OFC Creations Theater Center (3450 Winton Place) this October and is a first of its kind fundraiser, with a portion of the proceeds going to support future creative arts therapy programs.