• Geek therapy is a way of integrating nerd-culture artifacts into the therapeutic process as a means of building rapport with clients.
  • This modality can help people with gaming and fantasy proclivities find points of resonance between make-believe and real-world concerns.
  • All therapy approaches basically strive for similar successes, and does it really matter if well-being is achieved through “Lord of the Rings” as opposed to critical theory?
  • Geek culture is fundamentally about using individual passions to build trust, community, connection, and mental well-being.

Geek therapy is a mental health intervention that incorporates so-called nerd culture into the therapeutic process. It’s a method that mental health professionals can utilize to reach clients who are interested in anime, gaming, comics, and other traditionally “nerdy” pursuits. Geek therapy operates on the principle of affinity, meaning that therapist and client find mutual ground–the media they both care about–on which to connect. 

Geek therapy isn’t so different from art therapy or play therapy in that it serves as a creative access point to building a collaborative relationship. Geek therapists might use a discussion of Dungeons and Dragons or fantasy literature as a gateway to helping a client reflect on their individual feelings and behaviors. A serious debate about “Star Wars” or the Marvel Cinematic Universe might draw out a client’s inner experience more authentically than a direct conversation about real-world concerns. 

What Is the Theory Behind Geek Therapy?

Geek therapy starts with affinity, adds resonance, and produces understanding. So essentially a therapist finds something within geek culture that interests their client, then helps them make a connection between that interest and some aspect of their personal experience. This creates a context of understanding, where the therapist and client can explore issues within a safe, comfortable, and meaningful space.

What Are the Geek Therapy Techniques?

According to the nonprofit organization Geek Therapy, there are five steps that geek therapists use to engage the client in a therapeutic alliance: 

  1. The therapist asks questions to reveal their client’s affinity. “What’s your favorite superhero movie? Who’s your least favorite druid?” If the therapist’s lines of inquiry don’t pique the client’s interests, then they can ask the client “about something they know more about than anyone else they know, or what they are better at than anyone else they know.”
  2. The therapist takes the affinity seriously. They don’t dismiss or deride the client’s interests. Instead, they “accept and embrace” it, so the client feels validated. 
  3. The therapist demonstrates curiosity. They might already know something about the client’s affinity and can ask meaningful questions, or they may ask general questions to understand the affinity better. 
  4. The therapist listens. As the client freely describes the affinity, they might reveal meaningful psychosocial information like how the media makes them feel, how other important people in their life respond to it, etc. 
  5. The therapist makes a connection between the affinity and a real-world issue. For example, perhaps the client has been talking about the latest Wonder Woman movie. The therapist might be able to relate the client’s feelings about Wonder Woman back to their ongoing conflicts with their mother (Diana and Hippolyta, anyone?). If this kind of connection isn’t meaningful, the rapport that was built in steps 1-4 might still make it easier for the therapist and client to tackle the relevant issue directly. 

Is There a Geek Therapy Community?

Geek therapy was the brainchild of mental health therapist Josué Cardona, who wanted to use video games with his clients way back in 2011. When his supervisor rejected the method, Josue built a website–and a therapy modality–that is still going strong today. 

Since 2011 the geek therapy community has expanded to include education and certification opportunities for clinicians as well as podcasts and websites. Cardona himself founded the Greek Therapy Network of content creators. Psychologists like Anthony Bean, aka “The Video Game Doctor” of Geek Therapeutics, have even published books with titles like “The Psychology of Zelda: Linking Our World to the Legend of Zelda Series” and “Integrating Geek Culture into Therapeutic Practice: The Clinician’s Guide to Geek Therapy.” Even Thriveworks has certified geek therapists on staff! And it’s not so far-fetched to think that one day geek therapy could be provided in virtual reality, with avatars. 

Essentially, all therapy modalities are different means to the same end: human well-being. Though there may be orcs involved, geek therapy is no different. Is the world really full of superheroes who stop speeding buses and intercept meteorites before they careen into elementary schools? Maybe not. But it is definitely populated by exceptional therapists who help people tell their stories, on their own level, for the greater good of all.