Kids love video games, and most would rather play than do therapy for treating extreme pain. Computer-assisted relaxation training incorporates video games in both inpatient and outpatient treatment. Jennifer Schmidt, Psy.D., pain psychologist, says it can work wonders.
“It trains kids on how to induce relaxation, mindfulness and proper breathing techniques through the use of various video games that give them feedback on their respiratory rate and also heart rate,” she explains. “It’s pretty cool. They get to see the results of their work as they are playing.”
Patients at different ages and levels of pain can benefit—from post-surgery pain to frequent leukemia-related migraines.
Sensors attached to the patient’s fingers measure their breath and heart rates. On an inhale, they may see leaves on a tree grow, and then fall as they exhale. They could also see a butterfly open and close its wings.
Dr. Schimdt uses the video games for patients from ages eight to 21, and she suggests different gaming scenarios based on the age of a patient. For those patients who are not old enough to use this computer-assisted relaxation program, she uses other techniques to help them breathe or relax. “For the younger kids, we blow bubbles to teach deep breathing,” she explains. “I’ll also use distraction techniques and teach progressive muscle relaxation using images of animals, like tucking your head in like a turtle and learning to pull the shoulders and release. Those programs use more direct instruction combined with play activities.”