Chess Therapy for Mental Health

Published on July 1, 2014

Chess therapy is now used by numerous psychotherapists and doctors. It has become a popular creative psychotherapy technique in the past 20 years. This therapy has been known to produce positive results with children who have bipolar disorders, depression, ADHD, and neuro-behavioral disorders.

Chess therapy is a creative form used to develop bonds between the psychotherapist and his/her clients. It is an alternative diagnostic technique for neuro-behavioral and mental issues that a client may suffer from. Chess therapy helps in developing a therapeutic alliance between the psychotherapist and his patient to help him through any psychological or emotional problems that he may be experiencing.

Unlike other forms of therapy, chess therapy does not require the patient to lie down on a couch and pour his heart out to his therapist. Chess therapy involves active participation from both parties―the client as well as the therapist―to engage in a creative, recreational game of chess.

One time, Mark, a university-educated young man from Italy, visited me in the hospital. He's hungry for chess and wanting to inquire about chess therapy. When he arrived, I asked him to join my group session and share a bit about himself. After a short conversation, he's truly a "philosopher" guy immersed in heady ideas and abstract concepts.

But, most of all, Mark was going through some emotional difficulties and seeing me for psychotherapy to unpack his unexplainable psychological blocks. His preferred way: chess therapy. Chess did fit him despite his seemingly normal exterior or mindworks. It can be good emotional therapy too for "philosophers" to play chess.

My fellow Filipino, Manny Pacquaio, world boxing champion, is a sportsman who uses chess as therapy in his sport and life. He plays well even in this game, besting some of our best players around. Appreciative of the game, he supported international and national chess tournaments in our country.

The other day, I was talking to one of his aides in Congress (Pacquaio is also a duly-elected Congressman!) inside a television studio. He said Manny was even able to beat a grandmaster during a tournament in his home! Before crucial boxing matches, I was told he'd play chess in the dugouts behind the ring as part of his mental conditioning and therapy.

Chess therapy was founded as early as AD 852-932 by a certain Dr. Rhazes who was chief physician at Baghdad Hospital. Dr. Rhazes uses chess strategies and tactics as metaphors in real life to help patients think clearer.

Wikipedia reported, "One of the earliest reported cases of chess therapy involves the improvement in an isolated, schizoid, 16-year old youth that took place after he became interested in chess. Chess provided an outlet for his hostile impulses in a non-retaliatory manner. Good use was made of the patient's digressions from the game and his newly acquired ability to speak about his feelings, fantasies and dreams which the particular emotional situation of the game touched off. The report demonstrates how the fact that chess is a game, and not real, enabled the patient to exert some conscious control over his feelings and thus learn to master them to a limited extent."


Category(s):Anger Management, Communication Disorders Problems, Sports Psychology

Written by:

Dr. Angelo Subida, Psychotherapist

Dr. Angelo Subida is a clinical psychotherapist, author, and speaker. He is author of books "Inner Healing," "Secrets Of Your Self," "Chess and Life," among others, blogs, and articles. He has appeared frequently as an expert on psychotherapy/life recovery issues on national television, radio broadcasts, print media, and webcasts, including GMA 7, TV 5, ABS CBN 2, Q-11, 700 Club, Radyo Veritas, Inquirer Radio, Smart Parenting Magazine, Business Mirror, among others, and has served as resident therapist/counselor for parents and kid-artists in the highly popular ABS-CBN 2 Voice Kids TV singing reality show. Dr. Subida is an eclectic, multidisciplinary therapist and originator of his own revolutionary high-tech, high-touch counseling plus model. His areas of specialization include parent-child therapy, clinical infidelity treatment, relationship/marital counseling, separation/divorce therapy, anger management, depression, addictions, psychotherapy-spirituality integration, and innovative chess therapy. For more of Dr. Subida, you can find him at www.drsubida.com.

Dr. Angelo Subida, Psychotherapist belongs to Dr. Angelo Subida Psychotherapy Clinic in Philippines

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