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Chess Therapy


Many people view chess as an intellectual’s game; smart people moving pieces on a board quickly and seemingly without thought. Chess is often thought to increase intellect and thinking skills, but therapists often use chess for a different reason: therapy. Chess therapy was founded as early as between 852-932 AD by Dr. Rhazes, a chief physician at Baghdad Hospital. Dr. Rhazes used the movement of pieces and different strategies as metaphors in real life, allowing his patients to be able to gain clarity in thought. However, this psychotherapy technique has only become popular in the last 20 years, and has been shown to produce positive results in a plethora of cases.


Chess therapy is an alternative way of diagnosing mental health issues in patients. Every move on the board can show the personality of the patient, and can be used to determine what the patient could do. The main difference between a normal therapy session and chess therapy is that the latter requires active participation from both the therapist and the patient, instead of just the patient giving his feelings to the therapist. This active participation from both sides garners in a relationship between the therapist and the patient, allowing for better understanding and communication between the two.


Chess therapy is used in many applications. This form of therapy can be used to teach self control and planning ahead to children suffering with ADD/ADHD. This is seen in a study by Dr. Badrie Moammad Nour ElDaou and Sara Ibrahim El-Samieh, where they experimented with 6th grade children with lower than average IQ and ADD/ADHD. These children participated in 30-45 minute chess sessions. The researchers found that the time between disruptive behaviors increased from an average from 4.07 minutes to an average of 9.64 minutes, showing that chess therapy helps with self-control. Additionally, their inattention scale averaged a decrease in 5 points (smaller score equals less inattention). Finally, we also see that student’s listening scores have improved on average 3 points. Another study in 2016 that involved 100 kids resulted in a 41% decrease in inattentiveness.

Chess therapy also allows the release of emotion a patient has through a good game of chess, which allows the therapist to better understand what the patient is going through. There is also evidence to show that chess therapy can aid in panic attacks by acting like a distraction from the stimuli inciting the panic disorder. This is due to the fact that chess allows the brain to relax while functioning to find pathways to victories. By encouraging patience and calm across a long period, the body’s fight or flight response, the physiological reaction that is behind panic disorders, is regulated in a way that irregular attacks are reduced.

Finally, chess therapy has positive effects in the development in creative and abstract thinking, problem solving, memory, and planning. This is due to the strategic portion of chess, which requires large amounts of focus to observe their opponents moves and formulate their strategies based on that. Additionally, the challenge of the game in the areas of memory, planning, and creative/abstract thinking helps protect older people from rapid cognitive decline and dementia.

Although chess therapy is a new and unique form of therapy, it is extremely effective for therapists looking to help their patients. Although effective in many cases, chess therapy has been effective in helping ADD/ADHD patients and those that lack proper cognitive development in their childhood. Even though chess is seen as an intellect’s game, it is now known that chess is helpful in more than one way.

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