Army veteran Brent McPeek is confronting the experience that changed his life forever — the day a sniper killed his best friend in Iraq. Now 13 years later, an unexpected medium is helping him face that trauma — the fantastical board game, Dungeons & Dragons.
Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) integrated the nearly 50-year-old game into a mental health workshop called Project Odyssey®. The program used Dungeons & Dragons to help warriors manage and overcome their invisible wounds of war. For Brent, the experience was “the best thing that’s happened” to him since he left the military in 2008.
“I learned I don’t have to avoid and block out memories or emotions,” Brent said. “That’s the thing I’ve been doing the most: trying to avoid thinking of my best friend who was killed and pushing those thoughts away. I’ve thought about him more in the past six weeks of the program than I probably did in the 12 to 13 years since I’ve left the Army. I’m definitely more resilient now.”
During each week of the virtual program, WWP delivered mental health education about a particular topic, such as mindfulness or acceptance. The nonprofit then shared how that topic would be translated into Dungeons & Dragons and devoted consistent time to gameplay. The experience empowered warriors to work toward and reach goals in the game that they also want to achieve in their lives.
“If they wanted to practice stress management or being more assertive, it allowed them to do so in a safe environment and have an opportunity to get feedback from others,” said WWP Project Odyssey Manager Michael Carrion. “This gives the warriors a really good point of reference to take with them into the real world and use those learned skills to successfully navigate challenging situations.”
WWP started integrating the game into its virtual programming at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to reach more warriors. Since then, the nonprofit has worked with Dungeons & Dragons to host several connection events with warriors around the country. With those warriors still connected today, the success of the connection events inspired WWP to weave the game into Project Odyssey.
One of WWP’s marquee mental health programs for veterans, Project Odyssey helps warriors manage post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and other combat stress through adventure-based learning that encourages a connection with fellow veterans. In this case, Dungeons & Dragons served as the catalyst to help warriors enhance their psychological flexibility and resiliency and ultimately live productive and fulfilling lives.
Marine Corps veteran Alicia Figliuolo can attest to the impact of the program. A social worker, Alicia created a Dungeons & Dragons-themed therapeutic resource before participating in the WWP program. With her knowledge about the game and play therapy, Alicia helped facilitate the workshop. The experience proved invaluable for her in combating pandemic-related isolation and challenges.
“The Odyssey helped me accept the facts of the past 14 months and the inability to change what happened,” Alicia said. “It helped me understand and move through the trauma of being alone for so many hours and feeling like I had nobody to help me or to lean on when the loneliness hit hard. Being able to meet others who were nerdy like me was the best feeling in the world.”
In the weeks following the workshop, WWP will work with warriors like Brent and Alicia to help them achieve the goals they set and practiced during the gameplay. Following the completion of this workshop, the nonprofit will continue to offer Dungeons & Dragons-themed connection events.
“I think it’s extraordinary that we’re reaching warriors virtually and giving them opportunities to take advantage of an innovative mental health program,” said WWP Project Odyssey Specialist J.D. del Castillo. “The fact that this group plans on staying connected long after the event ends is exactly what we hoped to see. These warriors have found a unique way to rekindle the familiar bond that many of us search for after service. That demonstrates the innovation of this program and Wounded Warrior Project as a whole.”
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and June is PTSD Awareness Month. WWP offers mental health services for veterans and families coping with the invisible wounds of war. Get connected today or read more about how WWP helps.
Contact: Jon Blauvelt — Public Relations, email@example.com, 904.426.9756
About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.