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Game created by BYU psychologist aims to teach children mental health coping strategies

BYU animation student Ivy Rich created custom designs for each playing card of the Cosmic Battle Training game created by BYU clinical psychologist Jon Cox. (Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo)

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — A BYU psychologist has created a game to teach children and youth strategies to help them cope with mental illness.

Cosmic Battle Training was released this week and its creator, BYU clinical psychologist John Cox, says he hopes through his game children can become familiar with cognitive behavioral therapy concepts and learn how to address thinking errors that are symptoms of anxiety, depression or other mental illnesses.

"It's not meant to be therapeutic itself, but hopefully it can help people be more familiar with that stuff so the therapist can spend more time on application rather than on education," Cox said.

Cosmic Battle Training is designed to be played either in therapy or by families. Attack cards, representing symptoms, are given to other players who play defense cards, representing coping methods to eliminate the attack. Each defense card works most effectively against certain attack cards to help teach players which strategies work well against specific thinking errors. The cards each have a therapeutic principle listed on them.

The game was listed on Amazon on Thursday, and Cox said he has already had people ordering the game.

Cox initially thought of the idea for the game while working in a University of Utah outpatient clinic for children and adolescents. He searched for a game to use to help children connect with the therapeutic concepts he was trying to teach them, but could not find one that he thought would be interesting and engaging for children.

"That kind of started my mind going, and I started brainstorming about what I imagine would be a game that could engage at least a part of the population in a way that they would find interesting and also could potentially be helpful," Cox said.

He said that it took about 10 or 11 years to fully develop the game and go through each of the steps to publish it. Cox had help with the game from Ivy Rich, an illustration student at BYU. She did the illustrations for each of the cards, which are supposed to model the style of a Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh! card.

"After talking with Jon and getting a sense for the game I was really excited to work on this. We started with some initial concepts and would go back and forth until we had the basic model and design concepts understood," said Rich in a BYU University Communications article.

She created more than 60 illustrations for the game and said "it feels awesome" to have her art available for people to see and enjoy.

Cox said there is research showing that play is a good way to connect with children. Cox wants the game to be used to teach young children and teenagers to conceptualize problematic thought patterns and to know how to address and overcome them.

The BYU University Communications article about the game said almost half of all mental illnesses begin by the time a person is 14 years old. This game is designed to help address that trend by building awareness about thoughts and emotions.

"The most common time for people to experience symptoms of mental illness is in the transition to adulthood, but there is a large amount of individuals that experience symptoms of mental illness well before the transition to adulthood," Cox said.

The game has not yet been researched to determine if it will have a helpful impact on mental health, though Cox said this is the next step for him. He is hoping to connect with psychologists in the community to help him work on the research.


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