Game therapy for students

Issue: Volume 95, Number 13

Posted: 27 July 2016
Reference #: 1H9d3D

Funded by the Ministry of Health, SPARX is therapy in an online game format and aims to help young people struggling with difficult emotions.

Are your students struggling with their feelings or just in a bad mood that never ends?

SPARX can help! SPARX is a clinically tested, evidence-based online game targeted at 12 to 19-year-olds (but can be of interest to younger students also) and is designed to help them feel better.

They can go online, play the game for free and learn skills that they can use in everyday life so that they start to feel better.

SPARX is therapy in a game format designed to help teens who are down, depressed or stressed. Feedback from alternative education students said it also helped with feelings of anger.

Researched and designed by the Department of Psychological Medicine at the University of Auckland, SPARX was then funded by the Ministry of Health as part of the Prime Minister’s Youth Mental Health Project.

SPARX uses CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) to help young people change how they think about things and how they behave which leads to improvements in how they feel. The SPARX Guide acts as a virtual therapist, relating skills learnt in the game to real life.

Free SPARX resources, including posters and slides can be obtained by emailing Angela at

Test out SPARX yourself at the SPARX website(external link) – or learn more through the training module on the Goodfellowunit website(external link) 

How to support students using SPARX

SPARX is designed as a self-help tool so all you need to do is let students know it is available.

Teachers can help by:

  • putting up the free posters on walls in your classroom
  • presenting the game in a classroom setting using the SPARX presentation slides.
  • School nurses, guidance counsellors and pastoral care staff can help by:
  • introducing SPARX in class groups, eg, a homeroom, health or information technology classes. Students could be invited to register for SPARX and try level 1 in class time (approximately 30 minutes) and be able to continue with further levels in their own time
  • providing time for the class to work through all seven levels of SPARX (approximately 30 minutes per level) if your resources allow
  • asking individual students to try it out (at least three levels before they make up their minds, as stressed or depressed students will often feel like nothing will help at first)
  • getting students to use SPARX alongside other forms of therapy or while waiting to start.

Principals and support staff can help by:

  • letting parents and students know about SPARX through your school newsletter and/or Facebook page
  • putting a link to SPARX on your school website
  • putting up posters in general and high-use areas around your school.

User feedback

  • "It changed how frustrated I was, so I could understand what was going on. I was understanding what it [SPARX] was saying to me and I was solving problems." 
  • "Everyone (should do it). Everyone can be a bit depressed in their life and having troubles. Be good to teach before you get into that situation."
  • "Now I am not fighting with my bro, and I’m not getting into other fights. Using the skills, not to always get what you want but to get somewhere in life. I don’t feel like hitting him. I learnt to not use fighting to get what you want."

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 11:29 pm, 27 July 2016

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