In previous posts I’ve mentioned how much I love using games in therapy, especially with children and adolescents. So far I’ve explored how I use the games Jenga, Sorry!, Find It, Perfection, and so on. I call the original games themselves “non-therapeutic” games, otherwise known as classic games that you would likely find in the toy section of most department stores. These games were initially created not for the purpose of using them specifically for counseling, such as the therapy games that you can find on specialty therapy game websites. Most classic games, however, with some imagination, can easily be adapted in some form to transform them into therapy games.

Today’s game is especially popular: Checkers. Specifically, Feelings Checkers. I use Feelings Checkers with children, adolescents, and sometimes even adults to help them improve emotion vocabulary (feelings identification) and appropriate emotions expression. I can also teach people about how our emotions are connected to our body sensations; for example, if I’m feeling angry my face and neck might redden, my heart starts beating faster, and my fists might clench. Teaching body awareness is crucial to helping us begin to recognize the physical signs that occur as we are becoming angry or beginning to feel another emotion. The awareness helps us better regulate our emotions before they might get out of control.

Prep for the Game

If you don’t already own a game of checkers, checkerboards are fairly easy to find in most stores. The game includes at least 24 chips for standard play; some game sets will include some extra chips too. To prepare for this game, write feelings words on round post-its or stickers, then stick them to the underside of your checker piece. I’ve included a number of feelings words examples (more than 24) that you can look at to help you choose which feelings words you would like to use as part of your game. You can also buy an extra checkers set, even if it’s just to use the chips, so that you can create a larger variety of feelings words to choose from and switch the pieces out occasionally. The therapist can pre-select the pieces to be used prior the game.


Feelings Words Examples

  • Afraid
  • Angry
  • Annoyed
  • Anxious
  • Apathetic
  • Ashamed
  • Bashful
  • Betrayed
  • Bored
  • Brave
  • Calm
  • Caring
  • Concerned
  • Confident
  • Confused
  • Depressed
  • Disappointed
  • Disgusted
  • Distracted
  • Embarrassed
  • Energetic
  • Enraged
  • Excited
  • Exhausted
  • Friendly
  • Frustrated
  • Grateful
  • Guilty
  • Happy
  • Heartbroken
  • Hopeful
  • Hurt
  • Ignored
  • Jealous
  • Lonely
  • Loving
  • Miserable
  • Nervous
  • Overwhelmed
  • Passionate
  • Proud
  • Regretful
  • Rejected
  • Relaxed
  • Resistant
  • Sad
  • Safe
  • Sluggish
  • Sorry
  • Surprised
  • Unsure
  • Vengeful
  • Worried

How to Play

After adhering a sticker to each checker, you’re ready to play. You play the game as you would normally play a game of checkers. For this therapeutic version, when a piece is captured, it’s turned over and the player is asked to describe a situation they may have experienced that feeling.

Both therapist and client are expected to respond when they capture a piece. This gives the therapist an opportunity to model feelings identification and appropriate feelings expression, as well as discussing management of behavior when we experience strong emotions.


  • Instead of only identifying  a time when you, the player, have experienced that feeling, name one way to cope with that feeling in the future.
  • If you use chips in your game set version, you can easily adhere a sticker to each side of each checker. The players can look at each side and tell how the two feelings are the same and/or different.
  • Think about what your face looks like when you experience this emotion? Model this face. What does your body look like or feel when you experience this feeling?