May 20, 2020
Renae Beaumont, PhD, assistant professor of clinical psychology
at New York–Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, spoke with
host Lorenzo Norris, MD, about the Secret Agent Society.
The Secret Agent Society is a video gaming–based therapy program
aimed at helping children with a range of social and emotional
challenges learn the social skills required to make and keep
friends. The program also helps children feel happier, calmer, and
Beaumont disclosed her role as creator of the Secret Agent
Society program. Dr. Norris has no disclosures.
- The Secret Agent Society is a video gaming–based program that
helps children detect how another person is feeling through the
interpretation of facial expressions, body language, and vocal
tone; use skills to socially engage; and to internally detect their
- Secret Agent Society is meant to engage children. It can be
used during clinical/therapy sessions to stimulate discussion as
well as at home with parents. The indicated age range is 8-12
years, and it is useful for children with autism and with average
- The Secret Agent Society video game has four levels. Level one
is about detecting emotions from facial expressions, vocal
recognition, and body language. Level two is about detecting
personal emotions and using scales to identify the components and
range of emotions. Levels three and four are about navigating
common social challenges in real time, from losing in a game to
collaborating in a group project and learning calming techniques
for themselves. To encourage practical application, there is a
secret agent journal section where participants can chronicle how
they used their skills.
- Beaumont initially developed the game to help children who are
on the autism spectrum. For many children on the spectrum, social
skills are not innate, but can be taught and developed into life
skills to help children meet their potential.
- Parents might be conflicted about encouraging their children to
play video games. It’s important to consider the evidence behind
the game and the age and skills of the research participants. In
general, parents should favor video games that teach skills, have
educational context, and allow parental involvement. Now that much
of social interaction is over the virtual sphere and social media,
games and exercises that teach social skills over these mediums
help build skills early.
- The Secret Agent Society is meant to engage children. It can be
used during a clinical/therapy to stimulate discussion and at home
with parents. The game is also a helpful adjunct for psychological
services offered online. The indicated age range is 8-12 years, as
well as for children with autism and within average age
intellectual functioning. New research is showing that the game may
also be effective for children with social anxiety and ADHD.
- Gameplay can be integrated into what a clinician is already
doing, or the Social Skills Training Institute offers online
training for clinicians that would be helpful when using the game
to treat patients with multiple comorbidities.
- Therapeutic gaming is useful during social distancing because
it builds coping skills and helps children feel more in control of
their emotions and actions.
Einfeld SL et al.
J Intel Dev Disabil. 2018;43(1):29-39.
Sofronoff K et al. Develop Disabil. 2015 Apr 28. doi:
Beaumont R, Sofronoff K.
J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2008 Jul;49(7):743-53.
Dr. Renae Beaumont’s TEDx Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQVv2hKipYQ
Secret Agent Society/Social Skills Training Institute: https://www.sst-institute.net/
Show notes by Jacqueline Posada, MD, who is associate producer
of the Psychcast and consultation-liaison psychiatry fellow with
the Inova Fairfax Hospital/George Washington University program in
Falls Church, Va. Dr. Posada has no conflicts of interest.
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