There are plenty of studies supporting the fact that the card game of bridge helps to promote better mental health – and more, that it can aid the brain when it comes to conditions like dementia. (NCBI; MedicalNewsToday; AARP; Alzheimer’s SA)

Considering this, can the game of bridge be used as a therapeutic tool by therapists, psychologists and educators?

Here’s why it can be useful to learn bridge – and apply it during sessions.

Why Bridge?

Many artistic activities can be used in a therapeutic setting, from a session with the aid of music through to using drawing to better understand the patient when it comes to mental and cognitive abilities, and allowing them to talk more openly and freely about the issues at hand.

A game of bridge can be an excellent therapeutic conduit.

  • Many patients are reluctant to talk about certain issues or traumatic events during a face-to-face consultation
  • Bridge engages the mind and can be a worthy distraction for the patient – e.g. they are actively engaged with an activity, while still able to talk about important issues more openly
  • Any changes in play, or changes and degeneration in mental or cognitive ability is immediately easier to spot in the patient
  • Especially for conditions like dementia, activities like bridge inspires mental activity
  • Patients can continue bridge as a social activity outside of sessions

 Learning to Play

The basic rules of bridge can be found at the American Contract Bridge League, Bicycle Cards and Funbridge.

If you’ve never played before, the essentials are this.

  • Bridge is traditionally played by four people who play in partnerships, sitting opposite the bridge table.
  • Each player is dealt 13 cards.
  • One player is called the “dummy” – their partner is named the “declarer.”
  • The “dummy” hand is played face up, and by the declarer.
  • Bridge is a trick-taking game, and tricks are placed in the middle of the table.
  • The bidding stage chooses the “contract” for the game – which suit, and how many tricks (choosing a number from 1-7, and then adding 6 for the number for the total amount of tricks)
  • The playing stage sees partner teams making “tricks” – the highest ranking card wins each trick.
  • Teams have to win tricks, but also use inventive plays to stop their opponent having the cards to win tricks (and thus points) for the opposing side.
  • After the game, points are scored. More about the different ways of bridge scoring can be found here (YouTube: Peter Hollands; ACBL).

If you’re still learning, it can help a lot to join a club, or play online against computerized opponents through platforms like Bridge Base Online and Funbridge.

Could incorporating bridge into therapy sessions become a useful therapeutic aid?

By Alex J. Coyne