“Mancala” refers to a group of board games that originate in Eritria and Ethiopia, but most Americans think of one specific variation when we hear this term. In therapy, this game helps kids with strategy and executive functioning, and I was excited to learn that it was available online for use in telehealth sessions.

Photo by Kelly Lacy on

This is a quick game that even young children can understand how to play. I’ve found that some teenagers who are hesitant to talk to me become more comfortable in their sessions while playing this game because it distracts them from their anxiety enough to really engage with me.

I think it’s interesting to note that, although I’ve had Mancala available in my office for years, it was rarely played before I transitioned online. Come to think of it, many teenagers who felt it was juvenile or silly to incorporate board games into their in-person sessions really seem to enjoy them in the telehealth setting. I’ll have to explore why that might be.

Anyway, pros of telehealth Mancala include:

  1. The computer randomizes who goes first so both the therapist and client get turns starting the game.
  2. Since the game is point-and-click, kids with fine motor skills deficits don’t struggle with that aspect.
  3. You won’t lose half of the beads to a black hole in the corner of your office.
  4. There is a timer, but if you don’t take your turn before the time runs out, it seems that nothing happens. So it helps kids stay focused on the game without stressing them out with a countdown.

Drawbacks I’ve found:

  1. As with most telehealth games, the rules are coded into the game and cannot be changed. Mancala has so many variations you can do, but this version doesn’t allow kids to explore that.
  2. I’ve noticed that some kids tend to zone out when playing this game online. I’m not sure why, but I’ve noticed it with this more than with some of the other games I have covered.

I really like Mancala for telehealth, but I wish there were options for rule variations. If anyone knows of another website that does this, or a way to tweak the rules on the site I posted, I’d love to hear about it!

Published by Dr Marschall

Dr. Amy Marschall received her Psy.D. from the University of Hartford in September 2015. Her clinical interests are varied and include child and adolescent therapy, TF-CBT, rural psychology, telemental health, sexual and domestic violence, psychological assessment, and mental illness prevention. Dr. Marschall presently works in the Child and Adolescent Therapy Clinic at Sioux Falls Psychological Services in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where she provides individual and family therapy and psychological assessment to children, adolescents, and college students. She also facilitates an art therapy group for adolescents and college students with anxiety and depression. Dr. Amy Marschall is certified in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Telemental Health.

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