Superhero Therapy refers to therapy that incorporates Superheroes and other characters into treatment in order to assist clients struggling with a variety of mental health disorders.
These can include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain, eating disorders, substance use disorders, and others.
– Guest Blog by Janina Scarlet, PhD / Leading Advocate of Superhero Therapy
Whether someone is new to therapy or has been in therapy before, it can be overwhelming and intimidating to open up about deeply personal experiences. The simple question, “How are you feeling?” so often asked by mental health professionals, may be an overwhelming one. Here’s where Superhero Therapy comes in.
By talking about a character such as Harry Potter – who lost his godfather and many of his friends in the terrible war against the dark wizard, Lord Voldemort – it may be easier, at least initially, for the client to talk about their own grief. Similarly, talking about Buffy the Vampire Slayer – who fought demons and vampires, while trying to balance the “civilian” world – can help military service members process their own struggles after returning home from deployment. And by connecting with a Superhero like Batman – who lost his parents and then became the Gotham hero – people with depression and anxiety disorders may find the motivation they need to become heroes, even in the face of severe obstacles that may or may not be related to their mental health.
Once the client is able to process his or her emotional state by identifying with a specific character, Superhero Therapy can then be used to teach the person how to reduce and prevent the future occurrences of such symptoms. In other words, if a client was struggling with debilitating panic attacks that prevented him or her from leaving home, Superhero Therapy would focus on having the individual take gradual steps toward overcoming this issue, becoming the kind of hero he or she wants to be (Superhero capes are optional). The same would apply to other disorders, where the specific symptoms can be seen as potential obstacles on a Hero’s Journey.
In Superhero Therapy, the therapist’s job is to become the client’s sidekick (the Robin to their Batman), while the client’s job is to complete their Superhero mission (like helping their friends) as they learn how to properly manage the obstacles that stand in their way.
Although research on Superhero Therapy is limited, there is some (indirect) scientific evidence to suggest that connecting with characters may be helpful in improving people’s mental and physical health. For example, last year a group of Italian researchers demonstrated that after reading Harry Potter, high school kids were more accepting toward members of stigmatized groups. In addition, people who read engaging fiction, and connected with one or more of the characters appeared to feel empathy toward these characters. Exercising empathy and compassion toward other people, as well as self-compassion (compassion toward ourselves) has been shown to improve our mental and physical health.
Whether it’s in person, via video chat, or by text like on the Talkspace platform, a therapist can assist the client in identifying with a real or fictional hero in order to help the person better connect with their core values. You can think of core values as a person’s most important life directions, such as being heroic or helpful; striving to be a good parent, friend and/or partner; being creative and/or contributing to the world in some other way. Connecting with core values usually helps people, even those with chronic conditions , live healthier longer lives.
Anyone can become the hero they’ve always wanted to be with Superhero Therapy.
Dr. Janina Scarlet has been featured in HuffPo Live, The Telegraph, Friday Magazine, and Psychology Today. Her book, Superhero Therapy, is expected to be released in July 2016.
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