Therapists who are on their endeavour to find new ways of connecting with their clients have adopted the ‘superhero therapy’ which looks at ‘geeky pursuits’ in collaboration with the client. This may otherwise also be called ‘Geek therapy’ which incorporates superheroes from movies, TV shows, science fiction or video games. This approach not only helps to advance the therapeutic relationship between the client and the counsellor but also allows them to narrate, identify and define their story of origin (Bray, 2014). Many counsellors say geek therapy might be similar to and comparable with narrative therapy, bibliotherapy and play therapy which has been used in a therapeutic relationship since years. When people talk about something they relate to or are passionate about, the idea of treatment seems less daunting. It makes it easier for one to open up about their issues. The client can begin through some metaphors and introduce their issues/distress on their own. Since many characters in comics have experiences with grief, loss or mental illness, they can easily demonstrate good metaphorical examples.
Carl Jung introduced the concept of ‘collective consciousness’ which states that some thoughts, feelings and desires are shared by humans on an unconscious level. Just as dreams are symbolic of a personal unconscious; mythologies, tales, folklore and even comics reflect some aspects of reality which are shared at a broader level. Thus, they bring an individual out of themselves and relates them to something more universal. Some data suggests that specific feelings, thoughts or means of self-identification relate to the kind of hero one is drawn to (Ness, 2016).
This approach is seen as complementary to more traditional techniques like cognitive behavioural therapy or dialectical behavioural therapy (Scarlet, 2018). It can enhance the outcome for the client. Cardona, a licensed professional counsellor (LPC), gave an example to his client with anxiety who was struggling to understand what anxiety was and how to describe it. Cardona asked his client to imagine his stress as a ‘spidey sense’ which seemed to warm him at random times. Although this ‘spidey sense’ may sometimes lead to unwarranted reactions just like it did for Spiderman. It could encapsulate the essence of anxiety for the client in helping him understand his issue (Bray, 2014). Video games also help to address some real-life concerns such as a game called ‘Papa & Yo’ which revolves around how a child deals with an alcoholic father. The game initiates with a monster passing by the child’s closet and the game proceeds with finding the best way to interact with and calm the monster.
Batman is another famous character who experienced trauma at a young age due to the loss of his parents. Many people may identify their ways of coping with grief, similar to Batman’s. Commonly many children see the early death of their parents. They can find a therapeutic release in the story of Batman by reading or hearing what it is like to feel lonely, scared and uncertain. The comics also show Batman’s son dying in the last series, which is another example of how parents too have to deal with an untimely death of their child. Emotions such as these are complex, and the process of recovery is different for everyone. The comics go on to show only images sans words which express Batman’s grief. This is what many may sometimes need: to feel their emotions entirely.
Many individuals feel like an outsider just like Superman too, who felt aloof in a new world. In the event of being around something new and uncertain, anxiety is a typical visitor and very relatable. People deal with issues like trying to fit in the society while feeling like an “alien”, fighting off bullies, dual personas maintained at a personal as well as the social level and so forth. Even issues like divorce, abuse, neglect or reallocation are widespread in comics and make it easier for people to find reality in fiction.
Anime is yet another popular medium through which people draw strength and motivation from. An anime ‘My Hero Academia’ displays a character called All Might who is shown to be a pillar of hope for many. Although there are times (with powers not activated) when he doesn’t stand with as much confidence and doesn’t look tall or muscular. But, he always gives the best of his abilities. This portrays the culture of perfectionism that most of the people fall prey to; it does not matter if you fail, it matters that you keep inspiring yourself to be the best version of yourself. Therapy promotes this message: all powers lie within the person, a therapist is a mere facilitator who helps to find and strengthen them. “Social surrogates” is a term used to describe a phenomenon or people who may not be present in real life but provide a perceived sense of belonging nevertheless (Gabriel et al., 2016). This can help one understand how fictional sources offer a wave of social fulfilment.
This approach is also sometimes used in family counselling, where the family members are asked to act out a scene from a comic book. All the members identify each other’s strengths as well as weaknesses, provide reassurance, reinforce each other’s efforts, back each other up and work together to resolve differences. This can translate into the understanding of their real-life patterns and help the counsellor to make the family more aware.
Often people are not met with compassion and are re-traumatized, take, for example, the Incredible Hulk who is continuously treated like a bomb which could go off at any point. Nobody knows how to adequately deal with him and sometimes end up thinking of him as the problem. This leads to the more splendid isolation of him succeeding in making him angrier (Langley, 2018). However, with a safe person, aka the Black Widow and enough compassion by his side, he was able to calm and ground himself. A therapist can be that person for you.
Bray, B. (2014). Geek therapy: Connecting with clients through comics, video games and other ‘geeky’ pursuits - Counseling Today. https://ct.counseling.org/2014/06/geek-therapy-connecting-with-clients-through-comics-video-games-and-other-geeky-pursuits/
Gabriel, S., Valenti, J., & Young, A. F. (2016). Social surrogates, social motivations, and everyday activities: The case for a healthy, subtle, and sneaky social self. In Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 53, pp. 189–243). Academic Press Inc. https://doi.org/10.1016/bs.aesp.2015.09.003
Langley, A. (2018). Superpowers, mental health, and the problems of representation | SYFY WIRE. https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/superpowers-mental-health-and-the-problems-of-representation
Ness, H. (2016). The Psychology of Superheroes | Psychreg. https://www.psychreg.org/psychology-superheroes/
Scarlet, J. (2018). WTF Is Superhero Therapy, and Should You Try It? | SELF. https://www.self.com/story/what-is-superhero-therapy