Everyone has fears, inner demons resulting in anxiety, doubt and pain. Is everyone strong enough to face hard situations that could make one think he/she is alone with no one understanding you? Yes, you can because you are not alone.There is a new form of therapy being used these days to help children and young adults feel comfortable speaking to others about their problems; they find a connection to a superhero and the superhero’s traumas. Superhero therapy is a program that is aimed at young viewers/readers who have suffered with anxiety or traumas (Frandkin, 2017). However, can superhero therapy really help children express their fears and feelings? Is there a hero, in particular, who has affected children in a positive way? How successful is this therapy in comparing a challenge faced by a superhero to that faced by a child?
As a sophomore at Nova Southeastern University majoring in Business Management and enrolled in COMP 2000, an Advanced Research course, I have been focusing on Superhero Therapy, I have conducted Primary Research including Archive research, an Observation Report, Interview Transcripts and created and distributed a Survey. I have also worked with children in a summer camp management position and had one on one interaction with children ages 4-14 regarding their thoughts on superheroes. This experience has lead me to investigate more about superhero therapy and how superheroes could be a beneficial from therapy (Poniewozik,2017).
Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health issues from younger kids to young adults where they can release sudden mood shifts with a behavioral problem (PESI Inc, 2017). Mental health is important at such a young age where it allows them to develop the resilience to cope with whatever life throws at them while growing into individuals. When children feel alone, they try to separate themselves from the world, but finding someone who is going through the same experiences as them can allow them to take comfort in the fact that they are not alone.
Superhero therapy is a method of incorporating examples of popular culture such as comic books, movies, tv shows, and video games into evidence-based therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy. This helps people understand their own experiences and find a better way to cope with anxiety, pressure PTSD, and other disorders. Superhero Therapy can be used in young children who have suffered from a loss, illness, or a disability in a way that gives them strength to overcome their obstacles (Linville & Ward,2013). It is a creative way to encourage communication in a collaborative, traditional way where children can open up about problems plaguing them (Yen, et al.,2016).
Dr. Janina Scarlet is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who runs Superhero Therapy by incorporating geek culture in her sessions. Superheroes helped her recover from post traumatic stress disorder and taught her how to control her chronic pain disorder at such a young age. When she was growing up, she was bullied through middle school for being exposed to high degrees of radiation in Ukraine before moving to the US. Growing up with bullies who caused her anxiety and depression because of being radioactive, she found refuge with a fictional character, Storm. Storm from the X-Men had a connection with the weather, and because of her abilities with the weather, Janina found a connection with Storm; this connection allowed her to not feel alone. By identifying with a fictional character, one realizes that he/she is not alone in the situation, and this type of method shows a more personal meaning that can result in a change (Mota & Blumer, 2013).
Superhero therapy can be an instrument that can help counselors help angry, male children to express their feelings because of their traumas (Livesay,2017). This program uses different skill sets of defusion, engagement with emotions, clarity of life values, self-compassion, mindful gratitude and step wise movement according to one’s life values (Fradkin, 2017). The use of superhero therapy is a key element to have a healthy development that can include an emotional release to solve problems and identity development (Rubin,2007). When children use their imagination to help their traumas, they get a deeper understanding of their problems while developing and improving a positive self-image for a developmental growth (Bailey & Davis, 2011).
Imagination has power in superhero therapy that shows a significant growth in the child’s development and how he/she solves problems academically or emotionally (Bailey & Davis, 2011). Children who have suffered with difficult experiences and self-harming are most likely to use this program to overcome a variety of problems (Wall,2017). A research paper by Parker Shaw, a student earning his doctor degree in psychology, explains how reading comic books has psychological effects on teens and young adults (Shaw, 2018). Fictional characters can reduce the risk of depression and violence and teach children how to stand up for their beliefs and be courageous, guiding them to create a better future (Shortland, 2015). As part of the therapy, the children relate their personal loss or other traumatic experiences to superheroes and their deep issues they have suffered (Daily Beast, 2014). Superheroes can also be a way of helping to overcome fears such as nightmares when young children invent a superhero who protects them from their fears at night (PESI Inc, 2011). Using superheroes with children can facilitate the therapeutic process towards healing a trauma they have experienced (McNulty,2007).
Superheroes can help children develop morals by guiding them to find courage in real life situations; kids can distinguish what situation they are in and what would a superhero do, making them understand the good values of life (Shortland,2015). Research has also showed how superheroes can help address issues of violence and power and how characters can create a deep and meaningful way that represents their experiences (Haen & Brannon, 2002). Even young students who are involved in art programs involve their own artwork by exploring self-identity and finding their superhero selves (Belsha, 2013).
Superheroes are swooping in to teach children valuable life lessons as superheroes have made an impact in box offices over the world and have a special place in children’s hearts (Shortland, 2015). Children and adolescents are the ones who use this type of therapy because they have a deeper connection with these fictional characters. Children may find a connection with superheroes because of similar traumas they both have faced in the past, such as losing a loved one. Fantasy figures, such as superheroes, are a big influence in children’s lives, so much so that they begin to develop an attachment to them along the way (McNulty, 2007).Superheroes always have a story under their mask, from Bruce Wayne losing both his parents at a young age, to Spider Man losing his parents and his uncle.
However, Superhero Therapy doesn’t have to just involve superheroes, but it also can involve fictional characters like Ron Weasley from Harry Potter, and how he faces a fear of spiders (Lenoir, 2016). Children can have a connection to Ron Weasley because of his arachnophobia when he was traumatized at a young age when his brother turned his teddy bear into a spider. Another group of heroes who provide a unique universe with their quests is Star Trek, where the main characters help young adults understand struggles with severe anxiety though the attitude these characters portray (Pickens, 2007).
Therapists treat young patients with a comic book treatment that helps them heal throughout the process. The use of fantasy characters in therapy can be beneficial, where it causes a patient to relate to a fictional character as a role model and have a connection with him/her (Mota & Blumer, 2013). In other cases, children don’t have to relate with the superheroes but feel attached to a fictional character. Superhero comics can create a positive change, showing an important role from a storyline to a character like Wonder Woman, Harley Quinn or Captain Marvel (Curtis & Cardo,2018). In this case, a young boy felt like Wonder Woman represented his mother, the one constant in his life (Daily Beast, 2014).
Peter Parker as Spiderman is the fruit of his environment given a strong moral backbone as a child, but he is constantly bullied feeling like he wasn’t good enough because of the loss of his parents. This is only strengthened by him causing his Uncle Ben’s death. Spiderman is plagued by constant anxiety and self-doubt, he’s always asking himself if he’s good enough, he always wonders if he is worthy or good enough to be a hero. Sometimes, no one knows if Peter is driven by his inherently good heart, following the example of his uncle Ben or his own guilt, but despite all his self-doubt, despite all of his anxiety, he always reminds himself of the countless times he overcame them. At the end, he knows he has to get things done because failure isn’t an option; people’s lives depend on him. Spiderman shows us that it’s okay to have self-doubt and anxiety, and that it’s possible to not just survive but to do amazing things. A four-year old boy found a connection with Spider Man due to the traumatic experiences they both experienced (Yeo, 2016).
According to a Survey I distributed to people from different ages and from my Observation Report at the Disney Store in Aventura Mall in Miami, the most popular superhero was Spiderman, while Captain America came in second. Ninety-five percent of people who took the survey like superheroes between different superheroes from the Marvel and DC Comics. Most people also believe that superheroes can be fictional characters who can have an impact on someone’s life, as they can resonate with the themes in the superhero theme story, with the dilemmas and problems superheroes face.
The reason superhero genre is so important is because everyone at one point in time wants superpowers, whether it be super speed to get to work on time or super strength to stand up against the school bully. This therapy can be a way of healing . People will stop seeing themselves as mutants and see the heroes within themselves. Superheroes are like lotuses, they grow from the mud and become something beautiful. Superpowers don’t make the superhero, but help overcome the flaws summoning the determination to go on; that is what makes you a hero.
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