By Josué Cardona
While I prefer the term Geek Therapy for the type of work I do, The Daily Beast and others have recently used the term Superhero Therapy to talk about me and some of my colleagues. I don't mind that at all, especially if we're specifically talking about heroes. In fact, I'm very excited to see so many people talking about this!
Here is a video of Lawrence Rubin, one of my favorite people and the person who actually wrote the book on what could be called Superhero Therapy being interviewed on MSNBC:
Since people are talking about it, I want to take the opportunity to point out some things I think everyone should know about Superhero Therapy.
1. Superheroes are a language.
The easiest way to understand how to use superheroes in your work is to think of them as another language. Hulk can represent anger, spider-sense is like anxiety, Captain America misses the way things were before, and Batman lost his parents at a young age.
By identifying real qualities in these characters and then relating to them, we can all talk about emotionally demanding issues within a context that we feel comfortable in.
2. Superhero Therapy is therapy first.
When we say therapy, we mean it. I take my clinical work very seriously and I'm not running a superhero fan club. So although we may be talking about superheroes at times, we are also talking about our clients, their families, and their experiences.
3. Superheroes are not just for kids.
Superhero movies and comics make a lot of money because more than just kids are into them. So while many people assume that Superhero Therapy only works with kids the truth is that there are more adults familiar with superheroes thanks to some characters' very long histories and my experience has been that it is just as effective with adults as with kids. I think it can be much more effective with adults because a character may have been a part of their lives since they were younger.
4. Media violence does not equal real violence.
Another concern that comes up often is that superheroes are violent and therefore violence must be a potential of risk of this therapy. While there is a lot of research available on the effects of media violence (too much to get into here) a therapist or teacher should always be mindful of what relationships people have with violent representations.
In terms of media violence resulting in actual violence, that's just not how it works. For example, seeing someone shoot a gun or do kung-fu does not make you better at either of those things (unless you already have experience with them). Media violence leading to aggression is another topic altogether since aggressive behaviors are not necessarily physical.
Responsible therapists will focus on what clients are relating to and that usually isn't a violent act.
5: Superheroes aren't for everyone.
I love superheroes but many people do not. I like some superheroes and I can't stand others. Anyone using superheroes to connect with people and understand them better should only do it if the person likes superheroes to begin with. The goal of any type of Geek Therapy is to connect around things that people really care about so never force a theme like superheroes and instead, let them bring up what they care about. Or better yet, just ask.