By: Janina Scarlet, PhD
It is that time of the year again, the San Diego Comic Con. For some, it is a joyous time of year, Geek Christmas if you will, whereas for others, it is the time of strange people dressed in capes and tights, and severe traffic delays, accompanied by zombie walks. Whatever your take on the Comic Con is, I wanted to dedicate this post to this event and to discuss how comic books, fantasy, and other works can be used to help cope with a difficult loss, social anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress, and many other universal struggles.
I say “universal” here because these difficulties exist in one way or another throughout the world. Depression, anxiety, and many other emotional and psychological concerns can be especially alienating when we have no one to talk to and, as it often happens, think that no one will understand. It is for this reason that comic books, as well as fantasy and science fiction books, can be especially helpful for recovery. Allow me to elaborate. Have you ever had an experience where you read a book or watched a movie or a TV show only to find a character going through the same thing that you are currently going through or have recently experienced? Suddenly, there’s a spark, a moment of connection, as if this character can truly understand, as if he/she is “just like me.” And suddenly, it’s easy to understand how this character feels as well, because you have felt the exact same way! This realization can be quite cathartic as you might not feel as alone in the world, if even for a moment, and this experience can potentially open the door to insight and recovery.
Comic books have been used in therapy for children and adults alike. For example, Dr. Patrick O’Connor, a clinical psychologist, described his experience in using comic books with a teenage gang member, who was able to identify with a specific character, which allowed him to be able to express his point of view and greatly helped in his therapeutic process. In addition, UCLA psychologist and researcher, Dr. Andrea Letamendi, has been successful in using comic books to assist veterans and other trauma survivors in the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I have used some examples from comic books and related media when working with active duty marines with PTSD. For example, I used examples from a recent movie, Iron Man 3, to demonstrate that even superheroes can develop PTSD, as well as examples of Kryptonite’s devastating effects on Superman when working with patients with depression or pain disorders to illustrate that even superheroes have limitations.
Comic books are not the only medium that can be used to help us feel connected and to help us identify our feelings. Books, movies, and others can also be extremely effective. For instance, Harry Potter books have been used in therapy to assist children with loss of a loved one. I sometimes use The Lord of The Rings or The Hobbit books to illustrate that one does not have to feel brave to be brave.
A book that truly spoke to me when I was growing up was The Three Musketeers, as it demonstrated camaraderie and the meaning of true friendship: “all for one and one for all.” What about you? Which books, comics, movies, TV shows, paintings, or other forms of media have moved you?
If you would like to see Dr. Scarlet for therapy, contact The Center for Stress and Anxiety Management at 858-354-4077 or firstname.lastname@example.org