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At The Center for Stress and Anxiety Management, our psychologists have years of experience. Unlike many other providers, our clinicians truly specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of anxiety and related problems. Our mission is to apply only the most effective short-term psychological treatments supported by extensive scientific research. We are located in Rancho Bernardo, Carlsbad, and Mission Valley.

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Read our award-winning blogs for useful information and tips about anxiety, stress, and related disorders.


Filtering by Tag: Comic Con

An Interview with Dr. Scarlet of CSAM: Superhero Therapy

Jill Stoddard

By Lauren Helm, M.A.



In our blog “Modern Metaphor: Tapping into the Power of the Superhero to Turn Struggle into Triumph,” Dr. Janina Scarlet discussed how she uses superheroes and fictional characters in therapy as a way of connecting with values and inspiring healthy psychological change. Read below for an interview with Dr. Scarlet about how she uses modern metaphors in therapy.

CSAM: What inspired you to start incorporating fictional characters in the therapy room 

Dr. Scarlet: I wanted to incorporate fictional characters into therapy because I found that many clients found it difficult to talk about their own feelings or experiences and found it easier to identify with certain fictional characters, which made it easier for them to understand what they were going through. Too often, people who are going through depression, anxiety, trauma, or another difficult experience have no one to talk to and do not believe that anyone can understand their experience. Once they find a person or character they can relate to, they usually feel more understood, and that’s when healing can begin.

CSAM: How do you use superhero and fantasy characters in therapy? What might you do to help people access their inner superhero while working with them in therapy?

Dr. Scarlet: Usually, I ask the client to tell me if they like comic books, movies, TV shows, etc. and ask which is their favorite and why. Often there’s one or more that people can name and usually there’s a character they feel that they can relate to. We then begin by exploring what the character has gone through, what made them who they are today, and what makes this particular character special to the client. For example, if someone likes Batman, they might like that Batman is a Superhero, that he saves other people, and that he is brave and strong. This allows me to understand what kind of person the client would like to become, to get at their values. We then explore what Batman had experienced (i.e., the death of his parents, the phobia of bats, and years of isolation) and how through the terrible pain he went through he was able to become the Superhero of Gotham that he is today. We then bring it back to the client’s values and identify ways that he or she can begin to take steps to become their own kind of Superhero.

CSAM: Is there any particular issue that you’ve found superhero-therapy to be most helpful for?

Dr. Scarlet: I think that since Superheroes tap into someone’s individual value system, that they can be used for any issue someone is going through.  I believe that the biggest remedy for emotional pain is connection with one’s values and Superheroes and heroes of works of fiction, such as Harry Potter and Frodo, lend themselves very nicely to value identification.  

CSAM: You have training in mindfulness and meditation techniques, compassion and self-compassion, and biofeedback. How might you incorporate a superhero approach when using these interventions in therapy? Do they complement one another?

 Dr. Scarlet: I think that they complement each other very nicely. For most people, what they value is helping others. Unfortunately, often people don’t know how to go about that, feel too depressed to do it, or don’t believe that their efforts matter. In addition, I often find that people burn out when they don’t know how to provide compassion toward themselves. In my “Superhero training” sessions, I teach the clients about Jedi mindfulness, as well as the magic of self-compassion, and the Superhero steps behind being compassionate toward others.

CSAM: How do you think that being a therapist who uses superhero metaphors aligns with your own value-system?

 Dr. Scarlet: The person that influenced me the most was my grandfather. He spent his life helping people every way that he could. He wasn’t only a hero, he was my Superhero. He really inspired me because he showed me that it only takes one person to make a difference. I became a therapist because it was the main way I knew how to help others, and in using superhero metaphors in therapy, I find that I can make therapy more accessible to my clients. 

 CSAM: What kinds of triumphs have you seen people create in their lives when working with you?

 Dr. Scarlet: The bravest people I have ever met are my clients. They are the ones that have been most impactful to me. They face their fears every single day, and just like Batman, they do what they can to fight for what they believe in. I was working with one client with severe PTSD and agoraphobia and I will never forget the day that he was able to step out of his house with me. This person now drives and travels and in my opinion, deserves his own comic book for everything he has been able to overcome.

 CSAM: What can you tell us about the book that you are working on about using superheroes in therapy?

 Dr. Scarlet: The book will be a self-help book, on how to become the Superhero that you would like to be and will specifically focus on overcoming anxiety. It will follow the acceptance and commitment therapy format with a chapter on self-compassion, and will primarily include metaphors from comic books, fantasy novels, science fiction, and TV shows.


More about Dr. Janina Scarlet:

Dr. Scarlet earned her Ph.D. from the City University of New York. Her clinical experience includes using Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to help individuals with anxiety, depression, chronic pain, sleep, and other mental health and medical conditions, as well as using Cognitive Processing Therapy for PTSD. Dr. Scarlet also has experience working with a variety of mindfulness and meditation techniques, as well as compassion and self-compassion and is certified in biofeedback. In addition, she is fluent in Russian and can conduct therapy with Russian-speaking clients. Finally, Dr. Scarlet is a proud geek and is able to incorporate clients' interests into therapy, including but not limited to Batman, Iron Man, Green Arrow, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes, and many others. She was recently interviewed by an award winning podcast, Geek Therapy, about her use of fantasy and geek culture in therapy. Above all, Dr. Scarlet believes in establishing an active collaboration with a client and working as a team in targeting the presenting problems.

If you'd like to speak with Dr. Scarlet or another professional at the Center for Stress and Anxiety Management, please click here.

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Tags: Comic ConACTCenter for Stress and Anxiety Managementpsychologistanxiety disordersCSAMcomic bookssuperheroessuperhero therapy

Get Your Geek On: Comic Con Can Help Anxiety, Depression & Stress

Jill Stoddard

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