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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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Filtering by Tag: superheroes

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.

Follow us! Subscribe to the CSAM RSS feed, and follow us on Facebook or Twitter (@CSAMSanDiego)

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

Modern Metaphor: Tapping into the Power of the Superhero to Turn Struggle into Triumph

Jill Stoddard

By Lauren Helm, M.A.

 

“At their best, superhero origin stories inspire us and provide models of coping with adversity, finding meaning in loss and trauma, discovering our strengths and using them for good purpose.” Dr. Robin Rosenberg

Mythology has long shaped and been shaped by our human experience. Myths are stories or legends that typically include fantastic, colorful, and powerful individuals and events. Different cultures have different perspectives and ways of understanding the human experience, and thus cultural myths vary. There are unifying themes, however. Mythology makes use of symbols and metaphor, both of which represent and communicate significant, underlying meaning that may help us to understand ourselves better. They serve to illustrate a message and to explain the wide range of human experiences, on a collective or individual level, that may occur in life. In a mythical story, such as a fairytale, certain characters may symbolize different aspects of ourselves.

 

The journey that the mythical hero embarks on is often filled with adventure and fraught with challenges.  Many lessons are learned along the way, and growth is often the result. The mythical hero’s journey serves as a metaphor for what we ourselves may encounter; metaphor can be a guide. Joseph Campbell identified recurring, core themes that characterize both ancient and modern mythology, which tend to follow a pattern that he called, “the hero’s quest.” The hero’s quest and journey can also be seen as a metaphor for our own inner, psychological journey of growth and change.

 

 

“A hero is someone who rises above his or her fears and limitations to achieve something extraordinary ... a hero embodies what we believe is best in ourselves"  - Danny Fingeroth

Whether we are aware of it or not, mythology continues to permeate our society today, and even influence how we think. In fact, our society’s modern-day myths may even help us along the path towards healing.  Where might one look to find the mythology of our current times? We can look to our movies, our books, even our comic-books. Modern day mythical heroes take on all shapes and sizes.

Most easily recognizable are the superheroes that we find in comic books, but we also find heroes that may look differently than we expect. Mythical heroes are abundant and appearing regularly: Think of The Doctor of Dr. Who, Harry Potter of Hogwarts, or Katniss from the Hunger Games, for example.

 

 

“[Superheroes are a] modern day iteration of our ancient mythologies. There isn’t that much difference between the story of Icarus and that of Iron Man… They have seen prior incarnations in mythology to help explain the world around us or to teach instructive lessons…I think it is an important way to think about how fictional superheroes can make useful additions to our real lives. Not to literally become superheroes, but to use their context as a way to extend our abilities.” – E. Paul Zehr

Not only do fictional comic book superheroes, sci-fi, or fantasy characters represent our personal or collective values, they tend to be relatable on some level. Despite their supernatural or unusual powers or gifts, they also have uniquely human characteristics and flaws. The hero does not go through his or her journey unscathed; rather, the hero seems to step more fully into his or her power by transforming struggle into triumph. This is not done easily. There are losses, and there are gains. However, the hero continues forward, connecting to, and representing, a system of values that allows the hero to be successful.

 

“Some sort of strength of character (though it may be buried), some system of positive values, and a determination to, no matter what, protect those values ... the superhero—more than even the ordinary fictional hero—has  to represent the values of the society that produces him” – Danny Fingeroth

 

Dr. Janina Scarlet of CSAM knows firsthand the powerful role that superhero/fictional characters can play in helping certain individuals along the path to healing. The relatable nature of our current mythical heroes help us to connect with them, and access our own inner “hero.” Since the story of the modern-day hero’s journey can act as a metaphor for common human experiences, it can remind us that we are not alone in our suffering, Dr. Scarlet says. It can also provide us with a bit of a road map, helping to remind us to tap into our core values as we learn how to overcome our own life challenges and obstacles. The very idea of relating to superheroes in order to turn struggle into triumphs is what draws Dr. Scarlet to superhero mythology, and why she uses these metaphors in her practice of psychology.

This perspective is mirrored by other psychologists who use superhero mythology as a way of understanding the human experience. In a similar fashion to Joseph Campbell’s identification of core psychological themes and processes that underlie most mythical stories, psychologist Dr. Robin Rosenberg writes in her Smithsonian magazine article that “superheroes undergo three types of life-altering experiences that we can relate to. The first is trauma, which lies at the heart of Batman’s origin story, in which Bruce Wayne dedicates himself to fighting crime after seeing his parents murdered. In real life, many people experience ‘stress-induced growth’ after a trauma and resolve to help others, even becoming social activists. The second life-altering force is destiny. Consider Buffy the Vampire Slayer, about a normal teenager who discovers she’s the ‘Chosen One’—endowed with supernatural powers to fight demons. Buffy is reluctant to accept her destiny, yet she throws herself into her new job. Many of us identify with Buffy’s challenge (minus the vampires) of assuming a great responsibility that compels her to grow up sooner than she wants to. Lastly, there’s sheer chance, which transformed a young Spider-Man, who was using his power for selfish purposes until his beloved uncle was murdered by a street thug. Spider-Man’s heroism is an example of how random adverse events cause many of us to take stock of our lives and choose a different path.” When we identify with these characters, we may better come to understand our own difficult life experiences, and what we want to stand for. It may lead to increased insight, growth, and healing.

 

 

“[The story of The Doctor of Dr. Who] is about love, it is about courage, it is about honor, and it is about pain - deep, emotional, psychological, inexplicable pain, that many of us, despite not having been in exactly the same situation can still very much relate to on a very deep, very personal level. And through this connection, we heal.” – Dr. Janina Scarlet

Indeed, the use of metaphor as a tool for psychological healing can be powerful. Metaphor is regularly used within Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a modern behavioral  theoretical orientation, as a way of assisting people in achieving a greater understanding and experience of the core processes that comprise ACT. These 6 core processes (acceptance, cognitive defusion, mindfulness, self-as-context, values, and committed action) are theorized to lead to psychological flexibility and optimal well-being (read more about the 6 core processes here). Since language (i.e. verbally thinking, explaining, or talking about these concepts) can interfere with direct experiencing (and learning and true integration of these processes into one’s life), metaphors and symbols can serve to bypass this issue and help us to dive into the underlying meaning and message that the metaphor communicates.


Superheroes or modern-day fictional characters often embody or live out the 6 core processes of ACT, acting as a guide or compass, and helping us to better understand what ACT is all about. A major piece of ACT is committing to live a life that is guided by your values (i.e. what is truly important to you) instead of living a life guided by avoidance of fear or discomfort. Our values also act as a compass, showing us the way to go, and what action to take. This is easier said than done, however. “ACT allows you to be the kind of person that you want to be…. [but] ACT is a bit abstract and people can get overwhelmed when they are asked to talk about their thoughts and feelings. They have a difficult time identifying what they are going through. However, most people have seen or read Harry Potter. People understand what he is going through when he has the flashback of his parents dying. He has a really hard time coping with that, and this is where the concept of acceptance may be introduced….Depending on the patient and which favorite character they relate to, I will use The Hunger Games, The Golden Compass, or Harry Potter to help them understand these core processes. For example, in the Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings, the main characters are really nervous, but they valued completing their mission and they did so. [This illustrates how] ACT allows people to see that you don’t have to be brave in order to act bravely if you value something, such as helping your friends and helping get the treasure back from the dragon,” Dr. Scarlet says in her interview with Geek Therapy.

Thus, Dr. Scarlet regularly incorporates superhero-informed metaphors in her therapeutic approach. Superheroes and other modern-day mythical heroes can be used as metaphors in therapy in a uniquely useful way because they remind us that “in our deepest darkest moment when we feel like no one gets us, when we can find someone to relate to [like a superhero]; we then feel less alone, we have hope to go on, and we feel more connected to others,” Dr. Scarlet says. Superhero metaphors can be a way of accessing ourselves, when we don’t yet know how to. They can even act as a roadmap for becoming our own superhero.


Stay tuned for our next blog, which will interview Dr. Scarlet about how she uses this innovative approach to therapy, and about her upcoming book! Dr. Scarlet will also be featured on a panel at Wondercon in Anaheim on April 19th.

You can also follow Dr. Scarlet on Twitter @shadowquill!


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.

Follow us! Subscribe to the CSAM RSS feed, and follow us on Facebook or Twitter (@CSAMSanDiego).


References


Cardona, J., & Scarlet, J. (2013, October 18). Episode 25: ACT and Using Fantasy in Therapy. Podcast retrieved from http://www.geektherapy.com/2/post/2013/10/episode-25-act-and-using-fantasy-in-therapy.html

E. P. Zehr (2012, September 28). The Superhero in You. Psychology Today. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/black-belt-brain/201209/the-superhero-in-you

Fingeroth, Danny. Superman on the Couch: What Superheroes Really Tell Us about Ourselves and Our Society. New York and London: Continuum, 2005. ISBN: 0-8264-1540-7

Hayes, S. C., Strosahl, K. D., & Wilson, K. G. (2011). Acceptance and commitment therapy: The process and practice of mindful change. Guilford Press.

J. Scarlet (2014, March 04). What's wibbly wobbly, timey wimey, and goes EERRWhooSShhEEERWhooSShhhEEEEERRWhoooSShhhWhoooshhee. Retrieved from http://shadowquill.com/1/post/2014/03/whats-wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey-and-goes-eerrwhoosshheeerwhoosshhheeeeerrwhooosshhh.html

J. Scarlet (2013, August 22). Geeky Therapists Take Over Comic Con. Retrieved from http://shadowquill.com/1/post/2013/07/geeky-therapists-take-over-comic-con.html

R. Rosenberg (2013, February). The Psychology Behind Superhero Origin Stories: How does following the adventures of Spider-Man and Batman inspire us to cope with adversity. Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-psychology-behind-superhero-origin-stories-4015776/#yLSvAEA5qhzq4oKK


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 csamsandiego@gmail.com