Dr. Janina Scarlet Talks About Using Superhero Comics With Psychology

Friday, 29 September 2017 - 4:03PM
Medical Tech
Friday, 29 September 2017 - 4:03PM
Dr. Janina Scarlet Talks About Using Superhero Comics With Psychology
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Just in time for New York Comic-Con, we interviewed psychologist Janina Scarlet about her book, Superhero Therapy! Dr. Scarlet previously served on our panel on the science of Star Wars at Silicon Valley Comic-Con, where she talked about the psychology behind some of the characters in Rogue One and The Force Awakens (being abandoned by one's parents was a big topic). Here's an excerpt from the official description of Superhero Therapy,  available now:

Opening quote
A hero's journey always begins with a struggle-what's yours? For the first time ever, psychologist Janina Scarlet and Marvel and DC Comics illustrator Wellinton Alves join forces to create Superhero Therapy-a dynamic, illustrated introduction to acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) to help you vanquish your inner monsters, explore your unique superpowers, and become a Superhero questing for what matters to you.
Closing quote

We sat down with Janina to talk a bit more about the philosophy behind superhero therapy, the book, and her inspiration to write it.

Outer Places: Tell me a bit about yourself, your practice, and your relationship to the world of fandom (Marvel, DC, Star Wars, etc.).
Dr. Janina Scarlet: I am a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and a full-time geek. I incorporate characters from Marvel, DC, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, etc. into therapy to help my patients better manage their anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
OP: What drove you to become a psychologist?
Scarlet: I was always fascinated with people's stories. I would spend hours listening to my elderly neighbors, [who were] Holocaust survivors, talk about their experience. I wanted to better understand them, to connect, to help. I was always fascinated by people who overcame trauma like that and wanted to learn how to best help others who were in similar situations.
OP: Tell me a bit about the central ideas presented in Superhero Therapy and how they apply to the types of characters we see in comics.
Scarlet: The idea of Superhero Therapy is that we are not alone in our struggles. Most people have experienced some kind of pain, some kind of trauma. Most people want to be understood and supported. This includes heroes. By looking at examples of our favorite real-life and fictional role models we might be able to better identify and manage our own physical and emotional struggles. Superhero Therapy then incorporates fictional examples into evidence-based (research-supported) therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).
OP: What are some of the biggest issues or conditions you're aiming to treat with Superhero Therapy (trauma, depression, etc.)?
Scarlet: Superhero Therapy is transdiagnostic (can be applied to the treatment of any disorder), though I've primarily been applying it to the treatment of PTSD, anxiety, depression, and chronic illness (e.g., chronic pain). 
OP: What are some of the techniques you outline in the book?
Scarlet: [Each] chapter introduces a new technique/skill. One of them is self-compassion, the practice of being compassionate and supportive to ourselves as we might be to others. Most people are more tolerant of the setbacks and struggles of other people than they are of their own difficulties. In fact, most of us hold ourselves to very high standards and often might harshly criticize ourselves. Self-compassion teaches us how to practice kindness and self-soothing toward ourselves in order to help ourselves through very challenging moments, such as a panic attack, or when we are triggered. 

OP: What are your thoughts on the current surge in popularity of comic book heroes like Batman and Wonder Woman in film?
Scarlet: I think this is great. Wonder Woman is especially a wonderful role model for boys and girls alike in that she does not conform to gender norms and she uses her compassion to motivate her actions. 
OP: What superhero movie do you think is the most interesting from a psychological/therapeutic point of view?
Scarlet: I think many of them are. However, I really enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy II and Iron Man III due to their psychological complexity. For example, Iron Man III presents what I believe to be a depiction of PTSD in Tony Stark and demonstrates what it takes for him to better manage it. I thought this movie, in particular, was very well done. 

You can learn more about Janina Scarlet and her work on her website, and check out the book online here.
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