Captain America might not typically be the first thing that comes to mind when discussing matters of psychology and mental health, but that’s not to say it’s entirely off the table.
“Superhero therapy is utilizing pop culture and superheroes to relate to clients as a mental health provider,” explained Travis Adams a Marine Corps. A veteran who served for 9.5 years, who has taken his love of pop-culture, and a Masters Degree in Social Work and combined them to benefit veterans.
When asked about how superhero therapy works he was able to give some insight on why it can benefit veterans.
“Being able to understand an individual isn’t alone in handling a situation or issue that they are struggling with is important,” said Adams. “When a person is going through symptoms of mental health diagnosis and sees a character going through something very similar it gives them hope that they too can overcome this and shows them that they are not alone in experiencing such intense feelings.”
“When working with veterans who struggle from mental health, specifically PTSD I have been able to use superhero therapy to help relate terms and symptoms in a way that is easier to understand as well as allowing the individual to not feel alone,” said Adams.
The idea of superheroes in psychology has been used in various ways over the years. The concept was formally executed by Dr. Janina Scarlet, who created superhero therapy and also wrote the accompanying book. Scarlet is one of Adam’s colleague’s. Adam’s shared that “when she worked with a client who struggled with sexual assault and it was through Buffy the Vampire Slayer that the patient was able to express her feelings.”
“When I teach Anger management I discuss the Incredible Hulk, specifically his role in the first avengers’ movie,” Adams explained. “Throughout the movie, Bruce Banner (alter ego of the hulk) is constantly being bothered by Iron Man, (Tony Stark) to turn into the Hulk. At the end of the movie Banner tells Captain America how he is able to control the Hulk by always being angry. When I teach this to my veterans I let them know it’s okay to be angry, but it’s the aggression piece that we must reduce in our lives.”
“The books I contributed to are part of a series by the psych geeks,” said Adams. “The series initially started when Dr. Travis Langley wrote Batman psychology, a dark and stormy night.”
“The series uses superheroes and pop culture to help explain various aspects of life,” shared Adams. “Often focusing on mental health but there are other topics too such as masculinity.” The series has used pop culture fandoms such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Wonder Woman, Supernatural, Daredevil, and Westworld. Black Panther comes out in June and The Joker comes out in September. The contributors to these books also speak at comic conventions around the country discussing these topics on panels.”
“I think this is the perfect way to open up dialogue in ways that were previously blocked by stigma,” said Adams. “I had a veteran who struggled really bad with PTSD and it was through talking about his favorite show, Supernatural, that we were able to build rapport with one another and discuss his trauma and symptoms he has experienced.”
“Often we have found that when someone has another source to relate to it helps them express their thoughts and feelings which then can be used to help them grow into post-traumatic growth versus stress disorder.”