Growing up in Ukraine, in poverty, facing extreme prejudice, I often found myself wishing that I could find a magical world to escape to—a world where I would be accepted for who I am, without having to hide my heritage or my abilities. When I was 12, that happened; after a year of background checks and screenings my family and I were given permission to enter the United States as refugees.
Being exposed to trauma at an early age leaves scars. Scars that are not visible but take a long time to heal. Between the move and the bullying I began to experience, I felt depressed and alone, even when I was surrounded by other people.
At last, I found my door to healing through fiction. X-Men were my gateway, leading to Star Wars, Harry Potter, Doctor Who, and Marvel and DC Universes. To me these characters spoke the words I was trying to find to convey the deep emotional pain they were feeling. Somehow, it was as if they were speaking to me. I found ways to connect with them and through that I was able to connect with myself as well.
Years later I started incorporating popular culture into Superhero Therapy with clients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. I found that many of my clients also had a hard time expressing and talking about their painful experiences. However, drawing parallels between their experiences and those of other people or fictional characters made it easier for my clients to process what they had been through.
Superhero Therapy seeks to help individuals struggling with mental health disorders by drawing connections with that person's fandom and incorporating it with research-supported therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). The idea behind Superhero Therapy is to help the client to become the very best version of themselves (their own kind of a Superhero) by drawing inspiration from their favorite fandom.
MMy Superhero Therapy self-help book incorporates both a fictional graphic novel and a non-fiction self-help components. The graphic novel tells a tale of 6 heroes with various superpowers, magical abilities, or the ability to travel through time and space. All of these characters struggle with some kind of a mental health difficulty, such as PTSD, agoraphobia, eating disorders, social anxiety disorder, substance abuse, self-injury and others. In order to better manage these difficulties, the heroes attend a Superhero training academy, where they learn mental health skills to help them advance in their superhero training.
Since pop culture continues to grow and since comic conventions are increasing world wide, it is likely that this type of therapy can be helpful for many people who have a strong affiliation with popular culture.