How Can Pop Culture Heroes Help You Rewrite Your Life?
An introduction to the playful healing of therapeutic fanfiction.
Posted September 1, 2019
Stories help us all make sense of the world around us, which can help us make sense of our own lives. Research within the fields of neuroscience and human development supports the idea that human beings are meaning-making creatures who craft meaning through narrative. We can explore stories on our own or with the help of a skilled therapist.
If you decide to work with a therapist, it’s OK to ask your prospective therapist about their fandoms and to tell them about yours. It’s OK to choose a therapist who speaks your literal language, or who is at least willing to try.
Obviously, not every person can be a part of every fandom, but it’s vital to work with a therapist who can understand how you see the world.
Once you’ve selected a therapist, you’ll also want to explore how they will use your stories to work with you. A powerful way to work with stories in the therapy room is through the use of therapeutic fanfiction.
What is therapeutic fanfiction? Well, it owes a lot to narrative therapy and systemic family therapy, but with a dash of whimsy and a healthy dose of modern mythologies (think everyone’s favorite neighborhood Spiderman, Star Wars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, etc.). Therapeutic fanfiction helps you use the tools of your personal, beloved fandoms to rewrite your own story, cast your own self-help magic spells, and change your life.
If this sounds easy, it really isn’t. As any fan of SYFY's The Magicians series knows, magic is hard. And as fans of the CW's Supernatural know, writing is even harder. But with the right guide, anything is possible.
Therapeutic fanfiction enables clinicians and clients to use beloved fandom characters and themes to craft new alternate narratives for the client’s life. This process respects the client’s fandom attachments (i.e., parasocial relationships, aka caring about characters and celebrities who can’t exactly love you back) and allows the client to use the language of fandom to create coping strategies and tools that feel both fun and practical. Therapeutic fanfiction allows you to call upon your favorite heroes and, in doing so, become the very hero you seek.
For example, in a therapy setting, rather than speaking to a client about whether the 4-7-8 mindful breathing technique works for them, a clinician using therapeutic fanfiction––and working with a client who loves Harry Potter––would invite the client to create a calming spell, embedding the 4-7-8 breathing technique.
This allows for conversation around whether the spell was effective for the client (embodying their favorite witch or wizard), and if not, what adjustments can be made to this spell, or does this challenge require a different spell altogether?
For those clinicians who may be reading this and thinking, “Hey, wait, this is just narrative therapy,” in many ways it is! As we mentioned, therapeutic fanfiction brings the ideas of both systemic and narrative therapies into the modern age by helping therapists quite literally make therapy more fun.
In late-stage capitalist America, adult clients do not need one more task to be added to their bullet journals. They need opportunities for healing through play and whimsy. While the realm of play is often reserved for children, every adult has a child inside themselves who yearns for this freedom.
Therapeutic fanfiction invites clients and therapists to take back their joy and infuse it into their healing journeys. So grab your magic wands and start casting some healing spells! Fanficcio Therapeutis!
Garski, L.A., & Mastin, J. (2019). Beyond Canon: Therapeutic Fanfiction and the Queer Hero’s Journey. In L. Rubin (Ed.), Using superheroes and villains in counseling and play therapy: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals. New York, NY: Routledge.