Superhero therapy, is that a thing?

Janina Scarlet PhD, adapted an evidence-based therapy called Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and turned it into the superhero lover’s dream. To help children and adults manage their symptoms of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorders and other mental health conditions. ACT and Superhero Therapy’s objective is to help people learn to have a healthier, more flexible relationship with their thoughts, feelings and other significant private events. Which in turn will allow them understand who they want to be and to move towards what is truly valuable to them. 

Working on values with children can be a very challenging task given its abstract background. Asking children or teens to do what is important above all pain or discomfort might seem impossible. Fortunately, That is where superheroes come in handy. Using an ACT framework, a therapist can help a patient relate to a fictional superhero, understand that superhero’s origin story and discuss how that superhero has overcome many of their own challenges (probably social, emotional or psychologically related) by taking actions toward their values (Washington, 2019). Prompting children to connect with a superhero’s story will allow them to play with different perspectives which can help them clarify what is important to them. 

So how can we use superhero therapy in our everyday life?

Ideally, superhero therapy should be used as a guideline for evidence-based therapists to use with children or adults in session. However like Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee said, “The person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, and because it is the right thing to do, is indeed, without a doubt a real superhero.” So grab your cape and lets bring out our superhero within.

1 – Find a superhero your children can relate to. Can you think of a superhero or a character your child can relate to? It can also be their favorite character, it does not have to be a superhero in a strict sense of the word. It can be any character in their favorite book, movie or series. It can even be a family member or a person in their life they admire. A character that might have an origin story or a struggle they can relate to. 

For example, for Dr. Scarlet it was Storm from X-Men. When she was very young, Dr. Scarlet was exposed to a nuclear explosion because she lived in a small town near Chernobyl. This had incredibly debilitating effects on her health. To make matters worse, her symptoms where heavily influenced by the weather, if it was hot outside she would get severe nose bleeds, if it was humid she would get migraines or seizures and so on. When she was twelve her family decided to move to the United States, thinking the situation would get better being away from radiation but there she faced other types of struggles. In school her new classmates could not understand what she had gone through. She had to endure intense bullying, she was called radioactive or contagious, her peers were afraid to touch her or be near her. This made her feel completely alone and depressed but it all changed when she watch X-Men. The “Super mutants” made her feel less lonely specially when she discovered Storm a superhero who could control the weather. A superpower she always wished to have since her own struggles depended on the weather. 

Is there any superhero that could make your child feel a little less alone in the world. A character they love or admire? It can be Batman, Ironman, Hulk, Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, even a Disney princess, a character from Encanto, Frozen and anime series. Anything you can think of. 

2 – What is their superpower? Try to find out what is it that your kid loves so much about this character. What superpowers do they have. What struggles have they faced and what have they needed to overcome them. What are they like, what characteristics have hook you child to this character. This is a conversation you can have with younger children too, they might not be as clear as older children but if they tell you they like batman because he is good at getting out of trouble there are a couple of characteristics you can take away from that, like smart, problem solving, quick, strong. There is always something behind the obvious answer, this superpowers might be the window to your children’s values. 

3 – Superhero diary. Once you have found the superpowers your child looks up its important they are translated into actions. Find a way you and your child can be a little bit more like Superman, Batman, Elsa, Katniss or whoever you have chosen. To make it more fun think of them as special missions and write them down in a Superhero Diary where your child can draw or write all the things they have done like their superhero so they can come back in difficult times and remind themselves all they are capable of. 

4 – Find a Superhero Mentor. Every Superhero has a sidekick or a mentor who supports them during their missions. Batman has Alfred, Harry Potter has Ron and Hermione, Ironman has Jarvis, Katniss has Haymitch. Encourage your child to find a sidekick or a mentor it can be a family member, a friend, a pet or even a therapist or a counselor. Sinews can be a great source for counseling, we great group of child therapists that will gladly jump at the chance to be a superhero mentor. 

5 – Every superhero journey starts with a struggle. Last but not least remind your children that all superheroes have an origin story that usually involve some kind struggle. Batman lost his parents, Harry Potter not only lost his parents he had to endure the horrible family he had left, Hulk was exposed to radiation. This stories turned them into the superheroes they are, the struggles helped them develop the incredible superpowers that we all admire. So if your children feel like life is a little daunting remind them it will turn them into amazing superheroes. 


Scarlet, J. (2017). Superhero Therapy: Mindfulness skills to help teens & young adults deal with anxiety, depression and trauma. New Harbinger. 

Washington, K. (2019, April 25). What is superhero therapy?. Denver Health Blog.

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