Superhero Therapy

Children and adults alike are intrigued by the thought of superheroes – and now superhero therapy is helping youngsters when they are facing difficulties.

superhero therapy

A superhero is a unique, larger than life figure, with special powers and abilities beyond those of normal humans which they may have gained through accident, gift, or legacy.

However superheroes usually face specific challenges, which is how a skillful psychologist can help your child to relate, express and explore their own challenges to arrive at solutions.

Superhero therapy is actually just one facet of a broader approach which psychologists use when working with young clients: play therapy.

What is Play Therapy?

Through play therapy and fantasy, a child can enter a metaphoric place where problems of the past and present meet possibilities of the future. It provides a way for children to escape and make sense of their lives by creating and then reliving their stories.

And, it is one of the most effective tools for promoting self-understanding, development and healing.

The Theories Behind Superhero Therapy

From a cognitive perspective, play therapy is linked to the growing child’s ability to assimilate experiences and in doing so, develop a sense of understanding and mastery (Piaget, 1962). For Piaget, symbolic play “provides the child with the dynamic individual language indispensable for the expression of subjective feelings for which language alone is inadequate”.

Vygotsky (1978) regarded fantasy play – such as superheroes – as a window into children’s understanding of their current reality, the limitations of their reality, and as a stage on which they can experiment with competencies beyond the constraints of their intellectual ability and experience.

Superhero Therapy & other Play Approaches

As a psychologist utilising play therapy and superhero therapy, I am aware that in the counselling room I am granted a rare privilege: access to a child’s thoughts. My role is to create a safe, comfortable and confidential setting, and build rapport with the child, so that they are free to play and explore with their imagination.

Rather than an ‘office’, the space is usually referred to as a ‘playroom’ as it contains a range of toys, carefully selected to encourage the child to express their feelings and develop solutions, through symbolic play.

Toys, board games, families of dolls, animal figurines, strength cards, markers and notebooks are all tools which may be useful in play therapy. Generally I find that younger children draw or play out their given issues, problems and concerns, from a parallel world to their reality.

The basic principle in play therapy sessions is to offer an alternative reality or ‘dream’ for the child’s mind. This frees them to communicate, address any unresolved trauma, explore any repressed thoughts and feelings, and improve social/communication skills.

Often the child in therapy can play as they wish, however as therapy continues, specific play activities related to the child’s presenting issue may be introduced.

Play therapy can be both non-directive and directive. Non-directive therapy allows freedom of play and in therapy, children will be able to generally resolve issues on their own.

Depending on the child’s current presenting issue, a directive approach to play therapy (with more specific instructions and greater input from the psychologist), may be more suitable.

How well do you know your Superheroes?

For an example of how superhero therapy may be useful, consider the story of Batman.

As a child, Batman witnessed the murder of his parents and vowed to seek revenge for their deaths. As he grew up he began fighting crime, turning his negative emotions into positive actions.

Batman’s symptoms and recovery route is consistent with trauma literature in psychological studies. Using Batman as an example in play therapy can also help children modify their story to suit their inner psychic needs.

Batman can also be used as a catalyst for overcoming trauma through the use of play therapy techniques such as role modelling. This allows children to process developmental functions including emotional release, and gives them a sense of power, hope and resources for problem solving.

Through a superhero, a child often finds it easier to access their unconscious fears/desires, and experiment with behaviours beyond their comfort levels. The superhero is somebody outside of their own family, whom they can relate to and look up to; and just like the child, the superhero usually has some burden or challenge to deal with.

While role playing as a superhero, the child’s mind and belief system can be opened to solutions and possibilities.

How a Superhero can help you Child

Specific superheroes may prove useful with specific problems, for example:

  • Anger, isolation, grief and loss, trauma: Batman has experienced all of these, as he has journeyed from helpless child and witness to his parents’ murder, to a superhero fighting for justice.
  • Sibling rivalry, power struggles, parental conflict: Although they survived a cosmic blast, the Fantastic Four were consequently endowed with super powers including elasticity, invisibility, power and strength. However their weaknesses include unconscious mind control, and no hidden identities.
  • Anger control, impulsivity, aggression: The Incredible Hulk has incredible strength and power – but also a weakness in his rage and anger, which he needs to learn to control.
  • Grief and loss, maturity, personal identity: Spider Man is another superhero who has experienced grief and loss, yet through an accident developed extra strength, persistence, and flight which he must learn to handle with care and responsibility.

Don’t let you child struggle alone with family difficulties or issues at school – using superhero therapy, they can discover a new and stronger version of themselves!

Shokria Siddiqui Psychologist treating children in Brisbane

Author: Shokria Siddiqui, BSc.Psych, PGDipPsych, PGDipMH, MPsych, MAPS.

Shokria Siddiqui is a Brisbane Psychologist working with all ages, however she has a particular interest in children and adolescents. By implementing evidence-based therapies that have been scientifically tested, building rapport with her clients, and creating a safe therapeutic space, Shokria helps her clients and their families to better meet life’s challenges.

To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Shokria Siddiqui, try Online Booking – Mt Gravatt or or Online Booking – Loganholme, or call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129 or Vision Psychology (Mt Gravatt) on (07) 3088 5422.

References: