Dr. Janina Scarlet is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, a scientist, and a full-time geek. A Ukrainian-born refugee, she survived Chernobyl radiation and persecution. She immigrated to the United States at the age of 12 with her family and later, inspired by the X-Men, developed Superhero Therapy to help patients with anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Dr. Scarlet has written multiple publications on this topic and has given talks domestically and internationally. She is also a member of Pop Culture Hero Coalition. Her book, “Superhero Therapy” released on December 1, 2016 in the U.K. and on August 1, 2017 in the U.S.
What drew you to a career in psychology and science?
” I was always interested in people’s stories. I grew up in Ukraine, where the remnants of WWII are still present to this day. As a small child I was fascinated by elder people’s WWII/Holocaust survival stories. I was fascinated at how someone could survive such severe trauma and about what helped them recover. At the age of 9 I started reading my mother’s psychology books and after moving to the United States I started becoming more involved in sciences, often staying after school or spending my lunch periods in the science lab. When I got to high school I started taking psychology classes and after taking the first one, I was sure that this was the right career for me.”
Why (was) is the superhero genre so life changing for you?
“I was born and raised in Ukraine. At the age of 3 my family and I were exposed to a high degree of radiation from the Chernobyl disaster. As a result, we were all affected. My health is forever changed as a result of this exposure. I am extremely sensitive to weather (e.g., rain) and radiation changes (such as meteor showers). I get extremely ill when these changes occur and in some instances, this can be life-threatening.”
“When my family and I moved to the United States as refugees, I was 12 years old. Some of the kids in middle school teased and bullied me for being “a freak,” being “radioactive.” I was 15 when I saw the first X-Men movie. The X-Men really spoke to me. For the first time, I saw myself on the screen. These characters were mutants, just like me. Many of them were also affected by radiation, and Storm, my favorite of the X-Men, is also connected to the weather, like I am. This was a life changing moment for me because it allowed me to see that I was not a victim of my circumstance. I was a survivor. Seeing X-Men allowed me to take control of my destiny instead of being controlled by my past and inspired me to help others.”
Why do you think the superhero genre is so important to others?
“I think most of us dream of having magical powers or super abilities at some point. I think that many people are looking for a connection, for someone to understand their experiences in order to feel less alone. Humans are social creatures, we want to feel understood and supported. Sometimes it is hard to open up to other people, especially when it comes to mental health. However, finding someone to connect with, whether a real person or a fictional character, can allow us to feel more supported, less judged, and more understood. It can normalize our own experiences and potentially serve as a vehicle for healing. I am hoping that with increased conversations about mental health, we can take away its stigma and allow people to see themselves as the heroes they really are, no matter their mental health struggle.”
What is Superhero Therapy?
“Superhero Therapy involves using pop culture in evidence-based (research-supported) therapy in order to help people manage or recover from depression, anxiety, PTSD, people on autism spectrum, people who struggle with chronic pain, eating disorders, and other mental health struggles by connecting with their hero sense, their core values. Many people might feel held back by their circumstances, such as poverty, physical or mental struggles, or others and might therefore have a hard time connecting with things they really care about, such as their creative work, friends, family, or helping others. Superhero Therapy is designed to help people not only better manage their struggles but to become their own version of a Superhero using the skills and abilities they might already have or learn along the way.”
When is this type of therapy the most useful? Are there specific situations?
“This type of therapy is trans diagnostic, which means it can be applied to any mental health disorder.”
Do people have to be veteran comic book/ superhero fans for this type therapy?
“Not at all. In fact, it is not necessary to use traditional superheroes in this kind of therapy. Characters from fantasy (e.g., Harry Potter), science fiction (e.g., Star Wars) can also be and have been utilized in Superhero Therapy. Neither the therapist nor the client have to be well-versed in comic books in order to benefit from this.”
List 2 of your Favorite superhero/heroines explain why in general and in the context of their psychology.
“My favorite superhero of all time is Storm, from the X-Men. Storm (real name: Ororo Munroe), suffered a devastating loss at the age of 6 when an airplane fell on her house, crushing her parents to death and nearly killing Ororo. Ororo barely got out of the rubble alive. As a result, she later develops severe claustrophobia (fear of tight spaces). However, when her fellow X-Men are in trouble, nothing will stand in her way.”
“Another character I really like talking about is Ron Weasley from Harry Potter. Ron, one of Harry’s best friends, struggles with arachnophobia, fear of spiders. However, as afraid as he is, Ron joins Harry in following the spiders into the Forbidden Forest in order to save their friend, Hermione, after she was petrified by a basilisk. Ron demonstrates truly heroic courage here – he faces his biggest fear in order to save someone he cares about. I’ve used this example with many of my clients when we are working on reducing their phobias in therapy.”
If you would like to learn more about Superhero Therapy, contact Dr. Janina Scarlet Twitter @shadowquill, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Shadow.Scarletl, website at www.superhero-therapy.com, or Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/superherotherapy
Thank you Dr. Scarlet for participating in this interview!