This month’s #MentalHealthMatters blog is written by Kala Noce, LSW, Engagement Specialist at Ravenwood Health.

“Not all heroes wear capes.” This is a statement that I have seen to be true on numerous occasions. Over the course of time, we’ve all seen a lot of heroes without capes do many heroic deeds—first responders, nurses and doctors, local groups raising funds for those in need, and even ourselves. While the heroism many of us display are not always things that we consider worthy of accolade, to someone, we’ve done something that matters a great deal to them. These little deeds, however, can add up and become greater deeds. Our actions can easily inspire others to pay it forward and if that isn’t a superpower, the power to inspire and motivate others to help one another through our actions, I don’t know what is.

Dr. Janina Scarlet’s work Superhero Therapy, a therapeutic practice that utilizes bits and pieces of various evidence-based practices such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), allows us to relive our childhood dream of turning ourselves into a hero, very reminiscent of the art-based intervention used with children “Draw Yourself as a Superhero”. This intervention asks you to literally draw an image of yourself as a superhero and then asks questions like “What powers do you have? Do you have a secret identity? What are your weaknesses? “Do you have a sidekick and what do they do for you?”, and so on.

Many of us as kids have dreamed about being a hero as a kid and even now, there are many who may identify with a certain Marvel or DC superhero, vigilante, or even a villain. In taking this intervention a bit further and more along the lines of Dr. Scarlet’s therapeutic practice, we can also ask the question why do we identify with this specific hero/villain, etc.? What is it about them that draws us to them? What do they represent that we align with? And lastly, did they experience something similar to us that inspires us to start to work through our past struggles?

Superhero therapy in particular focuses on that last question above. Did the hero in question experience something that they themselves had to work through? Spiderman for example, learned a hard lesson through the loss of Uncle Ben—“with great power comes great responsibility.” He had to deal with feelings of loss and grief and guilt, and this inherently became the catalyst of change for him to become a hero. We ourselves go through a lot of similar things as many superheroes, sometimes we are not even aware of how these experiences have impacted us until we are adults. In the world today, especially over the course of the past couple years, we’ve seen an increase in people of all ages struggling with anxiety, depression, addiction, and trauma. At the heart of many of these struggles is never being taught how to appropriately cope and work through them. We often try and avoid what happened to us in the past and unfortunately, it only causes things to get worse, not better. As Dr. Scarlet says, avoidance of our issues only causes the monsters/villains to get stronger not weaker.

So how do we find our inner heroes and defeat our villains? Through training/practice/ therapy of course. There are many ways to go about it, but Superhero Therapy likes to especially focus on mindfulness practices. Mindfulness is becoming more aware of our experiences, being in the present, and not passing judgment upon ourselves or our reactions to our experiences. It often requires the aid of a trained professional/mentor to start to guide us through the exercises that utilize our five senses and engage us in various activities including deep breathing and tensing and relaxing muscles or various parts of our bodies. These guided interventions allow us to over time become more self-aware and ultimately, more understanding and compassionate towards ourselves. We do tend to be our own worst critics! Mindfulness, I have found, allows for the practice of self-love and compassion, something many of us have struggled with doing from childhood on. Self-esteem issues during adolescence, for example, can carry over into adulthood. Mindfulness practices allow us to see ourselves as we truly are and not what others think we are. It helps us give a name to our struggles, whether it be anxiety, depression, trauma, addiction, or all of them. And ultimately, it allows us to understand what happened to us, not what is wrong with us.

It’s ultimately important to realize that it takes time to heal from what has happened to us and none of us should expect to gain superpowers overnight. Like Batman, we sometimes need time to obtain a toolbelt full of nifty gadgets, a bat cave filled with lots of technology and the Batmobile, and a faithful family butler and a bunch of sidekicks, to help us. With time, practice, and support from others, we can learn how to overcome our own personal villains and change our stories from one of defeat to one of triumph.

Here is the link to Dr. Janina Scarlet’s website if you are interested in learning more about Superhero Therapy.
Super-Women

Kala is currently reading Superwomen by Dr. Janina Scarlet.