Comic Book Therapy: How Superman Can Save You
Since their inception, between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, comics have been part of popular culture. Indeed, our social imaginary of superheroes who fight to survive and create a better world has been shared by several generations. Today, comics are used in therapy and are seen as a valuable resource.
In this genre, there are graphic novels that illustrate the difficulties of people suffering from mental disorders, children’s comics about integration at school, or more explicit and didactic texts, that teach techniques for dealing with panic disorders. Due to their success, associated therapeutic applications have begun to be studied more systematically.
The benefits of comics
As with other literary genres, comics are really useful for escaping from reality. In fact, entering a parallel world is often the best medicine to calm stress, stop intrusive thoughts, and improve our well-being. In addition, they encourage creativity and reflection. Reading them makes it easier for us to use new ways to express our feelings, thoughts, and concerns. They also make us reflect on our behaviors and feelings in certain situations.
As in most of the stories that we see or read, comics generate our identification with and acceptance of their characters. For instance, seeing how a character can find strength where there seemed to be none and save themselves can be really inspiring for someone who’s going through a bad time. Or, if the protagonist has the same problem, they might open up new alternatives or resources for the reader to deal with their own issue.
It’s this last point that makes comic books especially interesting for use in therapy. Indeed, when someone identifies with even just one aspect of the story, it’s a great starting point for promoting motivation, introspection, and change.
Comic book therapy
Comic book therapy is a form of art therapy or bibliotherapy. Sometimes, it’s confused or included within the field of graphic medicine. It’s a genre that combines the visual arts with a medical discourse and approach. In other words, it uses the image to convey stories related to health care or experiences with pathologies.
This new therapy is incredibly versatile. It can be used in different settings (schools, clinics, hospitals, etc.), for different ages and to treat different illnesses or life problems.
In addition, it’s an extremely useful tool to use in narrative therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy. This particular therapy uses a great deal of written material to carry out its tasks, so the use of comics would make it easier to work with people who speak a different language, who have reading or learning difficulties, or both. For example, dyslexia.
The different types of comic book therapy
It could be said that there are as many comic therapies as examples. Each person, each story, and each way of using it can vary considerably. However, as a rule, two types are recognized, depending on the role that comic books play in therapy.
1. Creating a comic or graphic novel
In this type of therapy, the patient works with the therapist, a family member, or a support group to create their own comic book, comic strip, or graphic novel. The idea is, through visual art and texts, to generate a story that helps in the healing process.
As a rule, it’s recommended that they start by creating the characters, and situate them in relation to their own surroundings, their past, and their present. It becomes a kind of autobiography. Sometimes, the story will be identical to reality, or at others, the individual may choose to reshape the narrative in some way. This gives them the chance, in real life, to approach their problem in a different manner.
Self-fiction can be extremely beneficial as it provides an augmented or parallel reality. Thus, the protagonists can make decisions that they didn’t make in the past, or find alternative ways of acting in certain scenarios.
2. Reading a comic book
This kind of comic book therapy, perhaps simpler and more affordable, is reading-based. Published stories are reviewed and experiences, diagnoses, and stories similar to those of the patients are discussed.
Some of the classic comics can be used in this way. Indeed, many classic superheroes suffer from mental health problems. Therefore, they can serve as an inspiration or basis for addressing some of the concerns of patients.
For example, since killing his uncle, Spider-Man has exhibited symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, such as a sense of excessive duty. Iron Man has a problem with alcohol and other substances. Batman suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. While Captain Marvel, as well as suffering from these last two disorders, also has depression. Interestingly, they’ve also been examples of responsibility, effort, and justice.
Another option is to make use of stories explicitly related to psychological, medical or social problems. For example, Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me by Ellen Forney in treating bipolar disorder or Wrinkles by Paco Roca in caring for someone with Alzheimer’s.
How to use comics at home
If your own therapist can’t find a way to work with comic books, maybe you can ask them if it’d be a good idea for you to adopt some of the measures that you’ve seen in the story and that have given good results for the character.
There’s a multitude of comics available, thus it’s highly likely that you’ll find a story similar to yours. Dive into them and take note of how your character acts and thinks and what they do. Ask yourself what you’d change. What would you advise them to do? What are the consequences of their thoughts and yours? What’s the character done to advance and how can you improve your own situation?
Although superheroes are from distant planets and have often experienced out-of-this-world events, we all have the ability to overcome our problems, grow, and save ourselves. We can also save those around us. In fact, sometimes, we just need to look at each other as comic book characters to realize what we need.
Editorial note. Comic book therapy isn’t therapy per se but is framed in a context from which we can draw valuable resources to achieve a therapeutic objective. However, before adopting any measure taken from a comic or a similar medium, it’s advisable to consult with a therapist first, to decide whether any amendments need to be made.
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