Many people turn to fiction to read about the things they are going through. Whether it’s their sexuality, their relationship, or their mental health, books can prove to be a valuable mirror for what’s going on in the real world, and our own lives.

BLOT spoke to Dr Janina Scarlet, licensed clinical psychologist and creator of Superhero Therapy, about how stories about superheroes can help people recover from mental illness.


Q1. What is Superhero Therapy?

Superhero Therapy refers to incorporating characters from popular culture, including superheroes and other characters from books, movies, TV shows and video games into evidence-based therapy (such as cognitive-behavioural therapy) in order to help us to learn to become our own version of a superhero in real life.

It is intended for all ages and has been utilised to treat anxiety, depression, PTSD, substance abuse disorders, eating disorders, and other difficulties.”

Q2. How does it help?

“Superhero Therapy allows people to understand the parallels between the experiences of their favourite characters and their own lives.

“They act as a heroic role model for people and help them learn to take steps towards becoming their own version of a hero in real life, such as by advocating for mental health awareness or by helping members of their community”

Q3. What inspired you to set it up?

“I moved from Ukraine to the United States when I was 12. At that time, I was really lonely.

“I was experiencing depression, anxiety and PTSD symptoms but I didn’t know what those were because no one talked about mental health. 

“I thought there was something wrong with me. I thought it was my fault. 

“A few years later I saw the first X-Men film and suddenly, I could see fictional characters who were like me. They were going through a difficult time and suffering from depression, loneliness and trauma so it showed me I wasn’t alone.

“The movie helped me realise how important it was for people to have some kind of fictional representation they could refer to.

“Later when I started working with clients, I found many of them would automatically refer to fictional characters. 

“For example, they would refer to Batman when talking about grief and loss, or Superman when referring to strength. It made me realise how important it was for people to have a figure to look up to. 

“Superhero Therapy exploded from there – at first I thought it was something that would just be used in the particular military base where I was working, but then it spread like wildfire and now it’s used all over the world.”

Q4. Why do you think it’s important for mental health issues to be written about in fiction?

“The more we read about it, the more it can help to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.

“Many people turn to fiction to read and learn about things they are going through and I think when people see accurate representations of the mental health issues they are experiencing, it can help to make them feel less lonely and it’s more likely they’ll ask for help.”

Q5. Do you think reading about a character who has a mental illness can be a comfort for people who are going through the same thing?

“Research has shown when people are feeling lonely, they’re more likely to turn to books they can relate to. 

“If people are going through a hard time and they find another person, or fictional character going through the same thing they are, then they feel significantly less lonely.

“We know loneliness has pretty much become a universal epidemic at this point, according to a number of research studies from the UK.

Q6. Are there any books (aside from Superhero Therapy) which you think do a particularly good job at portraying mental illness?

There’s loads but I always thought The Harry Potter books represented depression and trauma well.

Q7. Who are your favourite superheroes? 

Storm and The Scarlet Witch. 

Storm was the first superhero I really looked up to from the X-Men because she could control the weather. She’s just really brave and courageous.

And The Scarlet Witch because of the WandaVision series which depicted grief and trauma really accurately. 

Both of the characters were a representation to me of someone going through something really painful and also remembering who they are, and what they stand for.

Dr Janina Scarlet

Dr. Janina Scarlet is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, author, TEDx speaker, and a creativity coach. 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 is the Lead Trauma Specialist at the Trauma and PTSD Healing Center.

She has written ten books including Superhero Therapy, Harry Potter Therapy, Therapy Quest, Dark Agents, Super-Women,  It Shouldn’t Be This Way, and more.

Yasmin Wakefield

Yasmin Wakefield

Yasmin is a third year journalism student at The University of Sheffield, specialising in feature writing. She has previously written for the Sheffield Tribune and women’s magazine Pick Me Up! She is particularly interested in how mental health issues are portrayed in fiction.

Favourite genres: Romance, Crime and Thrillers.