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Psychologist Uses Superhero Comics to Treat His Patients

Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything” threads, where interesting people with unusual perspectives answer questions posed by the Reddit community, has attracted a wide array of fascinating folks from a fellow who played a Putty on the original Power Rangers series to 4chan founder Christopher Poole. Several cartoonists have even gotten in on the group interview action, including The Oatmeal‘s Matthew Inman, Cartoon Laureate James Kochalka, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal‘s Zach Weiner, Questionable Content‘s Jeph Jacques, Dinosaur Comics‘ Ryan North, and even Ren and Stimpy animator John K.

Today, however, Reddit users are posing questions to a man with a very unique perspective on comic books: clinical psychologist Patrick O’Connor, who uses superhero comics to treat gang members, children in foster care, people with anxiety disorders and more.Dr. O’Connor practices at Southeast Psych in Charlotte, NC, where he’s developed an unusual way to address his patients’ needs. O’Connor sometimes asks patients to read and discuss comic books to help patients verbalize and process their own decisions and emotions. In his “Ask Me Anything” thread, he offers a striking example of how comic books have helped him better treat a patient:

I had a 17 year old gang member with a history of violence and substance abuse pause while reading an issue of Irredeemable, point to this panel, and say, “This is how I feel about the world. This describes it perfectly.” That opened up a huge door for us.

O’Connor says that while he uses his comic therapy primarily with adolescents, it’s also helped people in their 30s and 40s deal with everything from social anxiety to mood disorders. And, while his patients want to read more Marvel comics, he finds DC works best for therapy:

I want to get more Marvel as that seems to be requested most often, but I’ve had a hard time finding Marvel comics with good interior monologue, interpersonal conflicts, and rich character flaws. Not saying it’s nonexistent, Spider-Man (especially the latest Ultimate Spider-Man) and X-Men have been great, but Avengers, Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk…a bit too much on the action and fun for my purposes.

So which books top his therapeutic list?

As for most positive effects, Nightwing 101 – 106 from about a decade ago detailing Robin’s transformation into Nightwing has worked very well with adolescents. X-Men’s Second Coming has also been wonderful for people of all ages as it addresses so many different issues (leadership, interpersonal conflict, internal struggles, being different/singled out, etc). Irredeemable probably works best for my foster care and gang member teens.

O’Connor also maintains the site Comicspedia, where he’s compiled a list of relevant comics and the issues they bring up. He’s hoping that more therapists will follow his lead and start bringing superheroes into their sessions.

Now I’m tempted to bring my Scott Pilgrim collection in to my therapist and ask her how I get from Book One Scott to flaming heart sword Scott.

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