The Art and Science of Emotional Healing — #2 How Superman Heals Depression through Comic Book Therapy

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For an introduction to the entire series of my articles about mental and emotional healing please read this post — Why You Suffer Mentally and Emotionally and Tips to Free Yourself

What is Comic Book Therapy?: Comic book therapy, also called Cartoon Therapy, and Graphic Arts Therapy is a form of Creative Arts Therapy in which those undergoing or have already completed rehabilitation express their experiences through personal narratives within a graphic, animation, or comics format.

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Who developed it? Ian Williams. A comic book artist, physician, and writer coined the term.

Most believe the origins of this field can be traced back to prehistoric cave drawings and man’s desire to express himself with pictures.

Most in the field agree that the blossoming of emotional influence through comic art begins in 1938 with the publication of Action Comics #1. This comic was the first to detail the adventures and heroic efforts of Superman.

What is the basic theory? The combination of text and image enable patients to process their memories and emotions through two different, yet compatible mediums — text and graphics.

Graphics can help release strong emotions, in a humorous way.

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Graphics can help release strong emotions, in a humorous way.

Graphic medicine now acts as an umbrella term that encompasses a host of therapeutic techniques. Therefore, comic book therapy comfortably fits under its heading as just one of many therapies that the field of graphic medicine investigates.

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What are Comic Book Therapy Sessions like?: Comic book therapy is used in a private or group psychotherapeutic setting. Clients are encouraged to read specific comic books,often surrounding topics similar to their own diagnoses. Here they present thoughts and feelings they experienced while reading as well as to draw parallels with their own lived experiences based on the events that occur within the books. This is done in an effort to reach a cathartic moment of clarity and understanding of one’s own life.

Both comic book/graphic arts therapy can be used throughout a patient’s treatment process: immediately after diagnosis, throughout rehabilitation, and during the events that follow, including readjustment and general coping.

One form of comic book therapy involves the creation of a comic strip, a comic book, or a graphic novel. The process by which a patient, family member, caregiver, or practitioner creates a comic book is complex and involves extensive research. In essence, the process of developing a comic book serves as a therapeutic coping mechanism that goes beyond text-based storytelling. Instead, patients are pushed to think through multiple mediums. The process can frequently, lead to significant cognitive and emotional breakthroughs. These effects are likely due to the sheer versatility of the graphic arts and comic book medium, as they allow for the simultaneous expression of body image, verbal expression, physical action, and emotion.

Therapists often encourage patients to develop characters first, as this first step situates the patient in relation to their environment, past and present. Most often, the characters of comic book therapy novels imitate those within the author’s own life, developing an autobiography of sorts. Occasionally, their experiences are identical to those of reality. Often, an author chooses to reshape the narrative altogether, providing the reader with an augmented reality of some kind. Patients take this opportunity to rewrite their story, making choices they didn’t or couldn’t during their own experiences. The comic book aspect acts as a safe avenue of release, in which a patient can comfortably create a world in which the consequences of actions are limited to panels which they develop.

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How are you feeling today?

Another form of comic book therapy encourages patients, their support systems, and their healthcare providers to read already published graphic novels and comic books. As the field of graphic medicine has grown so too have the collection of comic books and novels used in this approach.

Currently, there are graphic novels and comic books covering a wide range of topics, and many physical and emotional disorders, including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, eating disorders. One popular graphic novel is Depression, Michelangelo and Me by Ellen Forney.

Some therapists using comic book and graphic arts therapy may recommend that patients read certain books critically in the efforts of finding some kind of parallel between their own experiences and those described within the panels. This method of therapy goes beyond just reading a recommended autobiography. The images and graphics within each panel add to the narrative, bridging a gap between words and meaning. The way in which an author chooses to depict their characters, the environment, and the text is all-important.

Today, comic books and graphic novels alike are being implemented in a variety of clinical and educational settings, likely due to its efforts in serving a variety of needs for a diverse target audience.

Comic book therapies can serve multiple purposes, and the field is highly collaborative. Some authors hope to relay information, creating a graphic encyclopedia of sorts. Therapists often collaborate with patients in comic book therapy to develop a closer relationship based on the tenants of empathy and understanding. Patients, more often than not, are encouraged to process difficult emotions and memories in the attempt to process, readjust, and engage in healthier coping strategies. Because of its multiple functions, graphic medicine and comic book therapy have been implemented both therapeutically and educationally in the medical field.

Comic book therapy is currently being applied to a variety of especially for patients and family members experiencing severe illness or death, families undergoing therapy, sexual assault survivors, and soldiers returning from war. One such therapy, originally conceptualized by Captain Russel Shilling, is currently being developed by The United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Within the last ten years, graphic stories, have slowly become a rising pop-culture trend. It owes its success in part to the rise of medical humanities, an interdisciplinary study of medicine and healthcare-related topics. Graphic medicine strives to analyze the same healthcare-related topics using an artistic lens. The genre combines the conventionality of text with the eccentricity of images to present intimate narratives related to healthcare or medical experiences. These narratives are also sometimes referred to as “graphic pathologies”, as they commonly discuss diagnoses of injury, illness, or disease.

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“I’m still feeling great. Cartoon Therapy has really helped me to handle my depression!” “Me too!”

Where to find the right expert in cartoon therapy and graphic medicine to work with: A good place to start is the website of the creator of this system of emotional healing at

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Author: My name is Lewis Harrison. I am a practical philosopher and independent scholar in the area of, self-improvement, personal development, and problem-solving

#Psychology #Self Improvement

To read more about emotional healing please check out this Story —

The Art and Science of Emotional Healing — #2 How Superman Heals Depression through Comic Book Therapy

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