Using Superheroes and Villains in Counseling and Play Therapy


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A Guide for Mental Health Professionals

Through rich and research-grounded clinical applications, Using Superheroes and Villains in Counseling and Play Therapy explores creative techniques for integrating superhero stories and metaphors in clinical work with children, adolescents, adults and families. Each chapter draws on the latest empirically supported approaches and techniques to address a wide range of clinical challenges in individual, family and group settings. The chapters also explore important contextual issues of race, gender, culture, age and ethnicity and provide case studies and practical tips that clinicians can use to support clients on their healing journey.


  • About the Editor
  • About the Contributors
  • Foreword: Superheroes Matter, Villains Too – Josué Cardona
  • Introduction: Superheroes, Past, Present and Future – Lawrence C. Rubin
  • Part I Superheroes, Super Theories
  • 1. Flourishing After the Origin Story: Using Positive Psychology to Explore Well-being in Superheroes and Supervillains – Sophia Ansari and Christina M. Scott
  • 2. Alter Egos and Hidden Strengths: The Powers of Superheroes in Child-Centered Play Therapy – LaTrice L. Dowtin
  • 3. Control, Corruption, and Destruction, Oh My! The Role of Villains in Experiential Play Therapy® – Justin D. Kruse and Joyce Arendt
  • 4. The Healing Power of Superhero Stories: Bibliotherapy and Comic Books – Yoav Cohen-Manor
  • Part II Using Heroes and Superheroes to Treat Specific Disorders
  • 5. I Like Them Because They Are Fast and Strong: The Use of Superheroes in Play Therapy with a Latency-Age Boy with Developmental Coordination Disorder – Aimee Loth Rozum
  • 6. Using Spidey Senses During the Storm of Anxiety – Janina Scarlet
  • 7. Superhero or Villain? Merging Play Therapy with CBT for Children with Autism – Roz Casey
  • 8. Superheroes and Villains in the Treatment of Substance Use Disorder – Michael Smith and Carol Kirby
  • Part III Strength in Numbers: Superhero Teams
  • 9. I Can Be a Super Friend! Using Scripted Story to Promote Social Emotional Skills for Young Children with Problem Behaviors – Judith Lester
  • 10. Stronger Together: The Family as a Super Hero Team – Steve Kuniak
  • 11. El Diablo: What His Role in the Suicide Squad Teaches Children about Emotion Regulation and the Power of Connection – Rachel Hutnick
  • 12. Using the Avengers to Influence the Self-Actualization Process for Children – Brenna Hicks
  • Part IV Villains Rise to the Challenge of Helping
  • 13. No Joking Matter—Villains are People, Too: Working with the School Bully – Meredith Nealy Starling
  • 14. Brain Food: Integrating IPNB & Zombies with Diverse Populations – Robyn Joy Park
  • 15. How Secrets Influenced Relationships for Harry Potter Heroes and Villains: Parallels in Contextual Family Therapy – Sarah D. Stauffer and April D. Pachuta
  • Part V Superheroes at the Intersection
  • 16. Female Superheroes: Raising a New Generation of Girls and Boys – Lara Taylor Kester
  • 17. Beyond Canon: Therapeutic Fanfiction and the Queer Hero’s Journey – Larisa A. Garski and Justine Mastin
  • 18. The Black Panther Lives: Marveling at the Internal Working Models of Self in Young Black Children Through Play – LaTrice L. Dowtin and Mawule A. Sevon
  • 19. Un-Masking the Alter Ego: Fear and Freedom in the Affirmation of the Inner Hero – Kory Martin
  • Afterword
  • Lawrence C. Rubin
  • Index

Author Bio:

Lawrence C. Rubin, PhD, ABPP, LMHC, RPT-S, is a Professor of Counselor Education at St. Thomas University, where he directs the Mental Health Counseling Program, and an Adjunct Professor of Counselor Education at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He maintains a private practice as a psychologist, counselor, and play therapist, specializing in children, teens and families, and is widely published on the subjects of counseling and popular culture.


“Using Superheroes and Villains in Counseling and Play Therapy will be a welcome addition to any child or family therapist’s professional bookshelf. Editor Larry Rubin and his expert coauthors provide a how-to for applying a broad range of today’s colorful and complex characters to the demands of our increasingly diverse clinical caseloads. Just as importantly, the chapters explain how to integrate superhero mythology with contemporary, evidence-based, gold-standard psychotherapeutic approaches like CBT, behavioral treatment, and positive psychology.”—Alan M. “Woody” Schwitzer, PhD, licensed psychologist and professor of counseling at Old Dominion University.

“Dr. Rubin has provided us with a marvelous compendium of timely, diverse, and powerful therapeutic interventions. Using Superheroes and Villains in Counseling and Play Therapy is an essential resource for mental health professionals working with young—as well as not so young—clients for whom superheroes and villains are an integral part of their personal mythology. As clinicians it is imperative that we genuinely understand the personal mythology that our clients present to us via their play, their words, and their actions, as that is what opens the window into their world and allows us to join them on their journey. What an amazing gift to us all!”—Loretta Gallo-Lopez, LMHC, RPT-S, RDT-BCT, clinical director of Focus Academy and clinician in private practice. 

“Once again, Larry Rubin has put together a powerful group of authors that provide a fresh and enthusiastic therapeutic approach coupled with relevant case studies that offer effective techniques for use of a medium that is relatable to all humans, especially young people. Using Superheroes and Villains in Counseling and Play Therapy is a valuable therapeutic tool that no practitioner working with young people should be without!”—Kevin B. Hull, PhD, core faculty member in counsellor education at Liberty University and clinician in private practice.