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    Using Superhero Powers with Clients

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    Is it a bird, is it a plane? No, it’s Superhero Therapy!

    Not to be mistaken for when superheroes happen to go into therapy, Superhero Therapy is a technique which can be used to support people who are in distress. This technique can be used across models, professions and theoretical orientations. Dr Janina Scarlet’s account of Superhero Therapy’s origins can be found here, and this current article is going to examine the practicalities of how Superhero Therapy might work.

    In short, Superhero Therapy involves using a client’s favourite superheroes for support, inspiration, strength and compassion. They do not have to be ‘traditional’ superheroes – other fantasy/sci-fi characters may participate such as Harry Potter, Matilda, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch (or her cat). Many superheroes have flaws and struggles, and they all inevitably get things wrong. They aren’t always sociable, or even likable.

    So what are the practicalities of using the Superhero Therapy technique?

    Firstly, at face value it is a great way to get to know people without having A Very Serious Discussion About Feelings. Finding out what someone’s interests are is an important and human part of any therapeutic process, and at the same time it can provide valuable information in the context of casual conversation. In this case, the focus would be light information-gathering and relationship building. For example in one touching story, Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy was related to by a young boy diagnosed with autism. These characters can be a way of reaching people.

    Secondly, superheroes might be used as a way to externalise a problem. This technique is popular in narrative and social constructionist perspectives of distress. An example could be a person describing their anger as being like The Hulk – unstoppable, the desire to smash. Somebody may feel that they ‘go Gollum’ when the critical voice in their head starts to remind them they are going to fail. Having no boundaries and people-pleasing could be externalised as being like the Genie from Aladdin.

    By giving the problem a name and a character, it is separated from a person’s sense of self. This supports people toe to develop a different and less blaming relationship with distress. To do this, a therapist might spent lots of time fleshing out the character with all five senses. They would keep drawing parallels between the character and the experience of distress.

    Cognitive Analytic Therapy and psychodynamic approaches might use creative techniques to delve into unconscious processes. One might look for what the superhero represents, e.g. being strong or clever or popular – perhaps it is an unmet need? Links may be made between the superhero and actual/idealised caregivers, and whether the superheroes represent people who already exist in the client’s life.

    The superhero could represent the client, or somebody they wish they were. What is that draws the person to the character, what stories about the superhero stand out? (e.g. stories of triumph, or loss, or conflict). Additionally, the person’s relationship to the superhero is important – is it one of admiration, sexual desire, envy?

    Superhero stories might also be used as part of Cognitive Behavioural approaches. Cognitive Behavioural approaches often focus on one’s thinking patterns, and how they can colour one’s life. Examples include ‘all or nothing’ thinking (e.g. ‘you come first or you’ve failed’) and  generalising (‘I ALWAYS get it wrong’). Superheroes could be used to evaluate such patters (e.g. if panic attacks mean you’re not strong, does that mean Iron Man isn’t strong? Would The Doctor be a bad person if he gave up his guilt? Does Storm always forget about her past and ‘move on’?).

    Finally, superheroes can be a resource for ideas and inspiration. How did they get out of some tricky situations? What were the pros and cons, and who helped them? Sometimes in therapy, a client might be asked what their friend would say to them (e.g. “Would your friend call you stupid and useless?”). But some people have few to no positive relationships in their life, and superheroes might be another way to source creative ideas (“What would Lara Croft say about facing your fears?” or “What did Jean-Luc Picard do when he was stuck?”).

    One could also source some personal experiments from superheroes (“Imagine you’re in the Triwizard Tournament and your next challenge is to go to a social gathering…”), or ideas for how to care for themselves (“What would you need to survive the Hunger Games?”), or even some life philosophies (“You’ve already made the choice, now you have to understand it” – The Oracle, The Matrix). A client could read a section of a comic or film script aloud with a therapist, to get a feel of what it’s like to be that superhero. They may create subtle gestures to release their powers as Spiderman releases his web. The possibilities are many.

    However, no superhero is flawless, and neither is Superhero Therapy. Having a fun topic that both therapist and client can share may be useful and validating. However, assuming shared knowledge could be detrimental if the therapist doesn’t remain curious and exploratory. A mere mention of certain characters might bring up certain things for different people – Poison Ivy is one person’s sexual object, but another person’s environmental activist or powerful scientist. As such, and given the excitement and wonder of the superhero world, it’s important that the therapist not get too caught up in the magic and their own memories or interests.

    On the flip side, the therapist may never have heard of the client’s superhero. This may be particularly regarding minority ethnicities, women, and LGBT+ (minority gender and sexuality), whose superheroes may not yet be as mainstream as the likes of Iron Man, John Connor, Flash Gordon, James Bond, Kickass, Hercules, Batman, Thor, Daredevil, Neo, Superman, Marty McFly, Green Lantern, Sherlock Holmes, Dr Who, Spiderman, Dr Manhattan, Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker, and so on.

    Of course, not all superheroes are straight white males, and having the client describe their superhero if the therapist is unfamiliar is actually a great opportunity. The danger would simply be assuming a narrow range of what ‘superhero’ might mean to someone, especially when describing superhero therapy to the client. A therapist should at least be aware of a range of examples of what ‘superhero’ could be, if only to support the client to think about who their heroes are and why (some clients would of course need no prompting!).

    These issues link directly into wider conversations about social justice at large – for example, the representation of certain groups of people such as the ‘crazy’, females, effeminate men, ‘criminals’, and those who are not white. Superhero Therapy is affected by the problems or puzzles that naturally fall into the helping, social domain. By dint of being part of our culture, superheroes reflect the real world in which they are born.

    It’s possible that the application of Superhero Therapy is an invitation for more of us to be superheroes, to be empowered, to find out what it is that we are good at and where we fit. A common theme of superhero stories is that of the civilian population having solidarity and compassion for each other (albeit usually in defiance against an evil tyrant.. is that too far from reality?). Even villains are usually not ‘all bad’ and some of them try to solve social problems, albeit in a morally questionable manner (e.g. Magneto, the aforementioned Poison Ivy).

    In conclusion, the practicalities of the Superhero Therapy technique are diverse and worth pondering. The concept of Superhero Therapy is naturally flexible, but the process still requires the personal touch of understanding the client (and it cannot be assumed that every geeky client will connect with superhero therapy). It combines general everyday interests with deep-set beliefs, hurts and vulnerabilities, and can be a powerful tool. However, as any therapist or support worker should know, with great power comes great responsibility. That responsibility extends right out into societal, social justice. It is up to the practitioner to avoid treating this like a surface-level and superficial task, and to truly explore its potential.

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    Chey is a mental health worker from the north of England. She currently works with adults with learning disabilities. Her interests include gender, sexual and racial equality, human rights, social inclusion, older citizens, mental health and wellbeing, poverty and disability rights. She has participated in a range of charity and/or fundraising projects over the years, and looks forward to your ideas for the next one!

    Culture

    What “Bachelor in Paradise” Can Teach us About Empowering the Disability Community

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    Are you a fan of “Bachelor in Paradise?” Whether you realize it or not, this season of the “Bachelor” franchise spinoff took on the topic of disability empowerment. Which is not exactly an expected topic for mainstream television. For years, the “Bachelor” series has been criticized for featuring primarily White contestants, and has worked to diversify the races and ethnicities of the people they draw on the show. But what about people from the disability community or people who identify as Deaf or hard-of-hearing?

    Being disabled or Deaf or hard of hearing are also social identities in American culture – identities that should not be overlooked in the show’s representation. These communities represent what some refer to as the largest minority community in the United States at 26 percent of the U.S. population according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the following, we’ll discuss more about why this year’s “Bachelor in Paradise” was so significant and what that may mean for social workers.

    Introducing Abigail

    A few years ago, we did have Sarah Herron on the show, a woman with a physical disability, although her presence was short-lived. But this season, the very first person down the stairs to the Mexican beachfront hacienda was Abigail Heringer, a 26 year-old woman who identifies as Deaf due to congenital hearing loss from birth. She received cochlear implants at the age of two but does consider herself disabled due to her hearing impairment and loss. Abigail was a central figure in this summer’s Bachelor in Paradise due to her romance with Noah Erb.

    It was refreshing to see a disabled person in a romantic relationship given the history our culture has of thinking that disabled folks are asexual, incapable of having sex or in need of being protected from any kind of sexual contact. Abigail and Noah’s relationship has played out on television screens across Bachelor Nation – from their devastating breakup at the show’s conclusion to their rekindled romance announced subtly on social media later. This demonstrates that members of the disability community have relationships too, and that this is 100% normative behavior, with breakups, glitches, awkwardness, kissing and all!

    The Dignity of Risk

    So how does this relate to social work practice? One of the central tenets of good disability social work is how we need to honor the concept of the dignity of risk. This is the idea that everyone can learn from everyday risks. Central to honoring the dignity of risk is respecting an individual’s autonomy and self-determination to make choices. Also important, is the right for our clients to make choices even if social workers or other professionals in the person’s life feel that they could endanger the decision-maker in question. In order to respect a person’s dignity of risk, one should provide intermittent support even if others do not approve of the choice.

    As there is inherent dignity in the experience of everyday risk, this concept suggests that limiting a disabled person’s ability to make even a risky choice, or limiting their access to the learning that comes along with a potentially emotionally painful risk, such as dating, does not foster overall wellness in the long run. Abigail, from this year’s “Bachelor in Paradise” is a wonderful example of the kind of empowerment needed, rather than sheltering one from risks in life.

    Robert Perske famously wrote:

    “Overprotection may appear on the surface to be kind, but it can be really evil. An oversupply can smother people emotionally, squeeze the life out of their hopes and expectations, and strip them of their dignity. Overprotection can keep people from becoming all they could become…”

    Arguably, the dignity of risk may be among the most challenging tenets for social workers to embrace in their practice, but it is vital to accept given its intersection with self-determination. The dignity of risk also involves learning about the part of life that involves sexual and romantic relationships. Social workers need to remember to talk to their clients about sexuality in a developmentally appropriate manner. It is important not to cut off conversations about this topic, or to skirt the subject when it comes up. We must also support our clients in exploring how to engage in healthy relationships when they have the opportunities to be in them.

    It’s wonderful that Abigail Heringer can be a model in reminding us of this important lesson for empowerment-oriented disability social work. One that embraces the dignity of risk for those who wish to date! With that being said, here’s to Noah and Abigail’s relationship!

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    Employment

    Participant Launches Partnership Campaign to Support Domestic Workers Amid Covid-19 Crisis

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    Image owned by the National Domestic Workers Alliance

    Participant, the leading media company dedicated to entertainment that inspires audiences to engage in positive social change, launched the Care For The People Who Care For You campaign in partnership with the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) to galvanize support for domestic workers amid the novel coronavirus crisis. The digital initiative centers around a video, produced by Participant’s digital content studio, SoulPancake, to highlight the impact the COVID-19 crisis has had on domestic workers, of whom 7 out of 10 have lost 100% of their income because of the crisis, and seeks to educate employers on how to best support them.

    The video depicts the acute challenges that the pandemic has placed on domestic workers, who typically do not receive benefits like sick leave and thus far have been excluded from much of the government assistance packages. Told from the perspective of a domestic worker navigating health and financial concerns, the goal of the video is to educate and encourage employers to support those employees who care for them every day.

    Over the course of the Care For The People Who Care For You campaign, Participant will direct employers to the NDWA’s Employer Resource Hub, which outlines a range of steps one can take to offer both emotional and financial support, from calling and checking in to paying for cancelled services. Additionally, viewers can donate to NDWA’s Coronavirus Care Fund, a fund that will offer immediate emergency assistance for domestic workers facing hardship as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Proceeds from the fund will be administered through ALIA, NDWA’s online benefits platform which allows employers to offer domestic workers a range of benefits they otherwise would not have access to, such as paid time off and sick leave.

    “We’re delighted to partner once again with Participant to bring attention to domestic workers in this time of crisis,” said Ai-jen Poo, executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. “Nannies, house cleaners, and home care workers across the country are facing tremendous challenges during this pandemic, from risking their health while working jobs on the frontline to losing income they need to support their own families. We urge employers to show care for those who have cared for them and their families.” 

    “During this uncertain time, it is critical to highlight the needs of and support the communities who are most impacted,” said David Linde, CEO of Participant. “We’re proud to continue our partnership with Ai-jen Poo and the entire team at the National Domestic Workers Alliance to bring awareness and for those who care for us and our families.”

    The new initiative is a continuation of Participant’s Roma social impact campaign, which launched alongside the Academy Award®-winning film ROMA,  to increase the visibility and value of domestic workers in popular culture and accelerate solutions to support their economic security. The new video is a reimagination of the initial spot SoulPancake created for NDWA, which promoted their online platform, ALIA, as a solution for providing domestic workers with benefits. The video, which received over 1.7 million views, generated a 98 percent increase in page views and a 905 percent increase in users on myalia.org.

    For more information on how to support this campaign, please visit here to learn more.

    About Participant

    Founded by Chairman Jeff Skoll and under the leadership of CEO David Linde, Participant combines the power of a good story well told with real world impact and awareness around today’s most vital issues. Through its worldwide network of traditional and digital distribution, aligned with partnerships with key non-profit and NGO organizations, Participant speaks directly to the rise of today’s “conscious consumer,” representing well over 2 billion consumers compelled to make meaningful content a priority focus.

    As an industry content leader, Participant annually produces up to six narrative feature films, five documentary films, three episodic television series, and more than 30 hours of digital short form programming, through its digital subsidiary SoulPancake. Participant’s more than 100 films have collectively earned 74 Academy Award® nominations and 19 wins, including Best Picture for Spotlight and Green Book and Best Foreign Language Film for Roma and A Fantastic Woman. Participant’s digital division, SoulPancake, is an award-winning provider of thought-provoking, joyful, and uplifting content that reaches an audience of more than 9 million fans.

    About National Domestic Workers Alliance

    National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) is the leading voice for dignity and fairness for millions of domestic workers in the United States. Founded in 2007, NDWA works for respect, recognition and inclusion in labor protections for domestic workers, the majority of whom are immigrants and women of color. NDWA is powered by 70 local affiliate organizations and chapters and by a growing membership of nannies, house cleaners and care workers across the nation. NDWA is home to Alia, an online platform to help domestic workers access benefits, and in 2019, launched a campaign to pass the National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, federal legislation sponsored by Senator Kamala Harris and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal.

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    Entertainment

    New Release – ReMoved 3: Love is Never Wasted

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    Photo provided by Remove3: Love is Never Wasted.

    Kevi’s story, though fictional, allowed me to paint for you a visual picture of how much it hurts to have a mother leave you all alone. It invites you to yearn with him—to share his longing to capture a woman that you know you probably never will. It shows how wildly untameably beautiful such an enigma is to her son, with her hair dancing in the wind and the scent of her teasing in and out of his existence.

    Mostly, it helps you understand that there’s more to the story than just her. For kids like me, who were raised by many parents, it’s not just about our bio moms, you see. Sometimes, it isn’t even mostly about that mom. It’s also about this foster mamma who feels warm and soft and safe. It’s about how you never want to live without those feelings or her arms around you again.  

    Maybe it’s about that foster daddy that you just aren’t sure about. He might hurt you like all the other daddies you’ve ever known. But, maybe he won’t…

    Through the Author’s Pen & Own Experience of Foster Care

    My mother’s purse was her survival kit. She never forgot it.

    She often forgot us. But she never forgot it.  

    Inside that purse, she carried an envelope. The envelope held all the things one would normally file away in the safety of their home. Instead, she carried those things—the few markers of our meager existence—in a manila in her handbag.

    I suppose this was the only way for her to hold onto anything in a life where change usually happened in a moment’s notice. It wasn’t uncommon for us to ditch all of our possessions when the police discovered us living in a condemned or abandoned building. Also, as a battered woman, Mamma always had to be prepared to run on the days it seemed Daddy might actually kill her.

    The purse and the envelope may have been an insignificant thing to anyone else, but for a kid like me, it proved that everything outside of it could be taken in an instant. It signified my mother, how she’d come to be, and the struggles of her life.

    That’s why I made the biological mother’s purse a significant part of the story in ReMoved 3. As I wrote “Love Is Never Wasted,” I tried to infuse it with those things that would make it feel real to others who had walked a similar journey. I sought to put in specific feelings and moments that kids in foster care would really connect to.

    As a foster kid, you often find yourself torn between families because each one holds a piece of what you need. You long to understand your biological parents and to know what it was like when you were budding in your mother’s womb. You have to know because, on some level, your body still remembers. The body can’t forget the place it was first fed.

    Let’s not overlook, though, that you need more than roots to grow. Our bodies instinctually know this as well. We must also feel that we are safe, that nourishment is always available, and that the sun can shine most every day.

    Photo provided by Remove3: Love is Never Waste

    Ideally, our kiddos would get all these needs met from the same person. Sadly, that is not always the case. For the 400,000 plus kids in the U.S. foster care system a solitary caretaker will not be found to meet all their needs. Our best hope for these kids is that love can be absorbed from multiple sources. We hope that, collectively, they get enough of what they need from the world around them to grow healthy and strong.

    Like Kevi’s story, my own life was changed by having multiple temporary parent figures. Though not ideal, this piecemeal parenting experience is what taught me how to love.

    There were the moments that my birth mom snuggled me in bed. In the submission of sleep, she would occasionally relax and offer some warmth. These memories of cuddling my mom inspired the scenes of Kevi snuggling his birth mom in the film. Even the direst situations usually have some moments of bonding.

    When my mother didn’t have any affection to give, my big brother stood in the gap. He frequently acted as a caretaker, comforting me, protecting me, and feeding me on the days everyone else forgot to. Because of my big brother, when my new little brother entered the world and cried out for protection, I knew how to answer that call.

    Unfortunately, I could only answer it slightly better than our mom did.  You see, I was only six. Then seven. By eight, I felt like I was dying. My enchantment with my mother began to wither, along with my body and soul. I called out to the universe for something to take me from the daily pain that she and my father put me in.

    Foster care was the answer I received.

    Sadly, foster care brought more pain. It’s difficult to describe the feelings that come from being ripped from one’s life source, especially when that life source is also robbing you of life. Regardless of her failures, though, she was still the first person who had held me. Now, I found myself miles from her familiarity. I frequently asked myself if anyone could love me in this strange new place, where nobody looked or acted like me and Mamma.

    Some of them couldn’t love me, it seems.

    Yet, some of them could and did. Some of them even did without any expectation of return. Most of them who loved me were only able to hold me for a moment in time. No matter how fleeting my time with them was or how heartbroken I was upon leaving, these people became the beautiful springtime of my memory. From each moment I got with them, I would continue to flourish and grow; although, I wouldn’t necessarily see that at the time.

    Thousands of uncertain days would pass under the gloomy cloud that we call foster care. Though I acted it out differently than our character Kevi, I was a mess during most of those days.

    But a new day would eventually come!

    I would grow up. Slowly, I would discover that my life had been changing. As an adult, I would finally find that it was all my own. With my newfound sense of freedom and control, I would choose to become the wife to a husband who loved me selflessly.

    Of all the guys I could have chosen, including the kind who may have felt more familiar, how did I know to settle on one like him? The faces of several good foster fathers smiled distantly behind the man I had chosen to spend my life with.

    After years of being loved in a way I’d never felt loved before (by my husband Doug), I would become a mother. Despite the years of worry that I’d be a parent like him or her, I found that I was actually more like her and her and him. Tortured childhood and all, I was brimming with love to give, thanks to those who had poured love into me.

    This forced me to ask an important question: How could a girl, who had been miserably failed by the people who gave her life, find herself building a completely different world than the one she grew up in?

    The answer was clear. I had gotten to this place because an alternate reality had blown into my childhood. It had changed me. Its name was foster care. For me, foster care wound up carrying the faces of seven different homes over seven years. When I was 15, its name became adoption.

    Ironically, this system of child protection that had starved me is also the very thing that helped me thrive. Foster care brought so much internal destitution, but it also brought moments of witnessing healthy, selfless, loving, human interactions.

    I hope “Love is Never Wasted” reveals that even small moments with a child can show him he has a choice in how he lives his life. Because of my time in care, I now knew that there was not just one possible way to be. Throughout my foster care experiences, I had, here and there, tasted the essence of something sweeter and more fulfilling than my past life. I became hungry for more of it.

    I now exist as living proof (hidden behind my stories) that love always offers nourishment and that a little bit of it can go a very long way.

    A lot of it can make miracles.

    A little bit of love carried me out of my tortured childhood. A lot of it led me to the place I am today and a little boy named Kevi.

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