Groups/ Individuals above the age of 8 (task requires fine motor skills)
Task is applicable to anyone who is processing some sort of fear
May be particularly effective with clients suffering from PTSD
• White paper
• Oil pastels
• Orange wood sticks
• Introduction to activity: Each of us have our greatest fears. For superheroes, villains represent these greatest fears. If you were a superhero, who would be your villain?
• Use oil pastels and color the entire surface with a rainbow of colors. On top, then use a black oil pastel to cover the entire surface. Once this is completed, use the orangewood stick to draw your own villain.
o The black represents the fear and fear of the unknown. As the client draws their villain, they are allowed to have their fears come to light and confront them.
• Allow about 30 minutes for each individual to create his/her mask, leaving about 30 minutes for processing.
Potential process questions:
o Who is your villain?
What is his/her name?
Does he/she have any special powers?
o What scares you most about the villain?
Does this villain target any of your weaknesses as a superhero?
o What obstacles does this villain continuously present you with?
How would you, as a superhero, address these obstacles?
o How does this relate to your own life?
What might your own weaknesses be?
How have you typically addressed obstacles confronted by your greatest fears?
*Note: Intro and rationale for the activity-dependent on developmental level.
Expected Results and Troubleshooting:
One expected troubleshooting issue might involve clients feeling that they are not artistic enough to draw their own villain. The clinician would then discuss how the objective of the project is for the client to express him/herself and not necessarily to create a masterpiece. The clinician might also provide additional means to create this task. Secondly, if conducted in a group, a client might also worry about sharing their greatest fears. Clients should be reminded that the therapeutic environment is a “safe space,” and all clients involved should be reminded to be respectful to what others share. Thirdly, a client might make their villain cartoon-like or friendly, as it might be easier to deal with these fears. This might warrant additional processing about defenses or potentially being unable to confront this evil. Some might also be unaware of their own fears, feeling unable to create a villain; thus, processing may require the unfolding of what their greatest fears are. Finally, a client might become overwhelmed by confronting their greatest fears, so it is pertinent that the clinician discusses ways in which he/she might be able to conquer or cope with these fears.
Using narrative therapy techniques such as externalizing the problem allows clients to separate the problem from themselves and create a new narrative about the problem. Creating a mask of a supervillain allows the client to name the problem and to externalize the emotional process. In narrative therapy the problem is separate from the person and the process of externalizing helps the client to change the way they think about their fears (Gallant, 2013).
The use of story development can be useful for working with children as their developmental level may not be appropriate for traditional talk therapy (Pehrsonn, 2006). This technique is particularly relevant when discussing things that are difficult for the client to talk about such as emotions, like fear. Creating a physical representation allows the client to externalize the problem in a visual way and put it in a context that is easy to work with.
In particular, this activity may be beneficial with individuals who are diagnosed with PTSD. Chapman et al (2001) suggests that utilizing specific art therapy techniques with clients diagnosed with PTSD allow them to externalize these acts but also to “facilitate the integration of the experience into one’s larger autobiographical narrative” (p. 101-102). It is believed by this externalization and reintegration, clients might be less likely to engage in less effective coping skills (e.g. dissociation) that cause the client to avoid or fail to integrate these experiences.
Chapman, L., Morabito, D., Ladakakos, C., Schreier, H., & Knudson, M. M. (2001). The effectiveness of art therapy interventions in reducing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms in pediatric trauma patients. Art Therapy, 18(2), 100-104. doi:10.1080/07421656.2001.10129750
Gallant, P. (2013). ‘No Worry Allowed. Get Out!’ A Case Study Tribute to the Life and Work of Michael White.Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal, 35(1), 29-40. doi:10.1007/s10591-012-9225-3
Pehrsson, D. (2006). Co-story-ing: Collaborative Story Writing with Children Who Fear. Journal Of Creativity In Mental Health, 2(1), 85-91. doi:10.1300/J456v02n01_08
Originally posted on the Geek Therapy Wiki, hosted on the now-defunct Wikispaces platform, as part of Dr. Patrick O’Connor’s course Geek Culture in Therapy.