Emotion Regulation - Using the Hulk

Activity Created By :
Abena Benjamin and Tahirih Moffett

PaperPens and Pencils
Markers and/or Crayons

Begin by bringing in a variety of Hulk comics and allow your client to choose one of them to read. If they would like to read more than one comic that is great as well! Once they have read the comic, ask the client to identify what they imagine the Hulk and the other characters in the story are thinking and feeling. In addition, ask the client to describe the ways that the Hulk responded to his thoughts and emotions (e.g. behaviors). Encourage an in depth discussion focused on the significance of the Hulk’s behavior, including the positive (e.g. immediate relief, released anger) and negative consequences (e.g. punishment, interference of goals) that he encountered. If the client is comfortable, allow them to explore the similarities and differences of emotional expression between them and the Hulk.

After discussion about the Hulk comic is done, provide the client with all of the materials listed above. Next, have them create their own Hulk comic reflecting one of the situations in the Hulk comic they read. Ask them to use the ruler to separate the cells that display the different scenes and have them make illustrations and dialogue. This new version will include alternative responses. This means that in their alternative version of the Hulk comic, Hulk will have a different response to the situations. Ask the client to explore other ways of responding to the thoughts, feelings and social challenges that the Hulk faced in that particular situation. In addition, the client may place themselves inside the alternative comic to be a part of the solution. Encourage the client to identify the Hulk’s thoughts and feelings as well as their own (if they included themselves in the story). After they are finished, invite the client to discuss their feelings related to how the characters in the story handled the situation differently.

Target Population:

Ages: 7 - 17 years old

Children and adolescents who are experiencing problems with emotional regulation, harmful patterns of anger expression, and impulsive behavior.

Expected Results and Troubleshooting: According to Steiner and Perry (as cited in Rubin, 2007), “emotional literacy, the ability to identify and express different emotions quickly and accurately, sometimes referred to as emotional intelligence, results from learning to recognize and express emotions adaptively.” This geek activity is designed to support the development of emotional literacy in children and adolescents who are experiencing emotional regulations problems. Emotional literacy is developed by learning how to identify feelings and find effective behaviors that express the feeling. In alignment with this concept, one of the tasks of this geek activity is for the client to articulate what they imagine the Hulk and other characters must be thinking and feeling. Subsequently, the client is asked to identify their own thoughts and feelings in the alternative comic that they create. The process of re-creating their own comic story, enables the client to develop self-efficacy in being able to manage their emotions in an effective way. This process might also show them that they can achieve a goal without acting impulsively and harmfully (e.g. hitting, biting, running away, yelling, threats, etc.). In addition, when the client creates their own comic story, they are essentially creating what is called a “social story.”

In addition, More (2012) asserts “the intent of a social story is to help children understand a social situation, not necessarily tell children how to behave” (p.169). A potential complication of this activity is that the therapist may reinforce the sense of powerlessness that often occurs with clients who have problems regulating intense feelings. Consequently, the therapist’s over-eagerness to help the client develop adaptive skills might inadvertently restrict the client’s imagination in creating new ways of dealing with emotions. Moreover, “Hulk, who thus began as a projection of Bruce’s powerlessness,” used his anger and rage to express himself when he felt overwhelmed (Rubin, 2007, p.89). The therapist wants to make every effort to allow the client space to develop their emotional literacy by reflecting the client’s innate strength, confidence and capacity to effectively manage overwhelming emotions.

Related Works:

More, C.M. (2012). Social stories and young children: Strategies for teachers. Intervention School and Clinic, 47 (3) 167-174.

Rubin, L.C. (2007). The incredible hulk and emotional literacy. Using superheroes in counseling and play therapy . (pp. 89-101). New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.

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.