Superman (Clark Kent)

“I think for this young man there are parallels of being a part of two worlds. The core of the therapy would be about helping him integrate both the nature (where he’s originally from) and the nurture (how his adoptive parents raised him). The part that he feels he’s learned and the part that he feels more in his core—which is his generational heritage. These issues are only complicated by this push-pull between an adoptive family versus a biological family. One of the ways someone can work through this is by trying on different identities for size, which could result in a real amplification of those attributes or traits. Almost like a kid playing with masks.”

Batman (Bruce Wayne)

“He’d be an unlikely dude to stumble into therapy–it sounds like you’re describing someone who’s not experiencing much remorse or universal attributes likes compassion, so we’d likely maybe not see him inside the walls of my office. But, should he come through my door, it sounds like he, very early on, learned to associate his own fears with danger. He seems like he then gets his rocks off later in life inducing fear in other people and putting people in that state, almost to do away with any sort of processing or realization about his own needs. He just turns into a predator and puts fears in others – which is very retaliatory. I also think it’s a coping mechanism to no longer really be in touch with the vulnerability of his own fears.”

Catwoman (Selina Kyle)

“It sounds like she is beginning to question the morality of her actions, but what I think she’s not as aware of, possibly, is relationally how it has isolated her from others, and that her own loss is having to constantly be on the run. She’s been talking the talk like it’s exclusively a moral dilemma, when I think now she’s beginning to recognize a relational one, too.
To plant roots, create a community and forge relationships, she’d likely have to give this lifestyle up, so I’d work with her on looking at the intersection of those two parts of herself. She sounds like she might try to keep me in this “What’s morally just?” conversation as a means of distracting me (and her) from looking at how this attitude has affected her relationships. I could see myself feeling that tension, and encouraging her to see it the other way.”

Spider-Man (Peter Parker)

Spider-Man (Peter Parker)
“What I’m hearing from him is that the primary conflict here—in all aspects of his life—is the dilemma between passivity and action, a fear of his own action, but also guilt around his inaction.
I think therapy with him would really focus on getting a sense what he makes of this dynamic. Also, we’d revisit and work through that trauma with his uncle. It sounds like he’s avoided doing that, and only come up with the narrative that he’s at fault for allowing this criminal to escape. So we’d try to contextualize that more for him so he can forgive parts of himself that didn’t choose to intervene, but then also motivate engagement in other parts of his life where it makes more sense.”

The Hulk (Bruce Banner)

“I’d be wondering about a differential between severe anxiety and any possibility of a paranoid thinking process—which can look similar. I’d be really curious about his description of this persecution, manipulation, and his sense of being taken advantage of. Is he reading reality accurately, or, is he lending a paranoid lens to a personal exchange? Differentiating between anxiety and psychosis would guide the treatment approach. It sounds like, on the anxiety side, it would be more of an agoraphobic presentation if he’s isolated to the point of staying in his home for fear of coming outside into the functioning world. A lot of the time in therapy you’re going to feel the dynamic with the person that happens outside in the world, so I would be vigilante, yet aware, that he may need to express his rage with me, to the point where questions, comments and validations of any kind in the context of therapy could ultimately be stressful for him. So, I’d be taking it very slow.”

Iron Man (Tony Stark)

“In exposure to this type of trauma, he may have developed a deeper, existential dilemma questioning his own mortality, which may have initiated some of the looking back and the questioning of how he’s living his life. And then he’s in a pickle with his dad, since one of the ways that personality development unfolds is through identifying with—or dis-identifying with—part of our parents’ traits. On the one hand, his dad seems to have the possibility for some great attributes to emulate: brilliance, the kind of guy with a lot of agency, and confidence. Then there’s the underbelly of his dad’s traits: the manipulation, the unavailability, etc. So we’d be talking about his struggle to identify parts of his dad that feel good and he doesn’t want to get rid of, and those which he should minimize or mitigate repeating or emulating.”
It also sounds like he has difficulties establishing intimate relationships, fearing that he would be making himself vulnerable. In some ways, the recklessness and carelessness almost assures that he keeps people at a distance.”

Wolverine (Logan)

"So his gifts have a lot of baggage, as if the gifts are set up to be guilt-ridden. I don’t know what control he has over the gifts, but it sounds like that’s probably a huge question of his – whether it’s his desire to utilize them or not. I’d have several questions for him. Does he have any say over how much of his life he wants to spend utilizing the gifts? Does he feel a sense of loss when he uses them? Does he feel like he can never really trust anyone because he’s a means to an end to people. It sounds like he doesn’t have too much practice formulating what his own needs are in his own relationships. I’d try to get him to consider who the people in his life are who can meet his needs."

Rogue (Marie)

"You hear a lot of her focus and her conjecturing about other people’s hurt, whether that’s emotional hurt or sometimes it sounds like there have been physical actions or accounts that are hurtful, but I think with her I would be very curious about her own hurts and pains. Intimacy is a two-way street, and she probably has all of the stuff that comes up internally for her when she gets close to someone, and it seems like there’s such a focus in a magical thinking kind of way that her closeness does things to other people. I think I’d want to support her own exploring of what comes up for her when she gets close and what her experiences are of making herself vulnerable. I’d try to help her focus the shift onto herself."

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What Happens When a Clinical Psychologist Diagnoses Your Favorite Superheroes

A clinical psychologist consults on some prickly personalities—those of well-known superheroes. The results are nearly as revealing as X-ray vision.

Superman may be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but he still has difficulty reconciling nature versus nurture—or at least, that’s what his shrink says.

While the just-released Man of Steel does not feature a scene with the superhero sometimes known as Kal-El seeking professional help, Clark Kent did receive a diagnosis recently. Entertainment website The Credits recently approached clinical psychologist Dr. Natalie Petyk for a survey of superheroes. Although she was unfamiliar with the comic book universe, Dr. Petyk was able to parse through the blind profiles that comprise some popular superhero origin stories and offer diagnoses and some suggestions regarding treatment.

Patient Name: P.P.

The Credits editor Bryan Abrams offered up descriptions of these heroes’ backstories, broadly written in such a way that some casual fans might not even recognize them. Below, for instance, is Clark Kent’s profile:

"Raised by loving parents, discovers in adolescence that he was adopted through a traumatic experience that showcases his ‘otherness.’ Both his biological parents (who are not American) are dead. Feelings of alienation increase as he discovers special abilities he has are related to his biological parents and their birthplace, the latter of which is no longer a viable travel destination. He wants to know who he is—the person he was raised to be, or the person he feels he was born to be. Despite an array of specialized skills, he actually chooses to go into journalism."

Though Dr. Petyk admitted that she could not pretend to be able to diagnose a patient who has not been in her physical presence for an evaluation, her insights add a clinical layer to what we’ve seen on the screen. Perhaps Superman’s biggest weakness isn’t kryptonite, but himself.

Look through the slides above for the doctor’s assessments.

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  • Octavius Strange

    The Doctor comes across as an insecure teenager who desperately needs the approval of others and is eager to impress.