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What to Do If Trauma Memories Are Destabilizing a Client

By Janina Scarlet, PhD

When a client is triggered or overwhelmed, they might have a difficult time naming their experience and remaining present in the moment. The client might be feeling unsafe, alone, as well as ashamed of their own reactions to trauma. Incorporating fictional examples into therapy can help the client to feel less alone in their experience, as well as less triggered when discussing their traumatic event. Some possible ways of incorporating fictional characters into therapy might be to ask, “Are there any superheroes or other fictional characters who might have had the same experiences you did?” Some clients might know of some fictional characters with similar types of traumatic events, while others might be able to do some research on the topic.  

Fictional characters with similar traumatic origin stories to the client can be used to build empathy and understanding toward the client’s own experience, as well as to reduce the feelings of shame and stigma when it comes to their trauma reactions. In some instances, the fictional character can even serve as a heroic role model for the client to help them cope with challenging situations. For example, the client can be instructed to consider what this fictional character might say to them in a given situation if the two were to meet in real life. By creating a positive role model for the client’s painful experience, the client might be more willing to engage in therapy-related exercises, such as exposures/committed actions.?  

Book Titles: Dark Agents, Book One

Janina Scarlet, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist, an award-winning author, and a full-time geek. A Ukrainian-born refugee, she survived Chernobyl radiation and persecution. Scarlet immigrated to the United States at the age of twelve with her family, and later, inspired by the X-Men, developed Superhero Therapy to help patients with anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She has been awarded the United Nations Association Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award for her book, Superhero Therapy. Her other books include Harry Potter Therapy, Therapy Quest, and Super-Women.

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