In superhero play, the initial stage is characterized by understanding the stereotypical presentation of superheros to include identifying powers and super human capabilities. For very young children, superhero play occurs spontaneously when the proper items are available in the playroom (see last weeks newsletter).
The therapists role is to reflect in a non-directive manner (e.g. “When you put on that cape, you get special powers!” or “That mask helps you be invisible.”). For middle age children, the play therapist may consider a semi-structured approach and inquire about the superheros powers, how they work, how they help, what the hero does with them, etc.
This stage requires very little understanding of character development and allows the child to adapt the hero to their specific therapeutic needs.
Fleshing out the Superhero
This latter stage is characterized by recognizing all parts of the hero and is generally more appropriate for older children or children as it requires the child to process concretely and logically.
A major component of this stage is understanding the whole of the hero. While the hero is powerful, he/she also suffers from temptation, fears, and weaknesses just like regular humans.
In Gestalt terms, the whole of the hero is larger than the sum of his or her individual parts. By understanding the hero’s backstory, the narrative of overcoming adversity becomes apparent and may serve as a role model.
Embodying the Hero Within
Ideally, the ultimate goal is for the client to connect to the parts of themselves that are healthy, empowered, and responsible. When the client is able to connect to and embody these parts, they are better able to advocate for themselves in their system.
To increase an embodied sense of the hero, invite the child to stand and act like the hero, playing with postures of strength and compassion/goodwill for others.
Older children may also explore the hero’s belief system, contrasting them to their own and act “as-if” they held the same beliefs as the hero.