Even at a young age, Dr. Janina Scarlet faced adversity. She was born in the Ukraine and was exposed to radiation caused by a nuclear accident at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. This catastrophic event is often described as the most disastrous power plant accidents in history. Life would change in unimaginable ways for Janina and her family, and at the tender age of three, it was impossible for her to understand how this would affect her quality of life. She suffered severe health problems and spend a great amount of time in the hospital dealing with unstoppable nosebleeds, migraines, and seizures. But, she developed “inner-power and strength” from an unlikely source…comic books. She was fascinated by stories of superheroes overcoming huge odds with their superhuman strength and courage and dreamed of changing their world someday. She wished she could go on amazing adventures just like the ones she read about during her recovery in the hospital.
And years later, she would go on an “amazing adventure” to the United States. Her country was enduring persecution and her family left as refugees while she was in middle school. She could not speak English and faced difficulty communicating with her new classmates. She began to be bullied and made fun of. And at the age of 12, many kids didn’t understand what radiation was and used it as ammunition to insult Janina. She remained strong and remembered those stories she read in comic books. When she was 15, she watched the very first X-Men movie and thought, “being a mutant is not a bad thing.” This changed her ideas on her condition and helped her develop her resolve and created a little pathway to her future career in therapy. She loved the idea that the X-Men were able to change their mutations to super powers and use them to do good in the world and help others. Overcoming this hurdle helped Janina see herself as a “survivor rather than a victim” in her life. Comic books helped heal her in the process of adolescence and she saw the importance it could place in other lives also.
She carried this with her through her schooling and began working with marines who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She started to notice that many of the marines loved stories and had trouble coping with their PTSD by thinking they had become “failures” because of their condition. She used her own experience as a superpower and asked, “Does Superman have any vulnerabilities?” And many of the marines mentioned kryptonite, she followed up with, “does that make him less of a superhero?” Of course not. These talks prove how awesome Dr. Scarlet is, she takes her own experiences and trials and turns them into healing points.
But, she didn’t stop at using Superman to help her with her sessions, she looked at other aspects of nerd culture. She brought up Harry Potter, Dr. Who, and the Star Wars universe as her prescribed medicine to the people who came in through her office each day. Something beautiful was happening, people were connecting with these stories and superheroes and seeing themselves in them. Healing, of course, was a result of this. Janina sees nerd culture as a way to heal also, a way to escape when we are “looking for a connection…stereotypically people are ostracized for having emotions…being different. We might have trouble connecting to other people, but when we see a fictional character struggling with the same thing we are, we build a connection. And we meet others in that fandom who identify with the same characters..that’s connecting.”
Each superhero does their own research about their adversary, and Dr. Scarlet is no different. She received a doctorate in behavioral neuroscience and received additional training in clinical psychology so she could understand “the biology of the brain and how it works and the clinical side, why does it make us do what we do, so now I can see both sides.” She believes this is key in her success. This success has given her more opportunities to work with others besides marines. She has helped veterans, civilians, teenagers, and has started training others in her methods. This is exciting because others are learning of her Superhero Therapy and incorporating these techniques into their own strategies.
Dr. Scarlet is an awesome role model for anyone, she is adamant in always believing, “we are not alone…your feelings are acceptable. It’s ok to feel anxious, it’s ok to feel depressed, it’s ok to feel traumatized by something. The best thing to do is blog about our experiences, to be open about our experiences, to talk to others because chances are that if you are going through something, there are a million other people across the world going through the exact same thing and hearing your story might make a difference between life and death for that person. It can be the difference between that person feeling misunderstood, disregarded, as opposed to feeling accepted.” This belief was a strong aspect in her new book, Superhero Therapy(set for a U.S. release on August 1, 2017.) On her inspiration on the book, “I wanted a self-help book specifically for the geek population. I found that people in my field often feel misunderstood…feel embarrassed about cosplay, going to conventions, Harry Potter(The wizard series holds a special place in the doctor’s heart). I wanted to put it out there that it is ok to feel that way, it makes you stronger. It is a self-help book for geeks by geeks. Being a geek is good…it’s what makes you special.”
Dr. Janina Scarlet is a real life superhero. She faced trials and tribulations at a very young age, mental and physical…and she used those experiences to grow strong her use her powers to do good. She continues her Superhero Therapy today and can be seen at conventions all over the U.S. To learn more about her, please visit her site. Besides, she is probably the only doctor’s office you will leave with a prescription that says, “Read Superman comic books, watch X-Men and Harry Potter…and call me in the morning.”
(And don’t forget to pre-order her book Superhero Therapy! Out August 1st 2017!)