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How therapists are using the Marvel Cinematic Universe to heal us

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is being used as a therapy tool, and the results have been great.

Tom Holland in Spider-Man: No Way Home
Image credit: Sony

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The influence of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is hard to ignore. New MCU films regularly dominate the box office, and the conversations we have as a culture. If you had any doubts about the MCU’s cultural impact, I would recommend walking the floor at San Diego Comic-Con.

The yearly pop culture convention is filled with plenty of MCU inspired cosplayers. It’s interesting to see how the franchise has impacted everyone’s lives, and at 2023's event I found e great examples of that during a panel called 'Multiverse of Marvel: Secret Invasion, Across the Spider-Verse, and Loki Too.' This was no ordinary panel. The panelists were a group of mental health professionals, who spoke about the Marvel Cinematic Universe from a new perspective.

One of the panelists was Dr. Nicole Hassler, a psychologist who used the MCU to help her patients.

“I am a licensed clinical psychologist all the way from Buffalo, New York. I work primarily with children and adolescents struggling with mood and anxiety disorders, incorporating pop culture into my therapy. I’m also the co-host with Benjamin Taitz of My Hero Therapy, where we discuss all things academia and mental health issues,” Dr. Hassler said.

On her website, Dr. Hassler describes her practice as superhero and geek therapy.

“Superheroes give people an outlet to discuss challenges while indirectly processing their own struggles. People are less likely to feel alone, shame or guilt when they themselves feel connected to someone, even a fictional superhero, who may have dealt with something similar,” Dr. Hassler writes on her website.

During the panel, Dr. Hassler shared a story about how the Marvel Cinematic Universe helped one of her patients come to terms with their PTSD.

“I was thinking about a patient I had, and the experience they had when saw Spider-Man: No Way Home. She had been through quite a bit of trauma, like domestic abuse, and that sort of stuff. She said that the ending of No Way Home really resonated with her because Aunt May is murdered by the Green Goblin and Peter wants revenge. He wants to kill the Green Goblin. At the end he almost does, but he stops because Tobey is like ‘This isn’t going to help you. It’s not going to solve anything.’ It helped her recognize that even though she had been through all this stuff, even though she wanted revenge, it wasn’t going to solve anything. Even though all of these terrible things have happened to me, the best thing I could do for myself is to move forward.”

It was an inspiring story, and one that gave me a renewed appreciation for the MCU. It’s become so engrained into our cultural DNA that it is being used for therapy. It goes to show you, our hobbies can do more than entertain us, they can also heal us.

Popverse has assembled everything you need to know about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from our MCU watch order to a guide to upcoming Marvel movies and TV shows. Plus, we've taken the time to rank the entire MCU and compile the biggest outstanding questions from Marvel's connected films. Enjoy.