TV Therapy – “That’s How I Always Felt”

By Josué Cardona

“Spider-Man… He spoke to me…”

In the 22nd episode of the fifth season of Modern Family titled “Message Received” we see Mitch confronted by his partner Cameron about a Spider-Man comic book Mitch has been holding on to for years.

Mitch tells Cam that he related to Spider-Man because he also had a secret side that he couldn’t share with anyone. “Spider-Man made me feel like it was ok to be different…. Made me feel tough enough to get through the tough times.”This scene made me very happy because I’m always looking for TV clips to reference and this one is perfect. I love Modern Family because it’s full of relatable moments, although none as geeky as this. (And maybe Phil’s desire for an iPad in the first season episode “Game Changer.”) The best part is that it shows a fictional character relating to a fictional character. Let’s hear it for Meta-Geek Therapy!

Capitalizing on relatable moments is how I use TV in therapy.  Sometimes, if appropriate and potentially helpful, I’ll make a reference to a scene from a movie or show that I know my client likes or recently watched. What occurs most of the time is that a client will bring up something recently watched or remembered.

Regarding this Mondern Family clip, a client might say they relate to how Mitch feels about the character of Spider-Man, or to how Cam felt when he realized that Mitch related to the character as a kid.

In fact, the reason why I love this scene so much is that it would probably be more effective for parents and partners as a way for them to see themselves in Cam or simply seeing someone they care about in Mitch. Hearing him talk about what Spider-Man meant to him as a kid only took 30 seconds to explain and he did so more eloquently than most people are able to. It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that Modern Family has won a lot of awards.

A few weeks ago at Wondercon, I was invited to participate in a panel titled The Psychology of Cult TV and the theme was “TV Can Be Healing.” While the intention was to talk about “cult” TV shows like Buffy and Firefly, I came out of the gate talking about Full House.

I brought up a time when I remembered Bob Saget’s character in Full House being yelled at by one of his daughters and looking very hurt. The scene was similar to a fight I had recently had with my father and seeing Bob Saget (who always reminded me of my father anyway) so sad and hurt made me feel horrible for what I had done to my father. It was a big learning experience and it was very cathartic.

The “Psychology of Cult TV” panel was Janina Scarlet’s idea and the story she shared that seemed to be the most personal was related to the sitcom Family Matters. Yeah, Steve Urkel Family Matters.While sitcoms can have a more realistic setting than say, the TARDIS, people relate to all sorts of shows. At the Wondercon panel I also shared the story of how the 10th Doctor’s regeneration on Doctor Who helped me overcome some personal obstacles by reminding me that change doesn’t happen immediately and it’s actually a process.

I saw regeneration as a metaphor for change. The 10th Doctor spends a long time traveling and visiting friends between when his regeneration starts to when he finally becomes the 11th Doctor.  At the moment I watched this scene (again) it was exactly what I needed to get me from thinking about making changes to actually doing something. It got me past the belief I had at the time that the change I wanted was unattainable. It helped me remember that change is a process and it takes time.

While I usually provide examples related to comic books, video games, and sci-fi or fantasy movies and TV shows, the effect is possible within any genre. Who and how we relate to what we see on TV isn’t a science and it often happens in unexpected ways. It’s a very personal experience and it may not make sense to anyone else.

You never know when it will speak to you but when it does, great things can happen.

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