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Susanne Barzacchini

Superheroes, Children, and Art Therapy:
Lessons From Night Crawler, Superman, Ice Boy, and Batman

Malik Patten, “Superman”. 2003

          While an intern at St. Vincent de Paul Center’s Young Expressions art program, I noticed that superheroes, appropriated from pop culture, were a consistent theme in children’s drawings, sculptures and stories. I became curious about the influence of pop culture and the effect it was having on children’s development. Why are superheroes fascinating to children? Why do they choose superheroes to emulate?

            Children spend a great deal of time in front of the television, watching cartoons and movies or playing video games. Research suggests that media exposure should be limited or monitored if it is to play a positive role in children’s lives, yet most children are left unattended while viewing media. Since I could not turn the televisions off for the children who attended St. Vincent de Paul, I wondered how I might tune into the children’s experience.

            Given that children’s exposure to media is pervasive, unavoidable, and often unmonitored, is it possible to enlist children’s experiences with media so that they function in a positive way? Can media be utilized as a tool to help children communicate their thoughts and feelings in art therapy?

         These questions have been addressed in this thesis. Information was gathered through questioning and observing five boys in individual art therapy sessions at St. Vincent de Paul Center’s Young Expressions art program, and through engaging them in play and dialogue about the roles of superheroes in their lives. The assessment of the children’s art work, play, and dialogue; a survey of relevant literature; and my own journal and art work have formed the basis of this study about the use of superheroes as a tool in art therapy to help children express their thoughts and feelings.



          Susanne Barzacchini received her BFA from the University of Cincinnati. While at SAIC, she gained clinical experience at Loretto Hospital in the short-term inpatient psychiatric department and through the Young Expressions Program at St. Vincent de Paul Center.


Thesis Advisor: Catherine Moon, Assistant Professor, Art Therapy

Thesis Reader: Gerard Jones, Author, Advisor, MIT Comparative Media Studies Program



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