Every month the OTW hosts guest posts on our OTW News accounts to provide an outside perspective on the OTW or aspects of fandom. These posts express each individual’s personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the OTW or constitute OTW policy.
Suzannah Ferron, LMFT, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist practicing via telehealth in Los Angeles and throughout California. Suzannah takes a collaborative, strengths-based, and trauma-informed approach to her work with clients —- primarily adult daughters of abusive and highly critical parents, people in creative fields, as well as folks of the fannish kind —- frequently weaving in ideas and metaphors from a variety of fandoms, as well as nature, religion, myth, and fairytale. Today, Suzannah talks about how being a fan can be an advantage in therapy. *The information in this interview is intended for information and education only and does not constitute psychotherapy, psychotherapeutic advice, or a therapist-client relationship. Please see important and complete medical disclaimer at the end of the interview.*
How did you first find out about fandom and fanworks?
I was an early adopter, joining various TV show and pop star fan clubs as a child, starting a Donny Osmond fan club in 4th grade, and amassing piles of Tiger Beat Magazines. I religiously watched Star Trek and attended a few conventions with my mother and friends, one in which I met Walter Koenig/Mr. Chekhov on his birthday while wearing my favorite t-shirt that said, “Pet Me, I’m A Tribble.”
As I got older, I immersed myself in the worlds and stories of books, TV, and movies — so much so that I got my initial MA in literature. I clearly couldn’t get enough stories! Fast-forwarding to the more recent past, when I graduated with an MA in Psychology, I did so while wearing my Hogwarts uniform and robe, and carrying a wand. Yes, I did. Which is why my graduation photos show the head of the Clinical Psychology program and the University President laughing their heads off.
I first learned about fanworks by contributing to my best friend’s romping pop-star fanfic during lunchtime in high school. This continued for a bit into college, when my friend’s college bestie joined in for old-school fanfic pen-pallery as a creative break from our classes and a means of deeper (and more fun) bonding. More recently, I’ve discovered Gallery 1988, a local art gallery featuring some pretty outstanding fanworks. At one of their themed exhibitions —- one dedicated to Joss Whedon —- I picked up a Dollhouse fanwork print by Andrew Trabbold for my office. It is a poignant and even chilling metaphor for how familial or societal “programs” or expectations can be “downloaded” into one’s psyche, having one living in ways inauthentic and detrimental to one’s own best interests or identity, and how increasing self-awareness and self-trust are first steps in reclaiming and rebuilding one’s agency and sense of self.
How did you start using fandom or fannish content in your practice?
Quite organically! Especially living in the LA area with so many folks in creative and fandom-related industries, stories and characters and worlds are in the air we breathe. They just started showing up! Sometimes I weave them into conversations during sessions; sometimes my clients do. They might wear a t-shirt or bring in an item with a logo or quote related to a particular fandom, so we might get curious about the client’s relationship to it. Or something they say might remind me of a scene or character or poem, so I might ask if it’s something they’re familiar with and go from there. Story and metaphor can be powerful ways of getting right to the heart of an issue, idea, experience, or aspiration, so tapping into fandoms and fannish content is a natural fit.
Are there ways in which working with fans as clients can be particularly helpful to you or them?
Very much so! Characters, scenes, relationships, quotes, and arcs from stories in all their forms can provide rich and poignant metaphors for clients’ experiences and aspirations. They can be sources of self-exploration, understanding familial relationships, self-empowerment, and so on. And they can offer a shortcut to unpacking emotions, thoughts and beliefs. For example, if someone were to describe their Christmas as “a banner @#$%ing year at the ol’ Bender family,” or lament how tired they are of dating Howls, or state their current mood as “Dracarys,” we have a pretty rich place to start.
Depending on a client’s circumstances and fandoms, we might explore their patronus or animal daemon, consider whether to open hailing frequencies or raise deflector shields, explore who in their lives (or what in themselves) might be the cruel Grimhilda who would cut out their heart, or the Ursula who would silence their voice. If someone is facing a situation where they need courage, I might ask if there’s a particular person or character who embodies the kind of bravery or overcoming they’re wanting to internalize for themselves. If they can imagine themselves as a character in their power —- like that iconic moment where Wonder Woman ignores the nay-sayers and hold-backers and steps out into the battlefield, raising her bracelets to stop bullets —- a client might be able to imagine themselves into their own courageous stance, using their own strengths and superpower(s).
We might consider specific means by which characters overcome challenges —- whether external or, in the case of someone like Vanya, one’s own powerful emotions -— and see how those skills might apply personally. We might draw on character relationships in favorite fandoms to explore one’s own relationships or family dynamics in the past and present. We might use locations from fandoms as a “safe place” —- that is, an imaginal space to go to in times of stress or increased anxiety. Someone might be experiencing a problematic over-identification with a character or story, which can be explored. It all depends on what is meaningful and resonant for the person walking through the door.
Since I’m not aware of all fandoms, I am open to learning about a particular comic, TV show, movie, song, poem, music genre, character, music video, etc. in order to tap into those characters, themes, arcs, and so on that most resonate with the client. So many things can be explored through a fannish lens: culture, gender identity, race and racism, existential issues, relational issues, self-esteem, grief and loss, family dysfunction, overcoming internal and external challenges, and more.
How did you hear about the OTW and what do you see its role as?
One of my dearest and best friends has been involved in the OTW for many years, so I’ve had inklings of it for a while. As a therapist, I see the OTW as upholding a universe in which compelling stories and characters resonant with people’s lives and experiences can live and grow and shift — and the storytellers and beholders with them. OTW offers an imaginal container for people to explore themselves and the world around them through these living beings, places, and stories. It really is, as the name states, a transformative realm of creativity.
What fandom things have inspired you the most?
From the perspective of a clinician tapping into fandoms as an imaginative and therapeutic lexicon, I deeply appreciate how they can fuel curiosity, creativity, inspiration, delight, enthusiasm, insight, grief, joy, empowerment, and possibility. It’s incredibly liberating to be able to walk through not only this world, but others as a way of discovery, insight, accomplishment, and healing. That alone is Squee Factor 10! Fandoms can also offer community, camaraderie, belonging, and even family that’s far more familial than the ones some are born or adopted into. Fannish communities can provide a family folks choose and that chooses them right back.
More personally, I recall attending a Buffy sing-along a few years back. There was nothing quite like the experience of powerfully, if momentarily, bonding with a room of complete strangers over songs ranging from hilarity to despair, that cleverly dealt with heavy issues like unrequited or troubled love, betrayal, abandonment, identity, and depression. If even for a few moments, whatever divisions or differences there might have been among us took a distant back row seat to the collective singing out of laughter, sadness and humanity, wrapped up in beloved characters that connected us. And while, due to COVID, we’re missing the face-to-face bonding those events and more intimate fannish gatherings might bring, there is still some to be found in online events and groups. Especially in times of such deep sadness, loss, and division, what a balm it can be to connect and reconnect in such a bright, communal spirit.
The information contained in this post is general and for educational purposes only, and it is not a replacement for therapy. This post should not be considered professional advice and is not, nor intended to be, therapy or psychological advice. The therapist is not able to answer questions regarding anyone’s specific situation, nor does the information provided constitute the formation of a therapist patient relationship. If you are a current or former patient, please remember that your comments or likes may jeopardize your confidentiality. Please consult your physician or mental health provider regarding advice or support for your health and wellbeing. If you are in crisis, please call your local 24-hour hotline or 911.