What does it mean to recognize that you might need help? What does it mean to ask for it? What do you do once you’re receiving it? These are all big questions that are hard to ask and even harder to answer, but in Dr. Janina Scarlet’s new book, Therapy Quest, she attempts to do so while simultaneously encouraging her readers to do the same. Part-fantasy novel, part choose-your-own-adventure, and part self-help, it’s a book unlike any other out on the shelves today.
Therapy Quest is written in 2nd person—also known as the “you tense”—as a way to involve the reader into the story. Taking the form of an exciting fantasy adventure, Therapy Quest asks the reader to make choices in shaping the direction of the story and earn or lose Courage, Wisdom, and Inner Strength points along the way. Each choice the reader makes changes their journey and teaches them mental health skills that the reader can incorporate into their own everyday lives, such as techniques to manage anxiety or depression. There are also other wonderfully effective and geeky ideas throughout the book, such as mindfulness potions and self-compassion charms; a thorough blending of well-regarded therapy techniques and the Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook.
When asked as to why this is the mode she chose to write in, Dr. Scarlet had the following to say: “I wanted to have an interactive approach to therapy to help people better understand their mental health conditions…People often have difficulty talking about their emotions, and they often experience shame or stigma about their mental health. So, when we take away that stigma and turn people’s emotions into their superpowers, people can be more open in talking about their emotional experiences with others.” Dr. Scarlet wants people to understand that if we can adequately talk about the issues plaguing the characters we love, we might be better equipped to discuss and relate to our own experiences, and better understand ourselves.
She also goes on to mention her belief in the power of fandom communities as emotional safe spaces, with the shared interest these communities are built around—such as Star Wars or Harry Potter—serving as a foundation for the development of a deeper sense of community, one in which more real and genuine relationships might form and blossom. As she says, “Fandoms can eliminate the stigma around sharing personal experiences…Within a fandom, we might have a certain safety for people to bond and connect on a deeper level.” And this was a large part of the impetus for Therapy Quest. Dr. Scarlet says, “With that in mind, I wanted to create an RPG-like book where people can talk about their choices and the skills that they’ve learned…If there’s one thing I want people to know, it’s that they’re the heroes of their own journey.”