Over the weekend, I had the chance to see Thor: The Dark World (yeah, me and a few million other people). The movie was pretty awesome, but what made the experience even more powerful for me was the opportunity I had to see it with one of my young clients.
I’m a behavior specialist, so I work with some intense youth. The young man I took with me to see the movie has a tough exterior to those who don’t really know him, but he’s a big teddy bear.
He’s 15, hard headed, listens to a lot of hardcore hip-hop, swears like a sailor, quick to anger, and has a hard time controlling himself. He’s also a huge geek, and asks me what the coolest thing I saw was every time I come back from a convention.
Comics, video games and fantasy are this kid’s motivation. They’re what gets him going in the morning. He has done nothing but talk about wanting to see Thor with me for months.
Being a behavior specialist, I had to make him earn a trip to the movies with me. Lately he’s been having a problem with being disrespectful when an adult asks him to do something or tells him something he doesn’t want to hear. 3 or 4 times a day he curses someone out.
So I made a behavior contract with him. If he could make it 5 out of 7 days without being disrespectful, we would go to the movie. If he could make it 5 days straight, we would go opening weekend.
This kid surprised everyone and made it in the first 5 days.
So I got up and went to work on a 3 day weekend, to see a movie that I wanted to see, but wasn’t on my priority list. And I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.
Because I’m not the biggest Thor fan, I had no idea what was going on other than what I learned from the first Thor and Avengers movies. But that didn’t matter. I got excited because he was excited.
Watching him clap out of excitement and sit on the edge of his seat was worth getting up early on my day off. He kept asking me questions about who certain people were…and I had no idea, but we later figured it out together.
I guess my main point is, that he felt comfortable being himself with me. This is a kid that acts tough and fights other kids…and he was able to let down his guard to be a kid in a superhero movie.
Can we as clinicians provide anything more important to a client than to allow them to let down their guard and be themselves? I don’t think so.
This boy’s therapists don’t really get the superhero thing, but I do. Maybe that’s why he likes talking to me. Having that connection and not feeling judged can be major, especially for an adolescent trying to figure out his place in the world.
On the drive to the movie, he just wanted to listen to music loudly and not talk. On the way home…he turned my stereo down and would not shut up! He kept going on and on about different plot points. How I called them, or how he and I were both totally surprised by certain events.
We were also able to use the movie to talk about his feelings about what happened. It was a safe space (because it was about Thor and Loki and Odin, not him) to explore how he felt about betrayal, honor, family, and values. I doubt he realized that we were talking about his values…but it was an important conversation all the same, and it allowed him to open up.
Since I was an adult, he expected me to know everything about the world and the characters, which I didn’t. So as I said earlier, we worked together to figure things out. This gave him an experience of an adult being real, honest, and imperfect with him. And also the experience of those things being okay.
I think that the most important take away from my therapeutic Thor experience (other than the plastic Thor figurine he gave me from his cup) would be that a connection can be made, even if the interests are not the same.
Thor is probably my least favorite of the Avengers. But I really wanted to see this movie with this boy because it was something that made him happy. I was able to open up my mind to new things and see things through his eyes. He felt seen. He felt that he had made a connection. And he felt that someone else (an adult, nonetheless) understood why he was passionate about this character.
I can’t think of a better way to spend my weekend.