Dr. Andrea Letamendi has shown up in a lot of places lately. She’s Batgirl’s therapist, she’s provided commentary for Marvel’s Augmented Reality app (check out Morbius, the Living Vampire #2), and she’s joined Buffy, the Vampire Slayer’s Amber Benson and musician Allison Goertz for a discussion on fake geek girls over at Badass Digest (check out part one here, and part two here). She’s become a go-to source for writers as they craft their stories, lately assisting Batgirl’s Gail Simone in understanding Barbara Gordon’s trauma. Letamendi protects the storytelling secrets of our comic creators with a diligence that would leave Batman walking away in defeat, but she was kind enough to take time from her busy schedule and talk to NerdSpan about her interests, work, and what’s like to see herself sitting across from Batgirl.
NS: When and how did you get into comics, Star Wars, etc?
AL: I didn’t get into Batman comics until I saw Batman: The Animated Series as a kid. I was absolutely in love with the show and watched it every day after school. Later, I started to visit my local comic book shop and took an interest in Batman titles. My love of Star Wars came in the form of toys– action figures, starships, collectibles, and later, costumes.
NS: When and how did your interest in psychology begin?
AL: Funny enough, Batman: The Animated Series first influenced me to become interested in psychology! I was obsessed with the show as an adolescent. If you think about it, many episodes of BTAS feature a Gotham villain and show traces of his or her motivation for villainy. Batman demonstrates detective as well as psychological skills to track down villains, preventing further criminal behavior and ensuring the safety of Gotham. For me, the show inspired my analytical side and made me think deeply about human behavior–both prosocial and pathological. Batman uncovers patterns, tries to understand motivations, and in some cases, is a curative force on the show. A lot happened between then and now, but I do not think I’d be a psychologist if it weren’t for Batman.
NS: When did these interests cross?
AL: I started attending conventions and realizing that there is a lot of intersection between comics and psychology. I also contacted some veteran speakers at Comic-Con and we developed topics to be presented at SDCC that are related to superheroes and psychology. Although I’ve become involved in podcasts, writing, and creative consultation, my favorite thing to do is speak at conventions on what we can learn about psychology from fictional heroes and villains in comic books.
NS: As a psychologist, what are your areas of interest? What kind of studies/ projects have you worked on?
AL: I specialize in the treatment and research of anxiety and traumatic stress disorders. I’ve worked with veterans and service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with both psychological and physical injuries. I am currently working on a dissemination project—a clinical research program that delivers evidence-based treatments to youths with mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and traumatic stress disorders.
NS: Batgirl feels like the most human comic character to me. What makes her such a compelling character?
AL: I identify with Barbara Gordon because she is a character that shows great resiliency and psychological strength. She is a highly recognizable character who has faced adversity and victimization but does not avoid or ignore her past. That is, she struggles to understand her trauma, to make meaning from it, to learn to prevent it in the future. She also isn’t perfect—Barbara struggles with self-doubts, worries, and relapses. I think that we can all relate to that when we question our own decision-making and choices. The suit is pretty bad-ass too.
NS: What was it like to see yourself in the pages of Batgirl #16?
AL: Completely indescribable! I first saw the page online on Newsarama, and I just kept staring at it, in amazement! When I bought some copies at my local comic book shop, I immediately read the comic. This particular issue is also very important because, although in previous issues we’ve been given glimpses of what Barbara Gordon’s physical recovery is like, this one shows the beginning stages of her psychological recovery after her trauma.
NS: How can bringing Batgirl’s therapy into the story work to undermine the stigma that psychological issues often carry?
AL: I think it’s a huge step for DC Comics to include visuals and dialogue of actual psychotherapy. In addition to normalizing the treatment process, it can be a vehicle to show Barbara’s own thoughts and emotions about her traumatic experience, thus normalizing the difficulty of overcoming types of traumas such as personal victimization. Many people who have faced adversity might hear others tell them to “get over it” or to “move on,” even for some of the most horrific tragedies. Some might simply have high expectations for themselves, and blame themselves for not recovering quickly enough from a trauma. This interaction between Barbara and a clinical psychologist is a fictional but very realistic depiction of the challenges on both ends of dealing with loss, tragedy, and trauma.
Want to hear more from Dr. Letamendi? Follow her on Twitter @ArkhamAsylumDoc and check out her blog UnderTheMaskOnline.com. Dr. Letamendi will also be a panelist during several discussions at WonderCon (March 29-31). Her speaking schedule can be found here.