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Featured Therapist Interview
Dr. Yonatan Sobin (The Nerd Therapist) is a Clinical Psychologist trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), who practices using the Superhero Therapy model developed by Dr. Janina Scarlet. He prides himself on making therapy more accessible and engaging for patients. His practice relies heavily on the idea that life and art are more critically similar than not, and that we can learn just as much about ourselves from our fictional heroes, like Batman or Superman, as we can from our real-life heroes. Dr. Sobin has an office in lower Manhattan and offers therapy services via telehealth, as a result of the ongoing pandemic. To put it simply, if you’re part of a fandom, he’s the therapist for you.
Dr. Sobin specializes in working with OCD and other anxiety disorders, and provides exposure-based therapies within an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) framework. He also works with patients who are seeking help for depression and addiction-related issues. He treats both adolescents and adults, individually and in groups. His practice incorporates traditional CBT elements, as well as a humanistic element derived more from eastern thought. Dr. Sobin is also an openly bisexual therapist who specializes in issues related to stigma and addressing shame-fueled behaviors.
While pursuing his doctoral degree, which he received in 2016 from the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, Dr. Sobin trained in inpatient and outpatient psychiatric units at Rockland Psychiatric Center and Girard Medical Center. He completed his postdoctoral training at the Center for Anxiety, prior to beginning independent private practice as The Nerd Therapist.
He is an active member of the Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT), New York State Psychological Association (NYSPA), American Psychological Association (APA), and the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF). He contributed to the book “The Joker Psychology: Evil Clowns and the Women Who Love Them.” He is also an occasional guest lecturer at the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology. Dr. Sobin provides consultation and supervision for trainees and clinicians and leads seminars and talks on the integration of mental health and fandom/popular media.
My name is Yoni Sobin, and I am a proud nerd. Check out my website.
First, we would like to know a little about your practice.
What are your personal strengths as a practitioner?
Creativity, and a willingness to say “I don’t know, let me learn more and I’ll get back to you.” My practice of the Superhero Therapy model means that patients and I get to talk about Batman, Marvel, Lord of the Rings, you name it, as a means to a therapeutic and change-oriented goal. Instead of homework, patients take an individualized superhero journey to combat their demons. I’ll take sending you on a quest over giving homework any day of the week. With the current ongoing pandemic and no clear end in sight, and a reported increase in general psychological distress, asking for help needs to be de-stigmatized.
What “tips” can you offer to colleagues just opening a practice?
Refer out. It’s an important part of networking and clinical practice, because growth without connection is a fruitless climb. Refer to your colleagues who you trust, and network, network, network. Market yourself. You can check out some of my talks on my Facebook page @NerdPsychology and on Instagram @nerd_therapist.
How do you remind your patients of their strengths during the therapy process?
Superhero Therapy incorporates the idea that “even in the darkest of times, one only has to remember to turn on the light,” as Albus Dumbledore put it, or as Gandalf reminds us, “all we have to do is decide what to with that time that is given to us.” No human is flawed beyond repair, no future is hopeless, no person is as helpless as their situation feels at any given moment; life is worth fighting for. I encourage patients by asking them to think through times where they’ve felt hopeless or helpless before, and how they persevered. It is my experience that paradoxically, a willingness to avoid the possibility of future success is rooted generally through a fear of failure.
Are you involved in other types of professional activities in addition to your private practice?
I, along with a small group of other self-proclaimed geeks, regularly present on panels at comic conventions on topics bridging the worlds of popular culture and mental health. I am most actively involved in the “Geek Therapy” community, and am part of a consultation group of fellow Superhero Therapists.
We would also like to know a little about you personally.
Who was your mentor?
I have had two amazing mentors. Dr. Carl Auerbach, my dissertation advisor, taught me how to listen for the deep, meaningful content of my patient’s lives in a way I never thought imaginable. More recently, Dr. Janina Scarlet helped me reform my practice through her development of the Superhero Therapy model, which I incorporate into my work. Dr. Scarlet’s guidance has been undeniably impactful, helping me learn to effectively incorporate values and compassion-based therapeutic approaches into my practice, while keeping therapy fun and engaging for the patient. She is one of the kindest, most supportive, and heart-warming individuals I’ve had the privilege of getting to know, and encourages me to write, create, and succeed. I am eternally grateful to the both of them.
When not practicing CBT, what do you do for fun?
I love building Lego and reading graphic novels. Building Lego got me through the very dark times during the current pandemic. I’m currently in the middle of reading Tom King’s run on Batman. I’m also about to start Avatar: The Last Airbender, for the first time (!). I welcome any graphic novel and television show recommendations.
We are also interested in some of your views of CBT.
What do you think is the single most important thing CBT can do for your clients?
The single most important thing CBT can do for my patients is straightforward. Help them navigate through the unrelenting stressors of our world without losing their cool – with themselves, or with the world around them – and help them remember that they are most certainly not alone, worthless, or helpless, and can be their own greatest cheerleader in a world that tries to beat them down. CBT does not stop the pressure of the world from coming; it can certainly help patients to learn how to cope better with it.
Where do you see the field of the behavioral therapies going over the next 3-5 years?
It is my hope that world governments will work to expand mental health services to those who need it, and that behavioral therapies adjust accordingly to account for issues of systemic racism and disenfranchisement. For our civilization to survive, we must find a way to facilitate equal treatment of others in the face of shared global conflict.
How do you use the local or social media to educate your community on the benefits of CBT?
I engage with the community via Instagram and Facebook, primarily to discuss the benefits of treatment and cognitive behavioral therapies, and to break down stigma and barriers that could keep people from seeking the help they need. I intend, in the near future, to create a series of posts highlighting the benefits of Superhero Therapy for anxiety and depression. And once comic conventions return in-person, I’ll be there on the showroom floors.
Finally, we would like to know your opinions about ABCT.
How long have you been a member of ABCT?
I have been a member of ABCT since I was a graduate student. I joined the community back in 2012, and the first ABCT conference I attended was in 2014, in Philadelphia.
How has ABCT helped you professionally?
ABCT has helped me through facilitating amazing networking opportunities with like-minded peers. I have met so many fellow nerds who ALSO happen to be psychology nerds too. I’ve learned about starting a practice, about refining how I practice therapy, and the importance of continuously expanding my knowledgebase.
What services do you consider the most valuable from ABCT?
In my opinion, the two most valuable services ABCT offers are 1) the list serve – an easy way to reach hundreds of colleagues at once time when looking for a targeted referral – and 2) the library of pre-recorded lectures, past talks from ABCT conventions, and other psychoeducational series.
What service(s) are missing from ABCT in your role as a practitioner?
One service missing from ABCT is an ongoing place to monitor real-time changes in laws, policies, and procedures that affect mental health practitioners who are starting a practice.
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions!