Dr. Andrea Letamendi combines her profession as a psychologist and her love of all things geek. She speaks about the psychology of comic books, science fiction, and fantasy at universities, on documentaries and at comic conventions. She currently co-hosts the Batman podcast The Arkham Sessions and appears regularly on the CNN Headline News show On Call with Dr. Drew as a mental health commentator. Check out her website: UndertheMaskOnline.com. You’ll be able to find all the episodes of The Arkham Sessions there. Definitely give them a listen! We never miss them! You’ll also be able to find out which cons she’s speaking at.
Legion of Leia: Your career is fascinating. Can you tell us about what you do and how you combined your degree with your love of the genre?
Dr. Andrea Letamendi: I have a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and serve as an educator, scientist, and consultant, covering topics such as trauma, post-traumatic stress, bullying, and other issues related to mental illness and their treatments. The stories and relationships in comic book and sci-fi narratives can be a gateway to learning more about these serious topics. By discussing, for instance, how Batman experiences exposure to chronic trauma, explaining Rick Grimes’ hallucinations on The Walking Dead or analyzing Darth Vader’s turn to the dark side, I utilize fictional narratives to increase public awareness and knowledge about psychology. I also hope such discussions of characters we know so well in the geek culture helps to reduce the stigma and misconceptions associated with mental health disorders.
Legion of Leia: You’ve started a new podcast. Tell us about it!
Dr. Andrea Letamendi: My new podcast is about two things I love: Batman and psychology. I’ve always been a huge fan of Batman: The Animated Series. When I was interviewed for the film Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics last year, I realized how much I loved talking about the villains of Gotham and what motivates them. The Arkham Sessions was created shortly after as a way to explore the psychology of every episode of the series, one by one. With my co-host (Brian Ward, DVD/Blu-ray Producer at Shout! Factory), we cover topics ranging from neurological disorders, perception and memory, childhood abduction, trauma and loss, bullying and severe mental illness. Every episode covers a new topic related to the psychology of Batman!
Legion of Leia: What does it mean to be a part of the world of women in sci-fi?
Dr. Andrea Letamendi: As a psychologist, I think my role is about being a conduit and facilitating the exploration of what sci-fi means to us. What did women in sci-fi teach us as young girls? That we can be leaders. We can be powerful. We can have a seat on the bridge. We can hold our own next to a Wookiee and a Jedi. We can blow a Xenomorph out of the airlock–or multiple Xenomorphs out of various airlocks. These messages are continuing to be created, written, drawn and represented by women, and I’m lucky to be a part of those conversations.
Legion of Leia: What sci-fi or fantasy character spoke to you first as a child?
Dr. Andrea Letamendi: I was obsessed with the animated film The Last Unicorn. I remember watching it over and over again by myself and memorizing all the songs. I even begged the video store by my house to sell me a copy of the VHS (they didn’t). It’s funny how, when you really think about it, the Unicorn is incredibly brave and self-sacrificing, and also unapologetic about being remarkable. When I was a little older, I discovered another character, Aeon Flux, from the animated show of the same name created by Peter Chung that features a skillful, female agent on these really bizarre, life-threatening adventures. There was really no other female-centered sci-fi show like it, or at least that I’ve seen. She was mysterious, independent, and fearless! And she caught flies with her eyelashes! That’s impressive.
Legion of Leia: You appeared in two issues of Batgirl. Describe the moment when you first saw yourself in a comic.
Dr. Andrea Letamendi: It was such an honor to appear as Barbara Gordon’s psychologist in the comic Batgirl. I’ll never forget seeing it for the first time! And while I see it as a very kind gesture by Gail Simone, it’s also a much more meaningful decision on her part. By including a mental health clinician in her story, Simone brought an authentic and truthful perspective: many people struggle with mental health issues and seek therapy. Barbara’s treatment validates and normalizes an experience that is often stigmatized, shamed, or misunderstood. I believe the character Simone wrote is a tribute to the mental health field as a whole and a step in a positive direction for the comic book industry.
Legion of Leia: What new projects do you have going on?
Dr. Andrea Letamendi: I’m excited to announce that I’ll be returning to Comic-Con this year with the panel “The Psychology of Star Trek vs. Star Wars.”
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @ArkhamAsylumDoc!