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The Courage to Seek Counseling: Even Heroes Need a Hand} ?> In the first Avengers movie, Loki taunts Nick Fury by asking, “How desperate are you? You call on such lost creatures to defend you.” Although he’s trying to demean the fledgling Avengers team, Loki is also not entirely wrong: in some ways, the Avengers are “lost creatures.” Each of them is struggling with one or more major life issues. As the team grows during subsequent films, each new recruit brings their own set of baggage along with their superpowers.
Every MCU Avenger faces a struggle worthy of professional help. Tony Stark exhibits signs of PTSD, the result of being held hostage in the desert and falling through a wormhole. Steve Rogers has his own version of PTSD as well as survivor’s guilt and culture shock. Bruce Banner lives in constant fear of becoming the Hulk, afraid his own mind and body will betray him. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
So why doesn’t a single member of the team ever use a counseling resource for help?
The first reason, of course, is that the Avengers are characters whose “lives” must be compressed into two-hour films. But I believe it’s more than that. The Avengers’ reluctance to seek support for their struggles reflects the larger attitude of our culture. When life throws a curveball, the tendency is to take the hit and act like it didn’t cause any damage. Getting counseling help has become so stigmatized that people are afraid to do it, on-screen or off.
When I speak of “counseling,” I don’t necessarily mean a session with a professional counselor, although they are often best-qualified to provide reliable advice from an objective perspective. In my life, I have sought and received counseling from a professional counselor, my pastor, and members of my family or friends who are older and wiser than me. All of these are legitimate counseling resources, but their effectiveness varies with the situation.
Most of the Avengers could benefit from professional counseling, for everything from grief support (Wanda Maximoff) to past abuse (Natasha Romanoff). Although the heroes use their struggles to motivate their compassion and defense of mankind, their issues also cause problems when left unresolved. Tony’s paranoia and Steve’s guilt were huge factors in sparking Civil War, which ripped the whole team apart.
Simply put, counseling’s purpose is to provide support and guidance from someone who is better equipped than you, and who also brings an objective view to your situation. There are two main reasons to look for counseling: 1) for help with a mental illness, and 2) for support and advice. Both reasons are stigmatized. If someone seeks counseling for support, people assume they have a mental illness. And if someone has a mental illness, people label them as crazy.
The truth is that mental illness does not equal insanity; it simply means that the brain, a part of the body like any other, is not functioning correctly. The brain is amazing and complex, but also subject to influence from physical trauma, hormones, genes, stress, and more. Seeking counseling is no different than going to a medical doctor for the flu or a chiropractor for a bad back. In fact, knowing when you need help is a sign of great sanity and personal awareness. But most push through their struggles instead of getting help that would make those struggles easier.
When I attended my first counseling session a couple years ago, I felt nervous and embarrassed. I was dealing with a lot of stress and I was tired of pushing through it without professional guidance. Although I was reluctant to go, I was more reluctant to remain in my state of upheaval.
Nowadays, I don’t go to counseling all the time, but when I realize I’m reaching a limit, I often make an appointment to get support. Counseling is not a cure-all; I struggle frequently, like everyone else. But I know I can always go back, talk through the issue, and get more advice and encouragement. Each time I go, I feel like I get at least one “gem” that I can apply to my situation and make my life a little easier.
The other day, I received a call from my counselor. Because I hadn’t made an appointment recently, she wanted to make sure everything was okay. It meant the world to me that she would care enough to call, demonstrating the importance of community, support, and caring relationships.
In the MCU films, it’s someone outside the team who demonstrates the wisdom of seeking mental help: Bucky Barnes. He goes to Wakanda to have his mind healed of the assassin programming put there by HYDRA. Bucky isn’t eager to return to suspended animation, but he knows it’s for the best. An end-credits scene from Black Panther shows the payoff: Bucky wakes up and, when Shuri asks him how he feels, he replies, “Good”—something he hasn’t been able to say in a long time.
Marvel demonstrates, in epic proportions, the disasters that can happen when counseling is ignored and the healing that can occur when it’s sought out. I’m grateful for heroes like Bucky, who are wise enough to realize they need help and brave enough to admit it. When life beats me up, I can only follow his example and hope that maybe, the people in our world who feel overwhelmed, afraid, and alone will find the courage to seek counseling, too.
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