HomeTelevisionCouch Potato – The Winter Soldier Needs a New Therapist

Couch Potato – The Winter Soldier Needs a New Therapist

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, this month’s column draws on my experiences as a professional mental health therapist. If you believe that you or a loved one could benefit from therapy, I highly encourage you to explore what therapeutic options are available in your area or research the various telehealth platforms that have increased in popularity since the start of the pandemic.

All of the heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe would likely benefit from therapy. As I’ve previously written about, Avengers: Endgame directly depicts how each of the Avengers process and cope with their grief following the events of Avengers: Infinity War. Even before those films, though, these characters undergo significant trauma. 

Several of the heroes have tragically lost parents and parental figures. Bruce Banner has well-documented difficulties regulating his emotions. Steve Rogers loses the love of his life and has to adjust to how the world has changed in the seventy years he was unconscious. Thor has to come to terms with the death of some of his closest friends and his entire family, the destruction of his home world, and the loss of more than half of his people at the hands of Hela and Thanos. Iron Man 3 goes so far as to show that Tony Stark has developed post-traumatic stress following the Battle of New York. And all of the events of WandaVision could likely have been avoided if Wanda Maximoff had an opportunity to process the many traumatic moments and losses in her life.

Yet, despite all of this emotional turmoil, very few characters seek professional support. Sam Wilson and Steve Rodgers run support groups for veterans and survivors of the Snap, respectively, but the films and TV series don’t indicate whether they ever sought individual mental health services. Tony Stark uses Quentin Beck/Mysterio’s hologram technology to unpack his feelings about the death of his parents and also speaks to Bruce Banner as he was Tony’s therapist, but neither strategy is recommended or guided by a professional (Bruce even says he’s “not the kind of doctor”). Instead, the only character who we see work with a licensed therapist is James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes a.k.a. The Winter Soldier. 

Alongside Thor and Wanda Maximoff, Bucky is clearly one of the most traumatized heroes in the MCU. Having fought in World War II, been subjected to experimentation and torture by Hydra, and performed several acts of murder while being brainwashed/programmed, Bucky has decades of trauma to process. Even after Shuri and the Wakandans remove Hydra’s programming from his brain, Bucky still needs to come to terms with his actions as the Winter Solider. As a result, I was so relieved to see Bucky (Sebastian Stan) working with a therapist in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, even though this treatment was an involuntary legal condition of Bucky’s pardon from the President of the United States. I applaud Bucky for engaging in this service despite his therapy being court-ordered, especially since Bucky visibly displays some skepticism and hesitancy during his sessions with Dr. Christina Raynor (Amy Aquino). But I am here to argue that Bucky’s resistance to therapy is by no means his fault and instead illustrates some red lines that Dr. Raynor crosses as a therapist.

While different therapists have their own personalities, base treatment on a variety of psychological perspectives, and utilize different techniques and interventions, Dr. Raynor fails Bucky because she does not create a safe therapeutic environment for him to express himself. Dr. Raynor’s inability to provide Bucky with a sense of safety is shown in Bucky’s unwillingness to discuss his recent nightmares. In my perspective, Bucky is closed off during sessions with Dr. Raynor because of her continued violations of boundaries and cold temperament during sessions. 

In their first scene together, Dr. Raynor asks for Bucky’s phone and looks through his contacts, phone calls, and text messages; she proceeds to then mock him for his limited connection with others. Given that Bucky was imprisoned and mentally programmed by Hydra for decades, spent months receiving medical treatment in Wakanda while being cryonically frozen, and was dead for five years after being disintegrated by Thanos, taunting Bucky for not having much of a social life is cruel and places unrealistic expectations on him. And later, when she forces Bucky to have an involuntary session with Sam in an interrogation room, she openly insults them as being childish. Why would Bucky open up to a therapist that fails to empathize with the extraordinary trauma he’s experienced? 

Perhaps even worse, Dr. Raynor also breaks Bucky’s confidentiality by discussing his treatment with John Walker and Sam Wilson. Without receiving a release of information with Bucky’s consent, Dr. Raynor’s willingness to discuss Bucky’s protected health information with others is both unethical and illegal. Bucky has a right to keep his enrollment in therapy and the content of those sessions private from individuals that don’t have legal, medical, or therapeutic reasons to have client permitted or court-order access to that information. Not only should Dr. Raynor’s violation of confidentiality further degrade Bucky’s ability to trust her, but her actions should also result in the loss of license and potential legal consequences. 

Clearly, Bucky should hire a different therapist or request that the court or governmental representative overseeing his treatment find him a new therapist. Just like anyone else seeking or receiving mental health treatment, Bucky deserves to feel safe and have his rights respected. Bucky should be able to work with a professional who can empathize with his experiences, withhold judgment about his past, and demonstrate acceptance of who he is. Bucky needs a therapist able to unconditionally regard the former assassin in a positive light and ensure that his boundaries are honored. And for James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes, that means finding a new therapist.

With the right therapist, Bucky and the Avengers may be able to finally heal and amend rather than repress and avenge. While they may have superhuman abilities, the heroes of the MCU are still human at heart (yes, even the androids, aliens, and wizards). Needing emotional support and mental health care does not make them any less powerful. Rather, their need for mental wellness demonstrates that even the strongest, smartest, and noblest among us require a space to heal and grow as people. 

Josh Sarnecky
Josh Sarnecky
Josh Sarnecky is one of Pop Break's staff writers and covers Voltron: Legendary Defender, Game of Thrones, and Stranger Things. His brother, Aaron, also writes for the website, but Josh is the family’s reigning Trivial Pursuit: Star Wars champion.

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