DBT in the MCU

Bruce Banner, She Hulk & DBT

Do we have any MCU fans out there? I just saw the new Disney+ premiere for “She-Hulk: Attorney-At-Law” and if you haven’t seen it yet, there are some spoilers in here…

38 second video What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy or DBT? 

Forever Geek: What is DBT?

I don’t think this is a spoiler, but Bruce Banner’s cousin, Jennifer, an attorney, gets turned into a hulk – or “She-Hulk” (but we will get into how horrible a name that is later – and Bruce takes her to his tropical hideaway to try to help her with the transition. There, he says that he used DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) to help him manage his Hulk.

There are a number of funny bits to this, of course, but there are also some truths. The thing is, I do not 100% agree with his representation of DBT and how you use it to manage anger. So I made a list of the things they got right (in my opinion) and the ones they did not.

Before they even get into DBT, Bruce mentions that it took him 15 years to figure out how to control his triggers and integrate his alter ego or ‘the other guy.’  Remember back in the Avengers (2012) when Bruce shares “That’s my secret Captain, I’m always angry”? He caused A LOT of damage over the last decade. This kind of goes with the experience that a lot of people have, making mistakes and causing damage when they are young, that they then have to live with later in life, and sometimes regret after they calm down/grow up/go to therapy and figure it out (like Bruce apparently did).

Bruce Banner describes Dialectical Behavior Therapy as a technique that “allows us to hold two opposing truths at the same time.” 

This is true as far as it goes, that is what the word “dialectic” means – I usually explain it to clients as two things that are both true even though they seem to be in conflict. This is more difficult to wrap your head around than it sounds like it should be, but it is a really balanced way to look at the world. 

Therapy – is it all “mind body spirit stuff?”

Jen says she did not think he would be into all this ‘mind body spirit stuff’ but Bruce snaps back at that, noting it is ‘evidence based psychotherapy… [that is] clinical not spiritual.’ This is one of the things that makes people stay away from therapy in general, but mindfulness in particular.

They don’t really understand that mindfulness is not about breathing or yoga, but a state of awareness. It is not spiritual, just a state of being. Sometimes people dislike mindfulness – I admit it has all kinds of connotations, a lot of them negative. But that is kind of like a lot of ‘psychology’ words that people throw around without really understanding. Even in She Hulk, they have that negative connotation talking about something perceived as ‘mental health’ or ‘therapy’ even as they use it. 

More about acceptance

When they’re talking about it, he also says that DBT is “more about presence and accepting the situation you’re in” which is also a good characterization. One of the central dialectics of DBT is change v. acceptance – there is always a push and pull between these things. We have them both all the time, and we all hate change (in varying degrees). 

Controlling Emotions

At one point, Jen makes the point that she is an expert at controlling her anger because she has to deal with catcalling and mansplaining all the time – and that is fair. Women are no strangers to controlling their emotions as a form of protection. No one wants to be called difficult or emotional. But that is actually not the point. The goal is to regulate emotions, not to control them. Our emotions are actually useful, important aspects of our experience that we need to learn more about, not just control and ignore. If we used them, maybe we would all be more comfortable with our feelings. 

Some of the goals set out in DBT are to understand and gradually accept the difficult feelings you are experiencing, learn the necessary skills to manage them appropriately, and continue on a path that leads to positive changes.


Another point is that Bruce’s experiences have been pretty traumatic, and he has had to learn to deal with them. DBT is helpful for this, too. Some of the skills are really helpful, especially the distress tolerance, grounding, and mindfulness skills. 

You’re doing the best you can, and you can do better

Bruce says this when Jen tries to leave their beach retreat initially and he does not think she is ready. This is one of those dialectics that we were talking about – two true things that seem in conflict. 

  1. You are doing the best you can
  2. You can always do better 

Here are some more examples of dialectics:

  • What happened wasn’t okay…and you can learn from it and move forward.
  • I didn’t cause all my problems…and I need to solve them.
  • You can feel sorry about something…and not regret it.
  • I acknowledge and accept others’ views…and have my own beliefs.
  • You can accept someone…and disagree with them at the same time.
  • I disagree with you…and I understand your perspective.
  • I hate what someone says to me…and I still love them.
  • I am angry with you…and I will treat you with respect.
  • I want to change…and I’m afraid to change.
  • You are happy with yourself…and want to improve.
  • I’m doing the best I can…and I need to try harder.
  • I am capable…and I need support.

By the time I get this blog up, there will probably have been a couple more episodes. I wonder if they’ll talk about DBT some more? Stay tuned.