Comics

Psych Ward: The Punisher

The remorseless vigilante ends up in the office of Marvel.com’s resident therapist.

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While not actively seeing Frank Castle, better known as the violent street vigilante and wanted criminal Punisher, as a client, I am nonetheless writing up our recent encounter as a session note. I explained this to Castle as well, as I was doing it for reasons of liability—had he told me he had a plan to kill someone, I would have had to report in accordance with Tarasoff—and he consented, albeit gruffly.

During a recent blackout, Mr. Castle and this therapist spent an hour or so in lockdown in my office due to a pre-existing protocol meant to protect the staff in the case of some kind of violent event like a super powered battle in the city streets. Castle had accessed the building to find and utilize first aid supplies and his timing was “perfect” to get in before the lockdown but not get out prior to it taking place. With only the two of us locked in together, given that it was after hours, the “client” eventually began to engage the therapist.

It was clear from the outset that Mr. Castle is a skeptic when it comes to therapy. He immediately cast aspersions on the value and validity of talking therapy and insisted that some pain was not able to be gotten over. As this was not an active client but rather a heavily armed man with a skull on his shirt, and at least one still-fresh wound, I initially resisted his invitation to debate him on this topic. Over time however, it felt clear to this writer that he did not represent a danger to me and I began to question his basic assumptions about therapy, trauma, and the nature of “getting over” pain.

The Punisher #16

As Castle has been arrested multiple times and much evidence on his psychological makeup has been presented in court hearings, as well as less savory sources of information like disreputable 24 hour news therapists and true crime writers, I was fairly familiar with the basics of Castle’s transition from “average” man to the Punisher. In fact, he was—and I imagine remains—a well-studied example of vigilante psychology in most graduate programs.

While I never directly addressed the shooting deaths of his wife and kids—I did not wish to see how “far” I could take it under the circumstances—I made sure to present hypotheticals that would speak to that traumatic event as well as his time as a soldier in an active combat zone. I validated his pain and frustration with the legal system and agreed that some pain does not disappear while contesting the underlying assumptions—that pain that never goes away always feels as intense, or the same as it does from the start, that the impossibility to ever truly eliminate psychological pain means that it should not be addressed, explored, and processed, and that the inability of the justice system to work with 100% effectiveness and therapy’s lack of magical properties to simply return a person to a pre-trauma state justifies going outside the law to seek justice.

When the system override finally completed and he and I were released, it was obvious he remained skeptical. Nonetheless, I offered him a follow-up appointment with Doctors Becky Cloonan and Matt Horak, who both have significant experience working with veterans, survivors of violent trauma, and those living with survivor’s guilt. While I do not expect Frank Castle to follow through, if he does, the appointment is set for September 27 and any notes on that session will be found in the file marked PUNISHER #16.

Psy D. Candidate Tim Stevens is a Staff Therapist who has never used a weapon in anger because his remarks are so much more devastating.