You know, as a psychology student I’m constantly yelling at everyone to get therapy, whether they’re real or fictional.
I’ve always wondered what it would be like to sit in a therapy room with some characters. Coincidentally, one of my assignments asked me to put a fictional character of my choice in therapy and I literally poured my heart and soul into it. And I know some of you have been waiting for me to finish it for months and others have been waiting for me to put it up as a blog post and now here we finally are!
Not only am I going to be talking about Loki from the Marvel movies being in therapy, but I’m also making this a series on my blog! Welcome to the series Donning My Therapist Hat where I make fictional characters go through psychotherapy. Coming from a psychology student, you can be assured that these will have good research and theory backing but since I’m not a therapist (yet), please also take these with a grain of salt
As a note, these posts will be a tad bit more formal and research-based which I don’t know, might be something that you guys enjoy? I had half a mind to make this post more fun and informal but I think seeing the evidence for what I’m going to be talking about might be pretty exciting for you all.
Yes, I plan on doing more posts in this series. Will they be as thorough and detailed as this one? I’ll do my level best. This post has been birthed after months of writing and research, multiple revisions and whatnot. I’m not sure if I can put the same amount of time and effort into the following posts but I assure you that I’ll do my level best.
And now without further ado, let’s dive into what you all are here for!
Donning My Therapist Hat: What If Loki from the MCU Got Therapy?
Breaking down a character, analysing their life and then predicting their therapy course is a long task so bear with me, I know this is going to be a long post.
For this case study, I’ll be looking at the character Loki Laufeyson or Odinson, however you may prefer calling him, from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). I’m going to be looking at Loki through the movies: Thor, Thor: The Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok. I’m not diving into the show because it’s honestly a vast playground to cover and I have some very strong opinions on Loki’s character arc throughout the show.
Influential Life Events
Let’s start with Loki’s childhood. I know, people believe psychotherapists are obsessed with childhood and father-child relationships but in Loki’s case, the emphasis is truly revealing of his identity. In the very beginning of Thor Odin, Loki’s father pits him and his brother Thor against each other by saying only one of them can have the throne one day. This instigates competitiveness in their relationship from the very beginning. This is also prefaced by Odin’s tales of glory and how he defeated the Frost Giants. For Loki, not only would this event have instilled a constant need to be better than his brother but also cement his main goal and drive to have a throne and crown, which becomes a core part of Loki’s value system. This scene also establishes a hatred and fear of Frost Giants in Loki.
At some point, Loki discovers that he’s the son of Laufey, the king of Frost Giants and confronts his father about it. This leaves him reeling and he breaks down, trying to re-align his sense of self and value systems. He sees himself as ‘no more than a stolen relic’ who Odin raised while planning to use him as a sort of peace offering between the two kingdoms.
He cannot bring himself to accept the reality since Loki had seen himself taking Odin’s place to protect Asgard from monsters like Frost Giants but now he is the monster. Moreover, Loki fixates on the notion that Odin never saw him as a son, but as a pawn to be used. His feelings of resentment against Thor and Odin because of Odin always favouring Thor come into play as well. He centres his identity around trying to prove his worth and the fact that he is more worthy than his brother to be a king. Loki wishes to forget his true identity and hence launches an elaborate scheme to destroy the race of Frost Giants to prove his worth.
Something that often drives Loki in all the movies is his desire to have a throne. We can now see it isn’t the throne that he wants but a chance to prove himself to his father and the world and make everyone, including himself believe that he is not a monster.
But when Loki fails in his grand scheme, he realises that his father will always see him as a Frost Giant and lesser than his brother. Having lost all hope of that, Loki lets go of his family, both metaphorically and literally. He becomes bitter, resentful and overtaken by anger and self-hatred. Loki has already, in his head, burnt all bridges with his family and now flounders as he tries to find a goal in his life.
In Thor: The Dark World we see Loki being held captive and directing the Dark Elves towards Thor but it unfortunately ends up with his mother’s death. Her death has a huge impact on Loki since he was closest to his mother in the family and believed himself to have been the cause of her death. This fuels him with grief, self-hatred and anger even more so than before and we see him channel that into revenge, which becomes the character’s main motivation. This is the moment Loki truly breaks off all ties with the rest of his family since he doesn’t feel like they care for him at all.
In Thor: Ragnarok after Odin’s death, Loki seems to find himself without a purpose. He no longer has a father to prove himself to, no throne to take over (the throne is being occupied by his much more powerful evil sister) and his brother seems to have given up all hope for him. But during a small heart-to-heart, Thor reveals that he used to think the world of Loki but is tired of being tricked and manipulated by him. Instead of forcing Loki to do the right thing, he’s just letting him be. This is a big moment for him since with not even Thor to squabble and fight with, Loki finds himself aimless. It’s probably that realisation and his underlying love for his brother that drives Loki to make the right choice in the end by helping Thor save their people and stick with him through whatever happens instead of fleeing and looking out just for himself. Although the two brothers are on thin ice there is a certain camaraderie between them and Loki seems to be at the most stable and secure point in his journey.
Analysing Loki Using Adlerian Theory
There are so many approaches that one can take when it comes to therapy. Quite often therapists practice eclectically, that is they take ideas from different approaches to apply what is best for their clients. Even under the approaches, there are theories that one can use.
In this instance, I’ve chosen to use Adlerian theory which comes under Psychodynamic Therapy, partly because it is a theory I resonate with and partly because it seems to explain a lot about Loki, as you will further see.
Much of Adlerian therapy is centred around a person’s sense of self in their environment and society, their relationships and personal motivations (Cherry, 2021). According to Adler, human behaviour is driven by social needs and relationships and it is important to have a holistic view of a person by taking in all the dimensions and components of their lives (Corey, 2017). Adler emphasises the presence of inferiority feelings in everyone and how they motivate us to strive for excellence and success and shape our life goals. Adler talks about three life tasks that a person needs to master in their life. The social task refers to building friendships and relationships, the love-marriage task refers to establishing intimacy and the occupational task refers to contributing to society in a fruitful manner. Adler believed in understanding people keeping in mind the systems they exist in and thought that “people cope with feelings of helplessness by striving for competence, self-mastery, and perfection”. As a whole, Adlerian therapy emphasises a person’s need for connection and formation of relationships as well as a sense of belonging for them to overcome inferiority feelings and live a happy life.
Under Adlerian Brief Therapy (ABT), charting a birth order and interpreting how Loki sees himself in the birth order would be a useful technique. Loki grew up and sees himself as a second child. He has a brother to compete with him in everything and tries to best him in every way possible. A second child explores and exploits the elder child’s weak spots and tries to succeed where the elder fails to win the praise of family and others, which offers an explanation for many of Loki’s actions (Corey, 2017). For example, in contrast to Thor’s reckless and head-on nature, Loki projects a calm and collected aura and uses Thor’s weakness to bring him down in his father’s eyes in Thor.
Everyone has a self-selected life goal and Loki’s seems to be sitting on a throne. When Loki finds out that he is a Frost Giant, his breakdown can be seen as a point at which the client’s inferiority feelings increase exponentially, increasing his motivation to win the throne. However, his motivation for the throne takes over his life. He tries to strive for perfection by trying to prove himself to his family and win the throne at any cost.
His journey and failure to do so would have played a key role in forming Loki’s private logic, what Adlerians see as concepts about self, others, and life on which a person’s life is based (Corey p.106, 2017). Loki’s private logic drives him into self-fulfilling prophecies in many situations and it only makes him more bitter and hurt. He feels his family cannot love him for who he truly is so the only way he can receive love and appreciation from others is by showcasing his capabilities and having positions of power and respect. These thoughts likely fuel Loki’s motivations to earn a throne. However, his mother’s death would have added fuel to his inferiority feelings and his guilt and grief would have been channelled into his motivation for vengeance. While his motivation to win a throne and have power still existed, we see that his motivation for vengeance took the front seat for a while in Thor: The Dark World.
After he gains his vengeance, in Thor: Ragnarok Loki can be seen having a change of heart as he tries to find his life goal. Until now he had been trying to rule Asgard but with that out of the way, he struggles to form a particular goal or social relationships and find a place in society. The only place he knows is Asgard and the only people he cares about are his people and his brother which is why he chooses to go save them. He realises that at the moment only his brother and Asgardians can provide him with the significance that he’s searching for in his life. Here we see a shift as the character struggles to find a life goal and for the time being, seems to settle on trying to find a place for himself.
In Summary: What Makes Loki Who He Is?
Loki puts up a front of being narcissistic, cruel, and a generally apathetic god. People may think he’s impassive and disinterested in what happens to anyone around him but the truth is different. Loki cares about other people, he just doesn’t like to show it. He enjoys trickery and mischief but it’s all in good fun. He provokes others to get a reaction and bring attention to himself. Thor once described how Loki had shapeshifted into a snake and when Thor had excitedly picked up the snake Loki had turned back into himself to stab Thor. That’s classic Loki.
Loki often keeps a calm, collected and seemingly apathetic aura so as to not let others see his insecurities, weaknesses and sensitivity. He craves attention and wishes for others to understand him and love him for who he truly is (even though he harbours a lot of self-hatred). This is reflected in his life multiple times, like when he orchestrated a grand scheme in Thor to win his father’s appreciation. Loki’s self-hatred at being a Frost Giant leaves him with low self-esteem but he does his best to cover that by appearing as nonchalant as possible. He wishes to portray himself as a strong, confident and powerful figure in line with his life goal of ascending the throne to be respected and heard. Although a silver tongue who analyses everyone around him, he isn’t very perceptive about himself and lacks self-awareness, as his mother Frigga points out in Thor: The Dark World. This lack of self-awareness seems to be stemming from his flawed private logic of assuming everyone thinks the worst of him and sees him as inferior and unlovable.
I would say that Loki’s personality is a result of his environment and his interpretation of the life events he went through. His drive to best everyone seems to arise from him trying to cope with his inferiority feelings. Loki also lacks a sense of community and social interest. Adlerians strongly believe that having a sense of community resolves many of the problems an individual may be facing and many times we fear not being accepted by other groups. But Loki sees himself as a lone wolf and is reluctant to interact and establish a sense of community with anyone. This is one of Loki’s main psychological concerns. He looks down upon himself and fears nobody wants anything to do with him. So he portrays an illusion of being strong and impassive and creates a self-fulfilling prophecy due to which nobody is able to connect with him, reinforcing his beliefs. Loki isn’t great at communication and maintaining interpersonal relationships. He finds it hard to trust others and makes it even harder for others to trust him through his shenanigans, his relationship with his brother being a prime example. Loki also keeps pushing away his mother, one of the few who sees the good in him, because he feels undeserving of her love.
A Peek Into Loki’s Therapy Sessions
In the initial sessions of therapy, ABT focuses on establishing a relationship with the client rather than starting to work on the issues they may be facing straight away. Loki wouldn’t reach out for therapy on his own since he refuses to let others see him as weak or ask for help. For him to be in therapy would mean some external circumstances or person forcing him to come for a session. Probably Thor saying ‘get help’ but seriously brother, get help.
This would make him a client rather unwilling to open up. Hence I believe it will be very important to establish a relationship with him in the beginning by trying to assure him of a safe space with unconditional positive regard. I believe that offering a positive, non-judgemental space and assuring the client that asking for help is okay and doesn’t make him weak, would be helpful. The relationship may seem one-sided initially as Loki may be unresponsive and silent as I attempt to build a rapport by trying to understand his life and subjective experience of the world.
After establishing a relationship I would conduct a subjective interview, letting Loki tell his life story as he wishes to and listen actively as well as empathically. This would be followed by an objective interview to gather information like how the problems in Loki’s life began, his medical and social history, why he chose to come for therapy at this time and so on. This would help me make a lifestyle assessment to understand how Loki looks at and makes sense of the events and people in his life and copes with them. To wrap up this phase, I would summarise the information from both the interviews so that the client and I can look at it together and discuss specific portions in depth and detail.
I would then encourage self-understanding on Loki’s behalf. This would require him to understand the hidden purposes behind his behaviour. I would try leading him to realise the underlying motivations of gaining the power to prove his worth that drives his behaviour. This will also include looking at his private logic, the ways in which he tends to perceive himself as inferior and unlovable and his beliefs that everyone actively hates and looks down on him. This is an essential step toward trying to understand Loki’s motivations and how they may be influencing and contributing to the issues that he is dealing with.
This would then lead us to the final stage of reorientation and reeducation. In this phase clients usually reflect on the insights they gained to implement changes in their lifestyle and realise their strengths, connect with others and contribute to society. One of the most important things would be for me to provide encouragement to Loki as he works through reorientation. I would encourage him to assess his motivations and internal thought patterns and suggest he realign his motivations. I would encourage Loki to form new life goals and find different motivations in accordance with the lifestyle he would be trying to achieve. I might suggest that he focus on his relationships and his place in society rather than focusing on amassing power and a throne.
As a god, Loki sees all humans below him and it would be important to navigate that barrier with him. However, I believe if he is given a safe and affirming environment he would come to respect me for it and lower his walls and the assumptions he carries for humans.
Branagh, K. (Director). (2011) Thor [Film] Marvel Studios
Cherry, K. (2021, December 21). What to know about Adlerian theory. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/alderian-theory-definition-techniques-and-efficacy-5213796
Corey, G. (2017). Theory and practice of counselling and psychotherapy.
Taylor, A. (Director). (2013) Thor: The Dark World [Film] Marvel Studios
Waititi, T. (Director). (2017) Thor: Ragnarok [Film] Marvel Studios
If you made it all the way through, thank you so much for reading this post! What are your thoughts on it?
I’m always curious how the general public looks at therapy. Did any of your expectations or beliefs about therapy get dismantled or reinforced through this post?
What other fictional characters would you like me to analyse? would love to take recommendations from books, movies as well as tv shows 🙂