Psychology of Doctor Strange


Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote about the stages of grief in her book On Death and Dying. She related these stages to grief over loss of a loved one, but these stages also apply to other forms of extreme loss. These are the order that the stages are talked about, but someone doesn’t necessarily have to go through the stages in order or even only once.

"The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths." - Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
  • Denial: When Stephen first learns his hands are broken and no longer capable of his expert surgery skills, he refuses to believe they cannot be fixed. He calls all the other expert doctors to fix him, facing rejection by all of them. Basically Stephen’s denial over the loss of his hands sets up the whole movie. Without this denial, he would not have found Kamar-Taj to learn of its secret healing methods.
  • Anger: After rejection from yet another surgeon, Stephen slips from denial to anger. He turns on Christine, the only person we see in his personal life. Despite their rocky romantic history, Christine cares and nurses Stephen after his accident. In fact, she walks into his home with groceries, only to be met with an angry outburst.
  • Depression: Actually, I’m not completely sure Stephen ever showed signs of depression as a distinct stage or if it just merged with anger.
  • Bargaining: OK, so if you’ve seen the movie, you know what scene I’m talking about. While this stage is not directly related to his hands, but he was about to lose the world.
  • Acceptance: When the white-washed Ancient One dies, Stephen his faced with the choice between having the use of his hands (what he wanted the whole time) or being the Sorcerer Supreme. He’s able to let his hands and his life as a neurosurgeon go for something bigger.


According to David McClelland, all people universally have three different types of needs which drive our behavior. These include the need for achievement, power, and affiliation. Everyone has all three needs, but some or one of these needs may be stronger than the others in a person.

One would say that Stephen Strange is driven mostly by his need for achievement. He became one of the world’s topmost neurosurgeons. The Ancient One, however, disagreed, indirectly, with McClelland's theory. She comments that Stephen is not so much driven by his need for success but by his fear of failure.


Throughout the movie, Stephen goes through three stages of personal development that I think is illustrated by what he calls himself. When Stephen first comes to Kamar-Taj, the Ancient One refers to him as “Mister Strange.” He quickly corrects her with a snarky “Doctor.” However, this arrogance disappears when Stephen meets Wong, who also refers to him as “mister.” This time Stephen humbly says “Stephen is fine.” What changes?

The third time someone refers to Stephen as “Mister Strange,” he again corrects them, this time back to “Doctor Strange.” He is no longer just a humble student, but the arrogance is still lacking. This time, Stephen owns his identity with self-assurance and confidence.

Stephen changes from an expert to a student and realizes that his focus on the self impedes his growth.


In their first meeting, Stephen and the Ancient One discuss the previously paraplegic student Pangborn. After seeking the Ancient One’s instruction, Pangborn now has full use of his body. She explains that he was able to heal himself through his mind, and Stephen asks if she thought the paralysis was psychosomatic. These kind of psychosomatic disorders are when nothing is apparently biologically wrong with a person’s body, but they still feel pain for mental/emotional issues.

Of course, this could not be the case because Pangborn was legitimately unable to use his body for strictly physical reasons. Still Pangborn was able to regain movement in his body through the practices his learned at the sanctum. Practices at Kamar-Taj include devoted meditation.

“Meditation is the practice of turning your attention to a single point of reference. It can involve focusing on the breath, on bodily sensations, or on a word or phrase known as a mantra. In other words, meditation means turning your attention away from distracting thoughts and focusing on the present moment."

Now while I do not personally know of an instance of meditation curing paralysis, meditation can in fact relieve pain and promote healing. I’ve promoted and taught meditation in therapy sessions for anxiety, depression, and anger, but it can also help within a holistic approach to physical medicine.

Created By
Heather Ness

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