Category: Psychology
Will Hunting’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

It is widely acknowledged that child abuse may significantly contribute to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In order to view such a particular disorder, it is reasonable to take advantage of media that may be extremely helpful in the translation of a theoretical model into practice. The purpose of the research paper is to view PTSD through the prism of the title character in Bender & Van Sant’s film Good Will Hunting. Relating PTSD to the film contributes to the understanding of the disorder. Specifically, by means of elaborating on the diagnosis of Will Hunting one may reach the conclusions concerning the causes and peculiarities of the underlying disorder. It can be done through determining the specific symptoms and presenting the etiological theories that encompass behaviorist and neurobiological explanations concerning PTSD. Evidently, the behavior of Will Hunting and its changes have become the main objects taken for consideration. It can be conjectured that PTSD in Will Hunting’s character has been caused by his child abuse experience which resulted in his ambiguously violent behavior in the future.

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Diagnosis of Will Hunting

It is worth mentioning that the film Good Will Hunting describes the life of a young man Will Hunting who has not found the meaning of it yet. It is due to the reason that he suffers from a psychological disorder that is difficult to overcome as it lasts since childhood. Even though Will Hunting usually resorts to violence, he is a very intelligent person with promising opportunities. Being noticed by the professor at Harvard University, he experiences drastic changes in his life that are accompanied by visiting a therapist Maguire and dedicating his leisure time to scientific explorations. Maguire later finds out that Will was the victim of childhood abuse that manifested itself in his behavior. The problem is that Will’s behavior is unpredictable and shocking to some extent as his mechanisms of defense fail when it comes to his responses to the environmental stimuli. Therefore, the particular character may be diagnosed with PTSD due to the prevailing symptoms.

Before instantly studying the symptoms, it is reasonable to provide some background information about PTSD in general in order to apply it in the context of the title character of the film. Thus, PTSD is a mental disorder that occurs due to the traumatic experience of any kind. Integrating the underlying experience to the film, one should specifically pay attention to the matter of childhood abuse and its deleterious effects on the psychological health of a child. There are credible data to support the assumption that childhood abuse and its variations become the stressors that mark further children's development. Not surprisingly, scholars pay attention to such a particular issue due to its relevance in childhood stress that may appear as a result of different factors. The scholars define child abuse as a kind of maltreatment directed to a child from a caregiver’s perspective that manifests itself in the emotional harm and physical injuries to children. Sometimes, child abuse is the product of purpose, as some parents have different views on educating processes. The stressful nature of child abuse cannot be denied due to the reason that every person should be restrained from any kind of violence. It can be explained by the hackneyed truth that childhood is the trigger for future developmental of a person’s peculiarities.

Symptoms of Will Hunting’s PTSD

In order to delineate the symptoms of Will Hunting’s PTSD, it is necessary to pay attention to a few valuable insights from the film that would describe the title character’s behavior that determines him as a person suffering from a current mental disorder. The symptoms of Will Hunting’s PTSD reveal themselves from the beginning of the movie until the end. The first obvious relation existing between general PTSD symptoms and the ones that are vividly described in Will’s character is connected with the title character’s disposition to violence. As one of the symptoms, violence in the movie is presented by means of Will’s dissatisfaction with people’s actions. The character’s violent responses should be viewed from the point of view of his relationships with the others. Nevertheless, the following question concerns his relation to Chuckie that may be determinant in understanding the essence of Will’s responses to the environmental conditions. Chuckie is a character that symbolizes the past which is connected with severe and strict violence that Will had to face in his childhood. Chuckie himself is anxious about Will’s opportunities and the chance to become a better person that would dispense with violence. Chuckie is a vivid example of a character that presents the environmental conditions peculiar to the past life led by Will. Becoming the victim of violence, Will Hunting himself is a mediator of it. Therefore, it is obvious that the main character’s behavior is self-destructive due to violence and its potential consequences.

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The symptom that is closely connected to violence deals with instant changes in mood and thinking. Will’s mood has a very changing nature that tends to shift from one to another. The symptom is accompanied by difficulties in maintaining relationships. In this case, it is reasonable to mention Will’s girlfriend Skylar, as their relationships may serve as a background for consideration of the PTSD symptom. The difficulties in Will’s relationships with his girl are highly personal. Apart from the changes in mood and thinking, it is essential to mention the lack of emotional stability. The main character is marked with such features as he easily becomes irritated and is more prone to aggressive behavior as he has no empathy for people who surround him.

Even though Will’s behavior is not marked with the memories concerning his children's abuse experience, his PTSD may be determined by stating that he tries to avoid the recollections. Thus, post-traumatic stress disorder is displayed by means of the avoidance symptom. The most striking example of avoidance can be seen as Will’s reluctance to talk about the traumatic experience and the events that occurred in his past.

Seemingly, Will Hunting has elaborated his own defense mechanism that consists of showing his own intelligence. Such a mechanism aims at alienating him from reality and his own past life. Presently, the character does not cope with the problems, he responds to them applying his early habits without analyzing the environmental conditions.

The treatment of Will’s PTSD is provided by Maguire. The main purposes of his techniques are to make Will reveal his problems and cease to respond in a violent manner. However, nowadays many guidelines exist concerning such treatment. According to Foa, Keane & Friedman (2000), “the major criterion for treatment efficacy is the reduction of PTSD symptoms”. In order to reduce the symptoms, the therapists should identify the core of the problem and address it immediately without prejudice.

Etiological Theories in the Context of Will’s PTSD

The behavioristic theory is one of the theories that may be applied in order to understand the essence of Will’s Post-Traumatic Disorder. It is actually worth starting from the description of the theory itself in order to determine its tangible links with the title character of the film. Behaviorism, in particular, is one of the most common theories that may be enlarged upon in the contexts of learning peculiarities. In the film, it is shown by means of analyzing the past and the present, the ways how different habits acquired in childhood manifest themselves in the future. However, the essence of behaviorism, in general, can be viewed through the prism of the environmental stimuli or operant conditioning. According to Ertmer & Newby (2013), “Of primary concern is how the association between the stimulus and response is made, strengthened, and maintained” (p. 48). Such particular theory dwells upon the significance of the environmental conditions that lead to the responses of correspondent to the character of the stimuli and reject the presence of human choice in the decision-making processes.

Not surprisingly, Ertmer & Newby’s (2013) article relates to Will Hunting in a way that it presents the behaviorist theory from the learning perspective. Will’s learning seems to be based on the old habits that he had acquired in his childhood. Due to the violence that the title character had to experience, his behavior is rather violent and unpredictable. He uses the knowledge in the context that actually provokes violence, in turn. The behaviorist theory of learning, in this case, maybe explained through the prism of Will’s interpretation of the environment and the responses that he is not able to change. In the most touching scene of the film, the spectator encounters the repetition of his psychologist’s observation: “It’s not your fault.” According to behaviorists, a child does not have a choice and the underlying environment is a prevailing factor that exerts a considerable influence on the ways of acquisition. The film is overwhelmed with a combination of environmental stimuli that find their fulfillment in violence.

Apart from the behaviorist theory that presents stimuli-response nature, one should investigate Will Hunting’s neurobiological processes more thorough. Another etiological theory that may be delineated in this context is neurobiological. In fact, child abuse is considered to contribute enormously to the level of childhood stress. The prevalence of such a particular stressor has implications in neurobiology and epidemiology. In this context, it is essential to mention the scholar’s assumption about the changes that occur in the childish brain structure and stress-responsive neurobiological systems due to child abuse. Seemingly, Will’s perception and cognitive processes are intermingled with the influence of the violence that was directed at him by the parents. Child abuse exerts deleterious effects on the health and emotional well-being of the character. It is due to the reason that early stressors have long-term results. Anda et al. (2006) have pursued research that determines the processes in the brain when a child is subjected to violence from the caregiver’s perspective. The scholars developed the hypothesis that the stressor’s results can reveal themselves later in such diseases as mental disorders, asthma, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases. The researchers conclude that “early abuse survivors have multiple overlapping psychiatric disorders”. Therefore, it can be easily assumed that violence exerted a significant influence on Will’s brain that resulted in his PTSD.

In addition to the above-mentioned theories that provide explanations for Will’s behavior, one may also add the attachment theory. It can be easily assumed that Will Hunting’s behavioral style concerns the dismissing pattern of attachment. A person with such a style of behavior is obsessed with the idea of independence, as Will actually is. The attachment theory is based on the assumption that a person is attached to the way of living that early caregivers inoculated. Muller, Sicoli & Lemieux (2000) advance the idea that there are tangible links between the attachment style and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the adults that were once subjected to stress. According to Muller, Sicoli & Lemieux (2000), the above-mentioned links manifest themselves at the level of affect regulation problems, meaning that:

The dysfunctional beliefs held by individuals with negative models of self predispose them to experience high levels of psychological distress and increase the negative impact of interpersonal stressors, thereby establishing a vulnerability for the development of psychopathology. (p. 330)

Therefore, it is obvious that Will Hunting’s behavior and PTSD symptoms may be explained from different perspectives. The film proves how media may contribute to the practical segment of psychological studies, thus giving a special view to the theoretical meanings.

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The Positive and Negative Messages in the Movie

The positive and negative messages in the film Good Will Hunting concerning the disorder and mental health profession manifest themselves in the different aspects of the film. Interestingly, it is reasonable to start with the positive moments that a spectator may recap from the underlying movie. The most captivating positive message regarding the mental health profession is the fact that therapists/psychologists are very persistent in their work. Their persistence usually marks the future result. In the context of the movie, it is necessary to outline the importance of the character of Maguire. Maguire himself represents a psychologist who is reasonable in his observations and conclusions. It seems that he is the only person to believe in the significance of human choice. Apart from the above-mentioned positive moment, one may also notice the fact that psychologists widely use art in their practice. Art serves as a way to provoke feelings and emotions, a person’s judgment and treatment of certain things. Art helps a person realize the meaning of life as it lays emphasis on the hidden aspects of spirit. Another positive aspect of the mental profession representation in the movie is the use of humor during the meetings between the patient and psychologist that ensures a friendly and trustful atmosphere. In general, it is worth stating that a successful psychologist should be persistent and use modern techniques of exploring personality.

Regarding the negative aspects of the mental profession, one may assume that psychologists object to working with hard patients. At the beginning of the film, Will Hunting encounters several psychologists that refuse to work with him, thinking that he is insane. An obvious negative moment concerning the mental profession is that psychologists have to be diligent and result-oriented. They should be ready to encounter people whose problems are extremely complicated as Will Hunting’s ones. The next negative message of the mental profession is connected with the lack of privacy. In the film, privacy does not have a proper meaning. Presumably, it occurs due to the reason that Will’s problems are openly discussed. In addition, the negative message of the PTSD was that a person loses control over the ordinary ways of human judgment and becomes incapable of analyzing the situation.

The combination of different positive and negative messages means that the mental profession is very ambiguous. The level of its ambiguity tends to manifest itself in different cases of treatment. However, it is obvious that Maguire uses the particular techniques of inner analysis in order to make Will reveal his problems, express his feelings and become free from any bad memories concerning his childhood. The spectator may assume that the mental profession demands special attention as it deals with the intrusion into someone’s personality. In this case, Maguire seems to be an intruder into Will Hunting’s life.


The research paper shows tangible links existing between the PTSD theoretical framework and the character of Will Hunting. Apparently, he suffers from the post-traumatic disorder due to being exposed to the negative effects of childhood abuse. As it is the main cause for the explanation of Will’s violent behavior, the etiological theories of behaviorism, neurobiology, and attachment cause the reasons Will’s behavior. Will’s main PTSD symptoms relate to violence, the lack of emotional stability, the changing nature of mood and many other evident aspects. The movie is marked with positive and negative messages that concern the development of the mental profession in general. One may find valuable suggestions on how to treat the patients persistently and apply different methods. Therefore, it became obvious that early traumatic experiences may result in PTSD, as in Will Hunting’s case, due to their capability to exert a profound impact on the child’s psychological health.

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