Originally created 06/19/03

Helping the Hulk



Walls tumble, cars crumple and no shirt is safe when he's around.

Let's face it: the Hulk has issues.

The Hulk story, which will be reinvented again Friday when the not-so-jolly green giant makes his big-screen debut, has become an ingrained part of popular culture. Driven scientist Bruce Banner is exposed to gamma radiation and, from that point on, becomes an emerald wrecking machine when his temper flares. Much of the Hulk's mythology spins around said scientist's efforts to cure his radioactive ailment. Through the years, Dr. Banner exposed himself to countless serums, potions and beams, trying to rid himself of his inner-Hulk, but there may have been an alternative.

What if he were able to control his anger?

Whether it's road rage or family frustrations, rising ire is part of the human experience. Though many are able to control their anger, to simmer instead of boil, a large number finds it an impossible emotion to control -- very much like the Hulk.

That's where the professionals come in. There are members of society who have taken up the cause of anger management and, during the course of their chosen careers, have become adept at soothing the metaphorical beast.

So what would they do with a real one?

The Augusta Chronicle recently spoke to some anger- }management specialists and asked them: How would you help the Hulk?

Dee Levine, bartender It starts off like the beginning of a joke. The Hulk walks into a bar. From there it becomes the bartender's job to listen to the comic-book creation's woes, serve him responsibly and treat him with respect, said Ms. Levine, owner-bartender at The Playground on Broad Street,.

"One thing I'm not going to do is go behind the bar and be irate," she said. "Both of us being ugly is only going to create (something) uglier. So I'm going to try and talk to him in a calm manner and always look up to him. Looking up to a person always gives them self-esteem, and that's much cooler."

Mrs. Levine said understanding what people expect from a bartender is an important part of the job. In relation to the Hulk, that means knowing that he may have walked into her bar looking for a sympathetic ear.

"When we are behind the bar we put on our smiley faces, and are a doctor, a lawyer, a mother, a father and a psychiatrist," she said. "So you got to let people know you are there to listen. So if the Hulk has a problem and needs someone to listen, well then by God, he's come to the right place."

Dr. Lionel Solursh, psychiatrist According to Dr. Solursh, a psychiatrist on staff at the Augusta Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center Uptown Division on Wrightsboro Road, treating the Hulk probably would mean making the monster do much of the work.

"The Hulk, as I understand the character, is typical of many people I see in that he'll say he can't help it, it isn't his fault, it's all a mistake," Dr. Solursh said. "So, if the Hulk or a Hulk-like person presented, I would have to align with the person, let them know I want to help and get them to tell me why they are here."

Before treating anger issues, Dr. Solursh said, an understanding of the issues and their roots must be obtained. For the doctor, that means facilitating conversation and then keeping quiet.

"Because I don't know the Hulk, that's the first thing I would do -- shut up and listen," he said. "When you do that, two things happen. One is you get some guide of where you want to go. The second thing is it links you to the patient, makes you an ally."

Dr. Solursh said that only when the problem, and its causes, are understood, can treatment, and the Hulk-healing, begin.

Kimberly Tompkins and Bettelou Brown, yoga instructors Because the Hulk is a physical being, defined by strength and actions, the best way to approach the Hulk's anger issues is through his physical self, said Ms. Tompkins and Ms. Brown, of the Sacred Space Yoga studio on Eighth Street.. Ms. Brown suggested starting the Hulk off with some breathing exercises.

"I would start first with Pranayama, a technique used to modify and change the breath to gain certain advantages," she said. "The first technique I would teach him is the relaxation breath, getting him to slow his breathing as much as possible. That usually calms anxiety, anger, fear and a lot of other things."

After teaching the Hulk breathing techniques, Ms. Brown said she would move on to poses.

"I would have him do a forward bend, let him hang there for a while," she said. "When you do that, the blood rushes to the head and calms the mind. It's actually very good for quieting the mind."

Though a yoga body-centric approach to anger management may appeal to the Hulk's physical nature, Ms. Tomkins said it could be effective because its approach to physicality is the opposite of Hulk's smash-and-bash norm.

"There is a difference," she said. "In fighting -- boxing, kick-boxing, whatever -- you are dealing with adrenalin. With yoga, you aren't raising adrenalin, but leveling it instead. It's a technique that allows people to get more in touch with their emotions and energy and the highs and lows and helps them balance them."

The Rev. Andrew Menger, minister For The Rev. Menger, assistant rector for pastoral care at the Church of the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Augusta, assisting the Hulk with issues of anger management means first understanding the nature of rage.

"It is difficult to deal with someone in that mode because they become so intensely focused on whatever issue has set them off," he said. "Often, reason and rationale fly out the window. So my first issue becomes getting him to tell me the way he feels. In doing that, the anger comes into perspective and it becomes a process of questioning if the energy is worth expending and examining if the possible costs are worth paying."

The Rev. Menger said many of the people with whom he speaks about anger issues are suffering from a crisis of faith, a question worth asking the Hulk.

"Sometimes people become angry with God," he said. "That's sort of the ultimate frustration. After all, what can you do to God? It's interesting, because often very mature people have very infantile notions about God. We can be quite primitive in our notions about faith. When we rage, we are like the cave men drawing on walls, or the Hulk, hoping we can make something happen, something change, because we do something."

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com