Whenever someone asks me about my approach to therapy, I talk about therapy in terms of stories. I’ve always loved hearing other people’s stories. Each person has a story that is unique to them which has influenced how they live their lives today. As a therapist, I see my work as partnering with someone in rewriting the rest of their life story.
It’s no surprise that I also love reading stories. Ever since I was a child, I’ve been drawn to children and young adult fiction stories. The excitement in these stories is that we get to learn about life and the world around us from a child or adolescents perspective. This perspective often helps us learn life lessons that would be difficult to learn from a non-fiction or adult novel, which is why I believe so many of us are drawn to dystopian young adult novels or picture books with moral stories.
One of my favorite stories of all time is the story of Harry Potter. As I have been re-reading the Harry Potter series over the last few weeks, his story has helped me connect to others in so many ways. I have had strangers in public approach me to talk about how the books have changed their lives. Harry Potter seems to be one of the collective bonding points of our society, just as the hope of “the boy who lives” is a point of connection for the wizarding world in the stories.
I believe the reason for this point of connection is because Harry Potter teaches us so much about ourselves and mental health. Harry Potter is a character who has suffered immense trauma, including the death of his parents, mistreatment from his caretakers, and battling constant threats against his life. His story is by no means the perfect story of how trauma impacts our lives, but it provides a road-map for how many of us can start to process through and heal from our own trauma.
Throughout the series, we watch Harry grow and begin to deal with his emotions. As Harry faces more loss and tries to attach to healthy adult figures in his life, these emotions become more difficult to face. In the fifth book of the series,The Order of the Phoenix, there is a pivotal scene where Dumbledore allows Harry to scream and break things to process his grief. While destruction isn’t necessarily the end goal of processing emotions, this is the moment where Harry learns that he must acknowledge his emotions if he is ever going to move forward.
Harry learns that he needs to control his anger in healthier ways, because it spills over into other areas of his life. He learns to talk through his anger with trusted friends and advisers. He also learns how to channel his anger through various positive activities such as sports like Quidditch and teaching others about magic. Over time, he is able to heal from his trauma and control his emotions so that they no longer impact his ability to work or form meaningful relationships.
Learning to acknowledge all emotions is instrumental for people with trauma, because the suppressed memories and emotions related to trauma must be processed and felt. When emotions and memories are ignored, they manifest in anxiety, panic attacks, flashbacks, trouble sleeping and even physical symptoms like feeling ill or pain. When traumatic memories are processed in a safe environment, like counseling, the mind begins to heal from the trauma. As the feelings behind trauma are acknowledged and processed in productive ways, the frequency of anxiety or flashbacks decreases.
Connecting with Others
The most important lesson in the Harry Potter Series is that we all need human connection and to feel loved by others. Harry’s greatest strength is in his ability to rely on his friends for help. He has many people in his life that point him back to truth in difficult times and stand by him, even when others don’t believe him. For those who have experienced this, it is tremendously healing to be surrounded by people that believe your story and are willing to listen to it in a non-judgmental way.
It is also important to find people that you can trust and help you feel safe. There are times in the series where Harry only has his friends, either Ron or Hermione to fulfill this role, but even in those moments, having that one friend is enough. While we all could use a big support network like the Order of the Phoenix, even having one trusted friend makes a huge difference in our journey to healing.
If you have experienced a traumatic event and want help on your journey to healing, a therapist can provide a safe place for you on your journey toward healing. Call today!