Month: June 2017

Harry Potter Psychotherapy: Grief and Thestrals

*I do not own Harry Potter, therefore, mention of characters/concepts are solely intended for educational and therapeutic gain.*


Grief and Loss

The theme of grief and loss recur throughout the Harry Potter series, ranging from sacrifices made, murder, accidental death, ambiguous loss, and loss of innocence. (*Beware of spoilers to follow.*) Death comes in all shapes and forms. Loss can be ambiguous, missing something without closure or understanding. Moving, break-ups, missing people, or long distance can often be experienced as ambiguous loss. It is common to respond to ambiguous loss through either glamorizing or depreciating. For example: Moving away from a childhood friend could bring about glamorizing thoughts, such as “she was such a wonderful friend and I will miss her a lot and may never have another friend like her again”, or depreciation, “I didn’t like her that much anyway and I’m glad to be moving away to make new friends.” Neither statement would be an accurate depiction of what it really would have been like with that childhood friend. The reality is more likely that there was a combination of both positive and negative memories with that friend.

Harry experiences ambiguous loss every summer away from Hogwarts. He glamorizes his experiences there and depreciates his residence at the Dursley’s (although the Dursley’s do appear to make his life less enjoyable). Harry knows Hogwarts is still there and that he will get to return, however, he feels that he has no current access to it, thus contributing to his lowered mood and fixation on his problems. He even misses correspondence with his friends between years 1 and 2, and between years 4 and 5. Harry also experiences a loss of innocence and freedom through finding out about the prophecy about himself. Harry grieves multiple deaths throughout the series, including, his parents, Sirius, Remus, Tonks, Hedwig, Alastor Moody, Dumbledore, Dobby, Fred Weasley, Cedric Diggory, etc. The first impactful death experienced forms a foundation. Each death to follow gets added on to that grieving process, mourning multiple deaths at a time. Alan Wolfelt, a Grief Specialist at The Center for Loss & Life Transition, believes that there is a difference between grief and mourning.  Grief refers to the thoughts and feelings held on the inside after someone dies. Mourning refers to the outward process of expressing those thoughts and feelings. Wolfelt teaches that everyone grieves but not everyone mourns, yet the key to healing is through mourning and expression. Harry is notoriously stubborn regarding expressing his thoughts and feelings with others. Harry mostly demonstrates the act of grieving throughout the books, not mourning.

J.K. Rowling utilized Thestrals to symbolize the change or loss of innocence accompanied with witnessing death, and are described as black reptilian horses with skeletal bodies and leathery wings like a bat’s. Thestrals can only be seen by individuals who have watched/seen a person die. To everyone else they appear invisible, often providing an illusion of carriages pulling themselves. To anyone who has seen the act of death in person, it is a life-changing event. While death is a natural part of life, witnessing death can often be experienced as a loss of innocence, for there is no denying it’s eventual grasp when you see it directly. Harry lost that innocence when he witnessed Cedric’s death, old enough to understand the gravity and finality. Thestrals are also described as being beautiful yet grotesque, frightening, or strange. In comparison, death is beautiful because it sweetens the value of life, grotesque due to the pain of dying for self or others, and frightening due to the unknown mystery of what happens after.

The deathly hallows (more specifically the resurrection stone) also touches the subject of death. For individuals with immense grief (like Harry), the resurrection stone is likely a tempting idea. The problem with the resurrection stone is that no one can actually come back from the dead, instead, “spirits” return as a shell without feeling tied to the living world. The desire to resurrect the dead is an example of bargaining or pleading, a common part of grief that focuses on undoing what was done instead of moving forward with what has already been done. It is healthy to express those feelings to trusted listeners, friends, or family. There is no such thing as a right or wrong time frame for grief/mourning. I often hear comments like, “I should be over this by now” or “I just need to move on”. Those statements reflect societal and familial pressures based on inappropriate and poorly-informed norms regarding death and grief. There are no short-cuts to the grief/mourning process. The only way to heal is by moving toward the pain head-on, not going around it. Yes, it will hurt and feel uncomfortable, but that is why it is so important. The pain and hurt doesn’t go away when you avoid it or push it down, it just accumulates until it can be released in some other form at a later, and most certainly, inconvenient time.

How Can I Tell If I’m Depressed or Grieving?

Many of the symptoms are the same, including: sadness, self-isolating, loss of appetite, hypersomnia, insomnia, loss of interest in things usually enjoyed, frequent tearfulness, thoughts of hopelessness, worthlessness, helplessness, or death. The DSM-V considers grief enduring longer than two weeks after experiencing a death as a depressive episode. Many mental health professionals disagree with that time frame, including myself. Grief often lasts much longer than two weeks. However, some individuals start with grief but then if they do not mourn and process the death then it can turn into a depressive episode. A depressive episode can also be triggered by many different situations other than death. If you or someone you know is grieving/mourning and does not feel that they are healing, they should seek out help from a mental health professional.

What Can I Do to Mourn?

  1. Read a book written by Alan Wolfelt. He has written many books on grieving specific types of losses, such as suicide, loss of a parent, loss of a child, loss of a pet, etc. You might also try one of his general books on grief/loss. Here is his bookstore: https://www.centerforloss.com/bookstore/
  2. Explore your current support system. Do you have anyone in your life who listens and supports? Avoid people who make comments such as, “It’s time to move on”, “You were lucky you had the time you were given with them”, “they’re in a better place now,” or “it was all part of god’s plan”. Those good-intention comments are made when an individual is uncomfortable sitting with you in your grief. A true support will not only listen, but will not shut down your feelings. They should encourage you to talk about your grief and the person lost until you feel you are ready to stop. Make a conscious effort to surround yourself with healthy support systems (and it doesn’t always include family members).
  3. Keep a journal with you. Write about your mourning process. Perhaps write down your memories with that person. You could choose to do some form of art project to accomplish the same goal.
  4. Create an altar like Mexican culture does when celebrating the Day of the Dead. The altar might include the deceased person’s favorite food, drinks, objects, photos, scented candles, music, flowers, clothes, etc.
  5. Take care of your body. The body is often neglected when grieving a loss, but that will only make symptoms worse. Take time off from work, try to get 8 hours of sleep per night, make sure you eat healthy meals, take relaxing baths or showers, get a massage, etc.

Harry Potter Psychotherapy: The Pensieve

A pensieve is a rare stone basin that holds memories. Imagine you have a pensieve like Dumbledore’s and think of or write down the following:

  • What does the pensieve look like?
  • What does it feel like against your hand?
  • Can you feel the power emanating from it? Does it pull you forward?
  • Imagine you find yourself falling into a memory.
  • The memory looks familiar. You know it has to do with your grief.
  • Who is there and what is happening?
  • Do you notice any details about your memory?
  • Are you watching yourself in your memory?
  • What are the feelings experienced by individuals in the memory?
  • What are your feelings as an observer of your memory?
  • What is important about this particular memory?
  • You might find that you have more memories to observe when this memory concludes. If so, reflect on the above questions each time. Consider writing down your responses.

Harry Potter Psychotherapy: Riddle’s Diary

In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secret’s, Harry encounters Tom Riddle’s (Voldemort’s) Diary. It is blank and Harry thinks it is useless until he realizes that the ink is completely absorbed in the pages. When he writes in the diary his words disappear and the diary answers in Tom Riddle’s hand-writing. The diary is actually a horcrux holding a piece of Voldemort’s soul and memories. Imagine that your deceased loved one has left you a diary just like it, except it belonged to them and not Tom Riddle. Reflect on the following questions:

  • What does the diary look like and how does it feel in your hand?
  • What would you ask your loved one in the diary?
  • What would you want to say?
  • How would they answer and respond?
  • What would the hand writing look like?
  • How does it feel to imagine communicating with their memory in the diary?
  • Are you surprised by the responses you would get back from the diary?
  • Are there any images or memories that the diary would try to show you?
  • If the situation was reversed and it was your memory/soul in the diary and your loved one left to ask the questions, what would they say and how would you respond?
  • How do those two versions compare to each other?
  • What does your loved one want you to know?
  • Remember that you can return to “Riddle’s” Diary at any time and repeat the above steps.

 


Please note that these therapy exercises do not qualify as stand-alone treatments and it is recommended that you seek help from a licensed professional mental health provider.

Contact me with questions or to schedule an appointment:

E-Mail: jmorrismhc@gmail.com

Voicemail: (248) 923-1408

Harry Potter Psychotherapy: Categorization and Personality

*I do not own Harry Potter, therefore, mention of characters/concepts are solely intended for educational and therapeutic gain.*


Categorization

It is human nature to understand your world in terms of categories. In the NPR podcast, Invisibilia, they discuss Rize Coffee Shop in Midtown Manhattan. Rize Coffee Shop tapped into people’s need to categorize objects for a sense of understanding and belonging. They set out two tip jars every day with different categories to compete. One day they would have kittens vs. puppies, Apple vs. Samsung, cassette tape vs. vinyl, etc. They quickly discovered that putting their tip jars into two categorizes increased the number of tips received. This ties into the human innate desire to differentiate themselves and declare a category. When customers were asked for explanations for their chosen category, they would make comments such as, “dog people are chatty” or “cat people like to stay home”, etc. Those customer comments bring Henri Tajfel’s Social Identity Theory to the forefront. Social Identity Theory suggests that a person’s sense of identity is based on their group membership. People tend to increase their self-image through promoting the group they belong to and criticizing the groups they don’t belong to, creating an “us versus them” mentality. Through this process, there is a tendency to exaggerate differences between groups and similarities within the same group. Categorization helps us to understand objects and identify them, thus helping us to understand ourselves through our group memberships. Perceived knowledge about certain categories often guide responses to that thing, serving as a mental shortcut to save time and brain power.

Categorization is a very important factor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Students are sorted into one of four categories on their first day before they even get a chance to sit down and eat after a long journey on the Hogwarts Express. From the moment the Sorting Hat makes his decision, your fate is sealed in how you will understand your personal identity, behave toward others, make friends, and succeed in your 7 years as a student. The following are various characterizations associated with each Hogwarts House:

Gryffindor: Brave, daring, adventurous, determined and chivalrous. Often associated with heroism and “doing the right thing”.

Hufflepuff: Hardworking, dedicated, patient, loyal and fair. Often associated with “doing what is nice”. They are welcoming to anyone who feels they do not fit in the other three houses.

Ravenclaw: Intelligent, witty, creative, clever and quirky. Often associated with “doing what is wise”.

Slytherin: Proud, ambitious, cunning, resourceful, intelligent and determined. They are often associated with evil due to the witches and wizards who choose a dark path, yet many Slytherins choose a light path. Their motto is to “do what is necessary”, including selective loyalty and intelligence used with specific intent.

Each house develops a picture of personality traits and corresponding behavior for each member. For example, a student who might have been difficult to place (a hatstall) could have modified their actions based on placement. Hermione Granger was placed in Gryffindor even though she was the cleverest and most intelligent student in her year, thus qualifying her for Ravenclaw. Had she been in Ravenclaw, one could expect that she would not have turned into the rule-breaking, brave, and daring witch she turned out to be. Severus Snape could have done well in Gryffindor at a young age, yet he was sorted into Slytherin and utilized his traits to get ahead and fit in somewhere instead of “doing what was right”.

The question to consider is this: Does personality exist?

This dilemma was discussed in yet another NPR Invisibilia podcast. According to scientific contributors in Invisibilia, many experts in the field reject the existence of personality. Research has shown that people are predictable only because we see them in situations where their behavior is guided by that situation and the roles or relationships they are occupying at the time.

For example, Peter Pettigrew was very close with James, Sirius, and Remus, when at Hogwarts. He was loyal to them at the time because their friendship provided a situation for him to feel protected, popular, and successful. Upon graduation, Voldemort gained more power and the situation seemed less hopeful for Voldemort’s opposition. Although we do not know much about Peter’s childhood, it is likely that he learned from family at a young age that he needed to look out for himself and adapt to situations to survive. Peter did not view this as being good or bad, it’s just what he learned and valued. Therefore, when the time came, he betrayed his friends to survive and succeed in life. In his new situation as a death eater, Peter adapted to each change, such as nursing Voldemort back to health, cutting off his arm for Voldermort’s resurrection, and even that split second of remorse at the Malfoy Manor dungeon with Harry, which ultimately cost him his life.

Another example is Severus Snape. As a Hogwarts student, he became friends with future death eaters within the Slytherin house, mostly due to being a victim of frequent bullying by others. He felt that he fit in with the would-be Voldemort supporters, therefore, he became a death eater after graduation. In hindsight, if the sorting hat had put him in Gryffindor, it is likely that James, Sirius, Remus, and Peter, would not have bullied him. There would have been no need to become friends with the pre-death eaters in Slytherin house. Therefore, Lily would never have been angry with Snape for his choices and they might have ended up together. With Lily’s love and respect, Snape would have acted entirely different and would not have succumbed to his abusive nature learned by his own abusive childhood upbringing.

What does this mean for you?

People limit themselves based on their perceptions of their personalities or traits. I often hear people make self-deprecating comments such as: “I’m a lazy person”, “I’m not smart”, “I’m bad at math”, “I’m a terrible person,” “I’m unlovable”, “I’m ugly”, or “I’m a failure”.

These are beliefs people have internalized over time due to various situations and circumstances. Some take cues from the media, society, negative comments from family or peers, etc. Those self-deprecating thoughts not only make people feel miserable, but they brain-wash individuals to believe they are stuck with those labels and will always be that way. If you believe that you’re hopeless at math, how likely is it that you will challenge yourself to get better and prove yourself wrong? If you think you’re lazy, how likely is it that you will choose to be productive instead of staying on the couch? If you believe you’re a terrible person, wouldn’t that then influence you to respond negatively to others?

Any of us can choose to make different decisions at any time. If we believe that our personalities are fixed, then we make excuses not to grow or change for the better. Take a good look at your negative thoughts and see if you can challenge them. Be willing to break your self-imposed glass ceiling to reach your goals and make choices you want to be proud of.

Seek out a mental health professional for cognitive behavioral therapy, because it’s our thoughts that cause us to feel the way we do.

*Check out this Daily Thought Log from Therapistaid.com for monitoring your negative thoughts.*


Please note that these therapy exercises do not qualify as stand-alone treatments and it is recommended that you seek help from a licensed professional mental health provider.

Contact me with questions or to schedule an appointment:

E-Mail: jmorrismhc@gmail.com

Voicemail: (248) 923-1408

Harry Potter Psychotherapy: Teenage Development and Emotionality

*I do not own Harry Potter, therefore, mention of characters/concepts are solely intended for educational and therapeutic gain.*


Teenage Development

Characters change and develop greatly throughout the Harry Potter series. Readers get to explore Harry and his friends navigate mood swings, identity confusion, budding romance, peer relationships, self-esteem, and of course, fighting the Dark Lord. Neuro-imaging of the teenage/adolescent brain shows that the brain does not fully develop until the mid-20’s. The prefrontal cortex responsible for planning, decision-making, judgment, and insight, is the last part of the brain to fully develop. Additionally, the amygdala and limbic system are emotional areas in the brain that are more developed in adolescence than the prefrontal cortex. Therefore, adolescents are more emotional with less capacity to make rational decisions. It is believed that the imbalance between those parts of the brain contribute to the commonly perceived increased moodiness and stress response. Harry and his friends often make dangerous and impulsive decisions for the good of others. One might question how much of their actions relate to age, Gryffindor qualities, or hero complex (perhaps all three). Poor Harry was extremely angsty in Order of the Phoenix when he felt ignored and marginalized.

Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory of life development provides another glimpse into the adolescent mind. We first meet Harry and his friends on the tail end of Industry versus inferiority, the fourth stage of Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development. Industry versus inferiority occurs during childhood between the ages of 5 and 12. Specifically looking at Hogwarts ages 11 and 12, the peer group gains greater significance and becomes a major contributing factor of the adolescent’s self-esteem. For example, they often feel the need to win approval of their peers by proving their worth, skills, and accomplishments for developing pride. If encouraged or reinforced properly, they will feel industrious and confident in their abilities. If this is not supported, then the adolescent will feel inferior, thus doubting his or her own abilities and struggling to reach their full potential. In other words, if they aren’t successful developing the specific skill they feel society is demanding then they could adopt feelings of inferiority. In contrast, some failure or adversity may be helpful in developing modesty. A balance between competence and modesty is key. Success in this stage is referred to as “competence”.

Harry lived with the Dursley’s for most of this stage, therefore, he developed a sense of inferiority and modesty in his abilities due to his cold, discouraging, and bullying environment from family, adults, and peers. Harry was not able to reach his full potential until starting Hogwarts and realizing that he was talented and skilled at magic (quidditch!). Harry managed to remain modest even through his celebrity status and attention gained from heroic antics. Ron seemed to struggle with inferiority due to his perception of being overshadowed by his siblings. Instead of working to improve his performance, he remained stuck in feeling insecure in comparison of others. Hermione successfully achieved competence with the exception of her anxiety related to perfectionism.

The fifth stage of psychosocial development is identity vs. role confusion, and it occurs between ages 12-18. During this stage, adolescents look for personal identity through exploring values, beliefs and goals. This is when each individual strives to belong to society and discover where they will fit in, whether through career, building a family, interpersonal relationships, or community. Essentially they begin to learn which roles they will occupy as adults. Erikson believed that two identities are involved with self-exploration: sexual and occupational. Sexual identity refers to examining their gender role expectations and body image changes. Adolescents are often uncomfortable with their bodies as they go through puberty, and successful integration of the stage leads to “fidelity”, when self-confidence allows acceptance of others based on integrity in spite of their differences. Exploration and trial aids identity formation based on information experienced. A failure to establish said identity leads to role confusion or identity crisis, often leading to depression or anxiety. Harry was forced into his personal identity due to the prophecy and entanglement with Voldemort. However, Harry did struggle to relate with his peers due to their frequent mistrust and judgment. It seems as though Harry’s perceived destiny was strong enough to carry him through to a healthy identity formation, even with a massive hero complex. Hermione was often tested by her activism attempts with SPEW and other magical creatures. It was also a struggle for her to figure out her role as an intelligent muggle-born witch. Hermione became more comfortable in her own skin as a result of her trials and experiences, thus successfully developing a personal identity. Ron struggled with role confusion in his family roles AND his friendship roles. Ron’s theme of feeling overshadowed and inferior was carried into his role confusion, thus leading to irrational decision making, impulsivity, and frequent fights with his friends. Ron’s character arc improved at the end of the series with the help of some much needed self-reflection and Dumbledore’s deluminator.

So How Does This Help?

If you are a teen or adolescent, you might find some comfort in knowing that the discomfort and awkwardness you often feel is normal. If you feel that you are struggling with inferiority or role confusion, then you may want to seek out help from a professional to discuss the underpinnings contributing to your situation. As a parent, this information serves as a reminder of just how much your child has to balance in this world that seems to become more complicated every day. Remember that no one should have to face their problems alone. Harry had his best friends and adult support network to help him get through his challenges. No matter who you are, everyone deserves to have a support network and a therapist to talk to.

Reflection Questions to Promote Successful Competence and Identity:

  • What are my skills and talents?
  • Which skills or talents were natural for you?
  • Which skills or talents did you have to work hard at for improvement?
  • What are your peers like?
  • Among your peers, who can you speak to most freely without judgment?
  • Where can you meet new peers outside of school?
  • What would you do with the majority of your time if you didn’t have to worry about money?
  • Who would you want to surround yourself with in 5 years from now? In 10 years?
  • What skills do you have to give back to the community?
  • Do those skills and talents match up with your interests? Explain
  • What are you doing when you feel most content? Who are you with?
  • How would you describe yourself to a stranger? to a friend? to family? to a coworker or boss?
  • What gender roles did you grow up observing?
  • Do you agree with those gender roles? If not, what would you like to change or be different?
  • If you struggle with body image, what is influencing your self-criticism?
  • What do you think it would feel like to fully accept your body and mind? Describe
  • How would you treat or speak to others if you held that full self-acceptance of body and mind?

Please note that the aforementioned therapy information does not qualify as stand-alone treatment and it is recommended that you seek help from a licensed professional mental health provider.

Thank you for reading this Harry Potter psychotherapy entry. For personalized professional support, please contact me to schedule an appointment at:

E-mail: jmorrismhc@gmail.com

Voicemail: 248-923-1408.

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