Category: Anxiety

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Harry Potter Psychotherapy: Panic Attacks and Devil’s Snare

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


What is Devil’s Snare and how does it relate to panic attacks?

Devil’s snare is a magical plant introduced in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone. The plants look like vines with springy tendrils. They can be deadly because they are known to ensnare people when touched. Much like a boa constrictor, they will bind your arms and legs to choke you. Naturally, the first reaction to being ensnared by this deadly plant is to thrash around and fight to get free. However, fighting the devil’s snare is the worst thing a person can do because that causes the plant to squeeze tighter and kill faster.

Panic attacks are intense episodes of anxiety characterized by symptoms of sweating, trembling/shaking, shortness of breath/feeling smothered, racing heart, chest pain, sensation of choking, nausea, light-headedness, tingly, dizzy, numbness, loss of touch with reality, feeling detached from yourself, feeling you are losing control, having a heart attack, or dying. Most panic attacks last for 15 to 20 minutes. Despite how panic attacks feel, they can not actually cause death unless if you are having one while doing something dangerous. Some individuals experience just one or two in their life and do not need treatment for them. Others experience regular panic attacks and will often develop a fear of having panic attacks, thus triggering more panic attacks to occur (also known as panic disorder). Additionally, individuals often avoid various stimuli or experiences in order to prevent panic attacks, however, in so doing, seriously limit life experiences or create more problems.

It seems as though the sensation of being ensnared by devil’s snare mimics the physiological symptoms and thoughts occurring during a panic attack. Furthermore, the more one attempts to stave off or stop a panic attack, the worse it gets. In the movie version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Devil’s snare will release you if you relax and stop struggling against it. Similarly, when you stop fighting a panic attack and let go it will subside faster. Another way to defeat devil’s snare is to use sunlight (movie version) or fire (blue flame spell), because they prefer a dark and damp environment. In the muggle world sunlight and feeling warm represents pleasant feelings, and could be helpful to think of when struggling with anxiety.

Exercises for panic attack relief

It is not your job to stop a panic attack once it has already started. The best thing you can do is take away the power is has over you. If you welcomed your panic attacks like an old friend then they would likely stop occurring. While it might feel unnatural to relax your body when you are smothered by a panic attack, it is the best way to shorten the duration.

Try the following visualization exercise:

Imagine you have escaped Fluffy (Hagrid’s three-headed dog) in the forbidden corridor and have just jumped into a dark trap door. You are unable to see anything as you fall. Suddenly you collide with a springy vine-like material. Initially, it cushions and supports you in a comforting way. But suddenly you realize that strong tendrils are slowly wrapping around your arms and legs. As soon as you realize what is happening, it is already too late. You are now unable to move and feel panicked. Your palms and underarms become sweaty as you overheat. You begin to hyperventilate and struggle to catch your breath. Your heart is racing and your fingers are trembling. You begin to feel light-headed and wonder if this is real life. You worry that you are trapped and dying. As you have these thoughts and struggle against your bonds you feel the vines tightening over you. You are choking and your lungs feel like they are being crushed. Suddenly you remember Professor Sprout, your Herbology professor. You can hear her lecture in your memory: “Devil’s snare will loosen it’s hold on you if you relax. It also hates sunlight and fire. It likes to be in a cool damp place”.

Mustering all of your courage, you focus on relaxing your body starting from head to toe. You feel tension in your head and you slowly release it. Then you focus on your neck, tensing and releasing those muscles until they feel relaxed. Then move on to your shoulders, squeeze as hard as you can and then release. Move down to your underarms, back, lower back, abdomen, hips, thighs, knees, calves, shins, heels of your feet, arches, and then toes. Imagine the feeling of sun rays beaming down on you, making you feel warm and soothed. With a clearer head you realize that you can easily solve your problem. You grab your wand and recite the incantation, “Lumos Solem”. A jet of sunlight streams from the wand and a bright light bursts through the dark room. You can hear the faintest scream of the devil’s snare before it shrinks away, releasing the tendrils ensnared over your body. You feel a weight lift off of you and your body is now the lightest and calmest you have ever felt.

Journaling Questions

It is recommended to process the visualization exercise above using the following questions.

  • How did the visualization of devil’s snare wrapping around you compare to the physiological sensations during a panic attack?
  • How did it compare to the thoughts you have while having a panic attack?
  • When you have panic attacks do you usually try to fight them off and resist or do you welcome them and allow them to run their course?
  • What happens if you try to resist and fight off the panic attacks?
  • Ponder this sentence: You have more control when you relinquish your control. What do you think that means?
  • Similarly to Hermione’s response to the devil’s snare, the only way to be freed is to let go (even though it feels hard or even counterintuitive to do that). In so doing, you regain your power over the situation. When panic attacks are no longer considered as a threat or fear (perhaps more like an inconvenience instead), then you will find that they do not occur as often and last for a much shorter duration. This is an example of a paradoxical intervention (doing the opposite in order to reach the intended result).

 


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: Death Anxiety

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


A fear of death is a healthy protector for many, however, some take it too far by limiting their experiences or making unhealthy choices. There are many complex layers to death anxiety. Some fear potential pain associated with dying. Others fear the unknown of what will happen to them after they die. Themes include, forgotten legacy, lack of power, irrelevance, loss of control, nothingness, divine justice, and being alone.

Death anxiety was often explored in the Harry Potter series, mostly through Lord Voldemort’s character. Voldemort meets criteria for a diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder due to various behaviors reported throughout the books (such as animal abuse, hurting others, stealing, lying, lack of remorse and empathy, etc.) Due to his personality disorder, Voldemort handled his death anxiety in an unhealthy way. As a Hogwarts student, Tom Riddle (Voldemort’s given name) was obsessed with finding a way to split his soul into seven pieces in order to live forever. Splitting one’s soul involves killing a person and attaching the soul to an object. Above all, Tom valued power and immortality. In French, “vol” means flight, “de” signifies from, and “mort” is death. Put together, Voldemort means “flight from death”, an accurate depiction of his internal struggle.

How do we help Tom through his existential crisis?

According to Yalom, existential therapy challenges the anxiety experienced through confrontation of the givens of existence. Anxiety arises from living or dying, freedom, responsibility or choice, isolation or loving, and meaning or meaninglessness. In attempting to be immortal, Tom was avoiding the inevitability that he would eventually die. In being immortal, Tom would have escaped his perceived consequences from his misdeeds. Tom’s behavior would not have improved until he could understand that dying was inevitable, regardless of power. Additionally, Tom’s desire to murder may have reflected his curiosity and obsession with death. Tom’s lack of empathy and aversion to interpersonal connection would make this next part difficult, however, he desperately lacked a healthy meaning or purpose in his life. His main drive was to wield power over others, repress non-magical or muggle-born individuals, and live forever. Viktor Frankl practiced logotherapy, a therapy intervention focusing on helping individuals find their own personal life meaning and purpose. Without it, individuals often feel lost or depressed.

Enough about Moldy Voldy, what does this mean for me?

The matter of what happens after death can’t be answered here. However, it is certain that a fulfilled life experiences some form of meaning or purpose (unique to each person). It is helpful to consider Yalom’s givens of existence: living/dying, freedom, responsibility/choice, isolation/loving, and meaning/meaninglessness. Don’t be afraid to discuss these complex topics with open-minded friends and family. Practice exploring these topics by journaling or discussing the following questions:

  • Imagine yourself at age 85.
    • What would you like to claim as an accomplishment(s) when looking back on your life?
    • What makes those accomplishments meaningful?
    • What would you like your relationships to look like with friends and family?
    • How do those answers compare with your present situation or lifestyle?
    • What are some realistic steps you can take toward achieving that version of you at age 85?
  • What are some of your best qualities?
  • What is freedom?
    • Is there a cost?
    • What cost are you willing to pay?
  • What does the word ‘responsibility’ bring up for you?
    • Describe your relationship with responsibility.
  • How do you feel about change?
    • Is that view helping or hurting you?
  • What is love?
    • Do you feel more experienced with love or isolation?
    • Answer this question within different categories of relationships (such as family, friends, romance, etc.)
    • What role do your relationships have in your life?
    • Do your interpersonal connections bring you overall enjoyment? How do they compare?
  • What is the significance of meaning vs. meaninglessness?
    • How do these concepts relate to potential current life struggles?
    • Do you think you hold accurate views of your own meaning?
    • What do others say about your opinions of yourself?
  • If you had a magic wand, what would you change to make your life better now?
  • Change is not necessarily the key to happiness. We could always come up with things that need to change in order for life to be better. There’s no guarantee of tomorrow.
    • Given the tools and current realities in your life, what can you utilize to make enjoyment and meaning for your life today?

Yalom, V., & Bugental, J.T. (1997). Support in existential-humanistic psychotherapy. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 7(2), 119-128.


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: Fear and Boggarts

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


What is a boggart and how does it relate to fear?

Boggarts first appear in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. They are described as magical creatures that take the shape of a person’s worst fear. Harry and his classmates were asked to face a boggart and practice turning their worst fear into something non-threatening and silly, thus confusing the boggart. Once the boggart becomes confused, it can be eliminated by using the incantation, “riddikulus”.

This post focuses on boggarts because everyone has some type of fear. Intensity of fear can vary from person to person, however, common fears include, death, pain, loss, animals, insects, natural disasters, blood, needles, being a victim of a crime, war, abandonment, failure, illness/injuries, judgment or ridicule, social interaction, small spaces, and heights. Some individuals have phobias, intense irrational fears that are maintained through avoidance, consequently, limiting a person’s ability to function.

How does therapy work when treating fears or phobias?

Fear is destructive when it has the power to limit your actions. While it is a necessary human response to serve as a warning detector for protecting the species, individuals often allow their fear response to take control in debilitating and unhelpful ways. Therefore, J.K. Rowling’s idea to defeat fear through mental exercises rendering the fear non-threatening and silly serves as a useful tool.

For “low to moderate intensity” fears:

  1. Visualize in your mind that you are in Professor Lupin’s Defense Against the Dark Arts Class. It is now your turn to face the boggart in the wardrobe. You are the last in line to do the exercise.
  2. What does the boggart turn into as you face it?
  3. What details do you notice about the boggart?
  4. Does it seem like a fear that is likely to occur?
  5. Professor Lupin reminds you to imagine turning your fear into something silly or non-threatening.
  6. You remember to take some deep breaths to clear your head and regain control of your body.
  7. You imagine your deepest fear transforming into something so outlandish and funny that it becomes non-threatening, possibly even cute.
  8. You continue to imagine possibilities until your mind is satisfied with one.
  9. Visualize the boggart becoming confused in it’s new form.
  10. Then verbally murmur the incantation, “riddikulus!”
  11. The boggart makes a cracking noise and disappears.
  12. Reflect on how it felt to defeat your fear.

For “moderate to severe intensity” fears:

  1. Seek out help from a licensed professional mental health provider.
  2. Systematic Desensitization is a treatment method used to break up your fear into little steps from least anxiety provoking to most anxiety provoking. Make a list from one to ten starting with a step related to the specific fear that doesn’t bother you much and moving to the worst possible step of facing your fear you can imagine.
  3. Slowly work your way through the steps by utilizing deep breathing AND going to your mental “happy place” as you confront or imagine doing each step. You can use the patronus charm memory from the previous HP therapy post, or you can find a memory of a peaceful place. Others prefer to utilize guided imagery from the therapeutic resources page to slowly desensitize yourself to each fear step.

Example of fear hierarchy steps as follows: Fear of Dragons

  1. On a piece of paper, draw a small non-detailed dragon that looks cartoon-like.
  2. Add details to the dragon. Make it colorful and give it a facial expression. Perhaps draw fire breath.
  3. Go to a store that has stuffed animal dragons or toys for children. Look at them and if it isn’t too anxiety provoking, hold or play with the toy.
  4. Write a description of a dragon with details about how it looks, smells, sounds, moves, etc. What are the mannerisms? Describe a scenario with a dragon encounter. (You can decide if you want to include yourself in the encounter).
  5. Look at pictures of realistic looking dragons online. (If your fear is something real, then look at the actual picture).
  6. Visit the zoo or pet store and look at animals that look similar to dragons (lizards). You would not actually be looking at a real dragon at this step if it was something that really exists.
  7. Watch a video of a dragon that is animated or designed to be child-friendly. (Perhaps watch Pete’s Dragon)
  8. Watch a video of a dragon that is intended to look scary and threatening. (Perhaps a dragon like Smaug in The Hobbit movies).
  9. (If dragon’s were real) Visit a dragon in person. Practice increasing time intervals around the dragon until you are comfortable.
  10. Touch the dragon safely. Work your way up to petting it and observing the feeling of the scales. Perhaps even go for a ride on the dragon.

Remember that you would be pairing each step with your desensitization tool (deep breathing AND visualizing “happy/peaceful place”, happy memory, or utilizing guided imagery videos). If you prefer to keep the Harry Potter theme, you can even imagine turning your fear in each step into something silly or non-threatening. (Such as turning your dragon drawing from step two into a fuzzy pink bird with googly eyes). You would then say “riddikulus” to yourself and imagine the dragon make a cracking sound and disappear.


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

Anxiety or Stress?

What is the difference between stress and anxiety?

Those terms are often used interchangeably, however, they do refer to different concepts. Stress is an adrenaline response to specific situations (which can lead to various health problems, such as increased blood pressure). Anxiety is often a result of stress when fear and apprehension become long-standing, however, anxiety does not always require a root cause to be triggered. Anxiety is chronic, and persists for at least 6 months. Stress tends to dissipate on its own when the negative stimuli is resolved or removed, whereas, anxiety persists and can be difficult to treat. Anxiety is often co-occurring with depression, and I often treat them together. If you identify with the description of anxiety, it is time to reach out for help so you can experience more enjoyment from life.

Various Anxiety Disorders Include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Specific Phobias
  • Social Phobia
  • Others- please contact with questions

Contact Me

Jennifer Morris, M.A. LLPC

E-Mail: jmorrismhc@gmail.com

Voicemail: (248)923-1408

Harry Potter Psychotherapy: The Mirror of Erised, Reflections and Self-Perceptions

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

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Harry Potter Psychotherapy: Panic Attacks and Devil’s Snare

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

The Fallacy of Change

Have you ever found yourself thinking, “life will be better when…”? It seems the grass is always greener on the other …