Prince Harry book Spare: two psychotherapists give their view on Duke of Sussex after reading his memoir
The experts have both praised the Duke of Sussex for speaking out and also for seeking therapy to help with his mental health
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Prince Harry has repeatedly been hitting the headlines in the past few months as he has made a number of revelations about his life as part of the royal family.
Alongside his wife Meghan Markle, Harry has spoken about difficulties they faced during their life as senior royals - roles they stepped back from in 2020 - and have even given an interview to Oprah Winfrey and spoke out in their own Netflix series.
Prince Harry has also given an exclusive interview to ITV’s Tom Bradby, in which he spoke about his struggle with grief after the death of his mother, Princess Diana, claimed his brother, Prince William, and sister-in-law, Kate Middleton, never liked his wife, and alleged that “Certain members” of Royal Family are complicit in press conflict.
Now, his tell-all memoir Spare has been released. In it, the Duke of Sussex drops further bombshells about his time in the British Army in Afghanistan, physical confrontations with his brother and his drug use as a teenager.
Here at NationalWorld, we’ve given our review of Spare, but what do psychotherapists think of the prince’s biography? We have spoken to two psychotherapists and asked them for their view.
“Is it surprising that events Prince Harry went through might leave emotional scars?”
Marilyn Devonish, a Certified Mental Health First Aid Trainer and therapist with over two decades of experience, says she is in favour of Harry speaking up because she thinks that doing so can be a form of catharsis in terms of mental health.
She said: “For those who have suffered trauma, talking, sharing, and expressing how you feel can be cathartic. Where that becomes healing is when it is done in a safe environment with the support of people or a therapist who can deal with the aftermath of what comes up. I worry that this is where Prince Harry might struggle, however I also trust that both Harry and Meghan have both now sought the help Meghan said she asked for when she was still a working royal. Unresolved trauma can affect our thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, mindset, and physical health.
“Harry spoke about the weird juxtaposition of walking to view the flowers outside the palace when his mother died, having to smile and shake mysteriously wet hands, whilst surrounded by people in floods of tears. That’s a lot for any adult to take on, never mind a 12-year-old boy. Is it surprising that such events might leave their emotional scars and marks? Is it strange that someone who lived it sees the same patterns and doesn’t want them to repeat again?”
Devonish, who specialises in dealing with past intergenerational trauma, also said that trauma can impact families through generations - and Harry is addressing that in his book.
She said: “Trauma affects us all in many different ways and it can also take several years or decades for those affected to realise the impact it has on their life and how deep it runs. When I work with clients around family trauma, it can trace back through the genealogy and generations.
“The genealogical links show up in our language and mindset; just think about the term: “It runs in the family.” “We’re all a bit hot headed.” “I take after my gran.” “You’re just like your dad.” If those traits are great, wonderful, fantastic, if they’re not, we can get locked into generational cycles of behaviour which are often never questioned. What Harry is doing with both the book and interviews is questioning some of that.”
“I hope men will seek help for themselves and their families”
Devonish also said that she believes it is a good thing that the prince sought out therapy to help him to deal with some of his issues.
“Having been a certified Coach and Therapist since October 2000, I am, of course, in favour of good therapy. It provides a chance to unpack what’s been going on, see the links and patterns, and most importantly get to the root cause and resolve it. If you don’t, it can then become damaging for both your physical and mental health.”
Devonish said, however, that she still believes there is still work to be done in terms of the public perception of mental health - and the importance of taking care of it - but hopes that Harry’s book will help to start these conversations.
“As someone who has lived through several traumas, and been working in the mental health field for the past 22 years, I would love to say people now see and appreciate the benefits of looking after your mental and emotional health and well-being, and that just isn’t true. Looking after your mental health is often still seen as luxury, and something you reserve for a spa retreat or corporate away day.
“Mental health is health, and in the same way I sat glued to the Rio Ferdinand documentary a few years ago and applauded because it gave men permission to seek help for both themselves and their families, I hope when the red mist settles around the release of Spare, that what Harry is doing here will inspire the same.
“Try to imagine what Harry and Meghan have gone through”
Devonish finally suggests that people read the book and put themselves in Prince Harry’s place before making any judgements.
“My suggestion is to read the book with an open mind and put yourself in Harry and Meghan’s shoes and ask how it would feel if even part of what they say happened, played out in your own life. Have you ever had a relative or friend, for example, betray, backstab, or bad mouth you and gossip behind your back and share it publicly with others? Now magnify that by a few million people seeing it and tell me you wouldn’t be a tad upset, particularly if it appeared to be happening deliberately whilst everyone else got good press.
“And what if he is just speaking out of anger, rage or frustration, which he doesn’t at face value appear to be. If he is, does that make the issues he is seeking to raise and resolve less valid?”
“It is evident that Harry has compounded trauma”
Adolescent psychologist Angela Karanja said she believes that in writing the book, Harry is trying to reclaim power in his life, but is ultimately still suffering with the after effects of various traumas he has encountered throughout his life - including the shocking, and untimely death of his mother when he was just a child.
She said: “Generally what we are reading in Spare are raw experiences of a currently unafraid Harry. There’s nothing as powerful and liberating as sharing your own experiences especially for a person like Harry who says he felt like a spare all his life. It’s like Harry is taking back his power and expressing his experiences in his own words possibly for the first time ever.
“It is evident that Harry has compounded trauma, which is when a person experiences a series of adverse incidents or experiences; one is aggregating on the next and stirs and heightens the pain. This usually happens when someone has not processed or healed from one trauma before the next happens. For Harry this is a compilation of unprocessed childhood trauma and then more are heaped on him in adulthood when he has to endure racist abuse by proxy when his multiracial wife is attacked.
“Although I have not personally worked with Harry, from his revelations I believe he has a lot of unprocessed trauma. You know someone has healed when there are suggestions of ‘letting go’ as indicated by - the experiences though real, no longer have a negative hold on them. In essence there’s an acknowledgement that these adverse incidents happened but they no longer affect them.
“I did not see that in the book. I felt I was reading about a Harry who’s still angry about the many incidents that have happened in his life - and his feelings are valid, justified and shouldn’t be minimised. To reign free and be well, it’s imperative for him - and indeed for all of us who’ve experienced trauma - to come to a point where we relinquish the hold that that pain has on us. Otherwise we’ll continue to bleed on others because people who are hurting hurt others.
“But letting go is not easy because trauma changes the working of our brains and also as humans we want justice…and sometimes it can take a long time to understand this may never happen. As Robert Brault put it ‘life becomes easier when we learn to accept an apology we never got.’”
“Healing trauma can take a long time”
Karanja, who is the founder of Raising Remarkable Teenagers, added that when a person goes through therapy it has an impact on them and their family - and that is what we are now seeing played out in the book and also the television interviews.
“Harry says he’s been to therapy though . . . but healing trauma can take a long time. It’s like peeling an onion and with every layer another layer is revealed. Many times when people begin to heal from trauma, they begin to take charge of their lives and become brave to express their true self.
“People, family and friends who have known them in a certain way get the shock. The person they were used to is no more. The real one is out, one that is listening to a different drummer. What Harry has done speaking up, goes against the grain of the institution where he was born and brought up.”