Here’s what family therapists think of Prince Harry’s tell-all memoir, “Spare,” and whether the Prince will be able to reconcile with his royal family.
https://www.huffpost.com-By Brittany Wong
WPA Pool via Getty Images
In “Spare,” Prince Harry writes that his older brother, William, feared that he’d been “brainwashed” by therapy.
If there’s one person Prince Harry isn’t going to sever ties with, it’s his therapist.
In his new tell-all memoir, “Spare,” the Duke of Sussex portrays his therapist as one of the few people truly in his corner.
Harry writes that she was the first person he called after a verbal fight with his older brother, Prince William, turned physical. (William had stormed into Harry’s home at Kensington Palace and labeled Harry’s wife, Meghan Markle, “difficult,” “rude” and “abrasive,” according to the younger prince.)
Instead of Markle, it was the therapist whom the Duke of Sussex reached out to: “Thank God she answered. I apologized for the intrusion, told her I didn’t know who else to call,” he writes. “I told her I’d had a fight with Willy, he’d knocked me to the floor. I looked down and told her that my shirt was ripped, my necklace was broken.”
Interestingly, Prince William ― the person who receives the lion’s share of Harry’s ire in “Spare” ― was the family member who initially recommended Harry try therapy. Years later, Harry says that William has changed his tune and once feared that his younger brother was being “brainwashed” by therapy.
Given the prominence therapy seems to play in the Duke of Sussex’s life, it’s easy to wonder if his sessions have fueled his need to share his “truth” about the royal family.
According to its description, the book is written with “raw, unflinching honesty,” and that’s certainly not an overstatement: The fight between him and William may be one of the most explosive details, but Harry airs his grievances about nearly everyone in the family.
He calls William his “beloved brother” and simultaneously his “archnemesis,” bent on making sure the order of succession was deeply felt by his brother growing up.
He accuses his stepmother, Camilla Parker Bowles (now the queen consort) of leaking stories about him and William and turning his room at Clarence House into her closet as soon as he moved out. (“I tried not to care. But especially the first time I saw it, I cared,” the 38-year-old Duke of Sussex wrote.)
His father, King Charles III, he says, carried a “pitiful” teddy bear around with him as an adult and pleaded with his sons to reconcile at their grandfather Prince Philip’s funeral in 2021 (“Please, boys, don’t make my final years a misery,” Charles allegedly said.)
Sister-in-law Catherine, Princess of Wales, is largely painted as cold and wary of Markle: The future queen made Markle cry days before the Sussexes’ 2018 wedding (Harry shares texts to prove it) and “grimaced” when the “Suits” actor asked to borrow some lip gloss at an event. (It was an “American thing,” the Duke of Sussex says of the request.)
Why all the truth telling, even of the smallest possible details? Harry says it’s ultimately in the interest of peace and holding people “accountable.”
“I don’t think that we can ever have peace with my family unless the truth is out there,” the Duke of Sussex told ABC’s Michael Strahan.
In spite of the cold shoulder he and Markle have received from the rest of the royal family, Harry has repeatedly said he hopes for a reconciliation.
“The ball is very much in their court,” he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in an interview earlier this month.
“Meghan and I have continued to say that we will openly apologize for anything that we did wrong, but every time we ask that question, no one’s telling us the specifics or anything,” he said. “There needs to be a constructive conversation, one that can happen in private that doesn’t get leaked.”
But is Harry’s months-long revelation world tour really conducive to compromise and peace?
To answer that question, we took the prince’s lead and sought out some therapeutic advice. Here’s what family therapists think of Harry’s experience with therapy and how his very public revelations about his family square with his desire for a reconciliation.
What therapists think of Harry’s take on therapy
Going to counseling has clearly been a refuge for Harry since he and Markle stepped back from their roles as senior members of the royal family in January 2020.
In 2021, the Duke of Sussex told Oprah Winfrey that he’d been in therapy for roughly five years and spoke positively of his experience, especially EDMR, a type of therapy that involves making side-to-side eye movements while recalling a traumatic incident or memory.
Therapy has helped him process the grief and anger he felt after the loss of his mother, Princess Diana, he’s said, and strengthened his relationship with Markle. (He restarted therapy at his wife’s urging after he became “sloppily angry” with her during a “cruel” fight, he writes.)
“Therapy has equipped me to be able to take on anything,” he said. “I knew that if I didn’t do the therapy and fix myself that I was going to lose this woman who I could see myself spending the rest of my life with.”
Becky Whetstone, a marriage and family therapist and host of the “Call Your Mother” channel on YouTube, thinks counseling has served Harry well.
“I’ve seen his interviews and am listening to his book, and the way Harry talks about his life is thoughtful and obviously been processed in healthy ways,” she told HuffPost.
Though Harry’s seemingly endless admissions have riled both the palace and some of the public, Whetstone doesn’t particularly see anything wrong with his behavior.
“I don’t see Harry as settling a score but as him telling his version of his story, for better or worse, take it or leave it,” she said. “I believe when a family is dysfunctional, the only way to change the system is to shake it up, to do something different that is perhaps drastic.”
The resulting crisis “may motivate a family to face their issues,” Whetstone added. “As a therapist, Harry’s story resonates with me. It’s believable.”
Sarah Spencer Northey, a marriage and family therapist in Washington, D.C., said the Sussexes’ departure from the royal family makes quite a bit of sense if they were in therapy.
“I believe that therapy should never be in the service of helping people adjust to a life they find oppressive,” she told HuffPost. “It was a big move to step away from the system in which Harry was raised and a therapeutic move given how much harm the system caused on a deep, personal level.”
Is a royal family reconciliation possible?
If family members still support and enable systems that harm you, there’s not much more that you can do in terms of a full reconciliation, Northey said.
Rhona Raskin, a family therapist and advice columnist, also isn’t certain if a family rapprochement is possible, given the public nature of Harry’s complaints.
“This scenario is a very difficult one to walk back,” she said. “There are throngs of people supporting Harry’s point of view, taking his side, and other crowds booing him from the other side. It’s now a complex problem looking to be solved by a committee of millions.”
Unlike the other therapists interviewed in this article, Raskin has questions about the Duke of Sussex’s therapist and if he has an over-dependence on her counseling.
“A therapist is not an accessory or a nanny ― you should not have one on speed-dial for ongoing advice every time there’s a problem,” she said. “A therapist’s job is to get the client to dump them.”
If the counselor has done their job, therapy helps clients uncover strengths and patterns as well as recognize new coping skills for whatever new drama lies ahead.
“The first job of the therapist is to provide safety,” she said. “I don’t think there is any safety for anyone in this airing of royal laundry.”
Jennifer Chappell Marsh, a marriage and family therapist in San Diego, thinks that it’s possible for the royal family to patch things up but that Harry and Meghan need to be flexible with their expectations around reconciliation.
“There are different forms of reconciliation,” she said. “Ideal reconciliation happens when an injured party can clearly name their experience of pain, have that pain be heard, validated, and actionable repair is taken.”
Sometimes, though, “reconciliation means accepting that true repair isn’t possible and in turn you can love from a distance.”
However it plays out, it’s understandable why the public is so deeply invested in the British royal family’s knotty familial drama and Harry’s current truth-telling campaign. (Since its release on Tuesday, “Spare” has become the fastest-selling nonfiction book ever.)
“Many aspects of ‘Spare’ are relatable for many people,” said Meg Arroll, a psychologist and the author of “Tiny Traumas.” “There’s the element of sibling rivalry (the physical altercation with a brother), betrayal and trauma with various family members, moral injury (guilt around his silence over his father’s affair) and being undermined as the lesser member of the family.”
Arroll also understands why some find the tell-all unproductive and a little “woe is me,” coming from a prince.
“I think what people find difficult is the sense that Harry’s privilege should somehow negate these emotional wounds, but this is not the case, nor is it a compassionate stance to take,” she said. “He is human, after all.”