As Harry opens his heart: Can therapy lead to family rifts?

·6-min read
Prince Harry has hinted therapy played a role in him making difficult decisions about his family, pictured September 2019. (Getty Images)
Prince Harry has hinted therapy played a role in him making difficult decisions about his family, pictured September 2019. (Getty Images)

Prince Harry has suggested that seeking professional therapy to help him deal with his mental health struggles may have played a role in his stepping back from the royal family. 

The Duck of Sussex opened up about the struggles both he and Meghan faced as working royals, and the therapy he is undergoing to deal with the 'trauma', in his new Apple TV+ docu-series with Oprah Winfrey, 'The Me You Can't See'.

"I saw GPs. I saw doctors. I saw therapists. I saw alternative therapists. I saw all sorts of people, but (what changed things) was meeting and being with Meghan," he said. 

"I knew that if I didn't do the therapy and fix myself, I was going to lose this woman who I could see spending the rest of my life with."

Read more: Princess Eugenie shares never-seen-before photos of sister Beatrice

Prince Harry revealed he had been having therapy for four years after an argument with Meghan made him realise that if he wanted to save his relationship, he had to “deal with his past”.

The Duke spoke about the incident being "the start of a learning journey for me".

"I became aware that I'd been living in a bubble within this family, within this institution and I was...almost trapped in a mindset."

The experience made him realise that he needed to prioritise the needs of his wife and then unborn child, but it was therapy that the Duke credits for arming him with the mindset to make tough decisions about his family's future. 

"Therapy has equipped me to be able to take on anything, that’s why I’m here now, that’s why my wife is here now," he said. 

Prince Harry has revealed he has been having therapy for four years, pictured with his brother Prince William, December 12, 2017. (Getty Images)
Prince Harry has revealed he has been having therapy for four years, pictured with his brother Prince William, December 12, 2017. (Getty Images)

Later in the interview Prince Harry reflected on the never-ending coverage and interest in his and Meghan’s relationship, saying he felt “helpless,” especially when requests for his family’s intervention were ignored.

Read more: Prince William and Prince Harry react to 'failings' behind Princess Diana's infamous 1995 BBC interview

Therapy and family rifts

The Duke has previously opened up about a potential rift within his family, but this is the first time he has hinted at the role therapy may have played in his decision to quit royal duties. 

According to Dr Audrey Tang, psychologist and author of The Leaders Guide to Resilience, while therapy can impact family relationships, it doesn't cause family rifts. 

"A common fear with therapy is that 'suddenly' people change their lives following it," she explains. "But therapy doesn't cause cracks, it reveals them, and empowers you to make your choices."

Dr Tang explains that while the wider familial context is considered, therapy works on the individual.

"The focus is on what is best for the individual's wellbeing," Dr Tang continues. "Unfortunately this can mean, sometimes, that the individual needs to make very tough decisions in order to heal first."

And sometimes, time apart can be beneficial. 

"Even if there is a disruption in the family context, reuniting with an individual (at a later point) who is confident in themselves is more healthy all round." 

Similarly to Prince Harry, life coach, Lisa Mitchell had her own period of separation from her family in her thirties, whilst she was on her own personal development journey.

"I had a challenging relationship with my perfectionist dad - he was very much an achiever and driven towards the goal - he would try to push me forward and push for the extra 10% but what I heard was I am not good enough," she explains.

"I was very empathetic and intuitive and sensitive and we didn't always understand each other."

Watch: Prince Harry opens up about BBC interview with his mother. 

Mitchell says she internalised her feelings of not being good enough and had to work on it in adulthood, which lead to her having to walk away from her family, temporarily. 

"In my thirties I had to separate myself from my family for a while, in order to find my own identity, and then go back and recreate these relationships in a different way," she explains.  

"I ended up with a really successful relationship with my dad. Removing myself may have caused some hurt and they may have felt rejected by that - but it was the only way I could do it, to create distance and find my own way and then come back in." 

Read more: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle open up about Royal Family relationships: How to heal a family rift

While therapy can reveal cracks in relationships it doesn't cause family rifts, Prince Harry pictured with Meghan Markle and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in December 2018. (Getty Images)
While therapy can reveal cracks in relationships it doesn't cause family rifts, Prince Harry pictured with Meghan Markle and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in December 2018. (Getty Images)

Mitchell suspects this could be what is happening with Prince Harry. "He has been living under a shadow for a long time but the fact he has gone to therapy and looking at these things means that he is stepping out and finding his own way," she says.  

"Hopefully he can create a different dynamic and relationship, moving forward." 

Though she says distance can be a good thing, it can also create a disturbance in the family dynamic. 

"Yet I believe that many relationships are repairable (unless there have been serious matters going on)," she adds. 

"But, you have to take responsibility for yourself and your emotions and clear those, stop blaming other people for what is going on with you and then work on yourself, and come in 'clean' to recreate relationships moving forward."

Happier times: Harry and Meghan's engagement. (Getty)
Happier times: Harry and Meghan's engagement. (Getty)

While Harry seems to be battling with his anger at the moment, therapist Marilyn Devonish says that could fade over time and as his therapy journey continues.  

"Though I can’t directly speak to what someone else is thinking or going through, Prince Harry lost what is potentially one of the most precious things in the world, his mother," she says. 

"(His) perception is, he lost her at the hands of the paparazzi, and there was some issues over Diana’s relationship with the royal family, so it could understandably lead to some latent unconscious anger."

Starting to heal, she says, is about "identifying the root cause of the anger, which is often outside of the client’s conscious awareness. If you don’t, the same issue can keep ‘regenerating’ and coming back."

With the right support via therapy, she goes on, "even if there is anger, whether someone has knowingly been living with it their entire life, or it’s revealed to them during therapy, it doesn’t last. 

"With the right process, we can resolve what seems like a lifetime’s worth of stuff."

But ultimately, she points out, "acceptance starts with ourselves - regardless of whether others involved accept any responsibility for their actions."

Watch: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle celebrate anniversary with new charity project.