Anyone who knows me will know that my passions include rugby, technology and Harry Potter. I was introduced to these books when I was working the night shift in a Children’s Mental Health Unit in London almost 20 years ago. I remember explaining to my nursing colleague that night that I had forgotten to bring in the novel that I was reading and that it was going to be a long night. Just then a small hand appeared out of one of the rooms holding Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I approached the book and the small 11 year old girl who was holding it and she said to me ‘read this, its really good’. I took it from her more out of politeness than intent and returned to my seat. Later that night, out of pure boredom, I picked up this children’s book and began to read. Little did I know as I read those first few lines that my life was about to be impacted in a fairly significant way…

These books introduced me to the wizarding world which was magical in more ways than one. As a therapist, I was struck by how skilfully these storylines tackled many childhood fears. Rowling’s use of symbolism and metaphor were simply wonderful. She took all the things that were traditionally associated with childhood fears and reframed them as far less threatening objects and characters. Witches were now teachers, owls and rats were family pets and sorcery was something that could be used for good as well as evil. Her negotiation of the complex concept of good and evil were truly spellbinding. She tackled deep social issues like racism through her concept of Mudbloods and Truebloods and the challenge of self-identification in the face of familial legacies.

She taught us that sometimes altering our lens from which we see a problem can change how much we allow something to affect us (The Boggart) and reminded us of the need to harness our positive experiences to defend against sadness and depression (The Patronus Charm and the Dementors).

But more importantly Rowling teaches us the value of our choices and how important they are in our lives. Dumbledore suggests that it is not our histories or our genetics that determine who we are, but it is our choices that determine who we will become. This is a massive message of importance as it reinforces our need to not be consumed by aspects of our lives that we cannot change, but rather to concentrate our efforts on addressing the aspects of our lives that we can influence. You cannot change how anyone acts around you in this life, you can only be responsible for your response to them. This is an enlightening and empowering message that seems more important today than ever before.

Some will say that Rowling followed a well known fairytale formula and this is why this series was so successful. And although there are certainly parallels, she did so much more. Like the classic fairytale Harry is parentless and he still survives. This message is successful because children like to read about this because it reassures them that even if the most horrific loss imaginable occurs, i.e. the loss of your primary caregiver, you can still make it through. Rowling also teaches us the value of the fundamental experience of love. Harry’s Protection from evil was passed on through the love he received from his mother in the first years of his life. This ‘old magic’ is what saves his life, defends him against evil and allows him to survive the abuse of his relatives the Dursleys.

This message of the importance of meaningful relationships in the development of our resilience, self belief and conceptualisation of meaning is more required in today’s world than ever before. In the last 20 years our world has changed enormously. In a world that pushes the values of likes and virtual validation, it is more important than ever to ground ourselves in true meaning. Maybe now 20 years on we could all benefit from a return to Hogwarts. I know I would…

Dr. Colman Noctor, Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist with St Patrick’s Mental Health Services

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