Duke of Sussex opens up about having therapy: What are the benefits of seeking help?

Undated handout screengrab issued by ITV of the Duke of Sussex during an interview with ITV’s Tom Bradby in California, US, for the programme Harry: The Interview. Issue date: Sunday January 8, 2023. (PA Media)
Undated handout screengrab issued by ITV of the Duke of Sussex during an interview with ITV’s Tom Bradby in California, US, for the programme Harry: The Interview. Issue date: Sunday January 8, 2023. (PA Media)

The Duke of Sussex is no stranger to therapy, and amid the flood of revelations in his controversial new book, he says he called his therapist even before speaking to his wife Meghan after being ‘knocked to the floor’ by his brother William during a row.

In his memoir, Spare, which is published on Tuesday, Harry claims William knocked him to the floor in a confrontation over the Duchess of Sussex in 2019. And in an ITV interview about the book, Harry added  “I can pretty much guarantee today that if I wasn’t doing therapy sessions like I was and being able to process that anger and frustration, that I would’ve fought back, one hundred percent.”

Harry, 38, is reported to have started seeing a counsellor in his late 20s after suffering anxiety, and he’s said he’s also had years of therapy since meeting Meghan. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, he revealed: “For me, therapy has equipped me to be able to take on anything.”

But who is therapy for, and what are the benefits?

“Harry has brought therapy into the spotlight by talking about his own experience of it, and he’s far from alone in choosing therapy as a way to help with the difficulties he’s faced in life,” says therapist Caroline Jesper, head of professional standards at the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP; bacp.co.uk).

She points out that a recent BACP survey revealed 33% of the UK population have had therapy, and 92% of those who’ve had counselling or psychotherapy agree it’s a good idea to seek such help for a problem before it gets out of hand, while a further 82% said people might be happier if they talked to a counsellor or psychotherapist about their problems.

And psychotherapist Anna Mathur, who runs the podcast The Therapy Edit (annamathur.com/podcast), adds: “Therapy is basically finding a way to live with more ease.”

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What exactly is therapy?

“Therapy is when you explore your life experiences, thoughts, feelings and behaviours by talking with a trained professional,” explains Jesper. “It can change your life, be a fantastic way to help you deal with challenges you face and realise your full potential. It can help you understand more about yourself and your relationships.”

 Find the therapy that’s right for you

Mathur explains there are different kinds of therapy – some give you tools for the now, like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a solution-based therapy which looks at your current challenges, and provides tools “to make things a little smoother”.

“There are other types of therapy like trauma therapy that dig that little bit deeper,” she says, “like the classic ‘Tell me about your mother’, looking at relationships and childhood, recognising everything we’ve been through plays out in our present life and our interactions with people.

“So, if we want to change how we experience our present-day life, what we often need to do is look at our history and where there’s been trauma and suppressed emotion, which is what Harry talks a lot about.

“I talk about glasses being dropped on the floor and you step on them and put them back on. You’re then seeing life through those cracked lenses, and that’s what happens when you go through a trauma or suppress emotions. It might be deep down within us, but we’re living life as if we’re looking through the cracked lenses. Therapy is like repairing those glasses.”

You won’t be judged

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Jesper says a therapist will facilitate conversations with patients, enabling them to explore and express their feelings, “You can say anything to your therapist and they won’t judge you,” she stresses. “They’ll help you to understand why you feel a certain way and support you to find your own ways to cope, so you can make positive changes in your life.

“It’s a safe, confidential space. Building a strong, trusting relationship with your therapist is important for you to open up and be honest with them, and for the therapy to make a difference. It’s very different to talking to a friend or relative, as therapists are trained to support you and are impartial, rather than imposing their own opinions on you.”

It’s not just for people with mental health problems

Therapy can help with a range of different issues – anxiety, depression, stress, bereavement, relationships and more, explains Jesper, who stresses it’s not just for people who have mental health issues. “Anyone can benefit from therapy if they’re struggling with something in their life,” she says.

Therapy can help uncover hidden trauma

Mathur says people may not always realise trauma is affecting them, and explains: “A good example is childbirth – people may have what looks like a very textbook labour, but if we fear for our lives and feel unsafe and don’t feel heard, that can be traumatic. It’s not necessarily about what happened, it’s about how we experienced it.”

A therapist will be able to identify certain behaviours related to a past trauma, she explains. “It might be that something makes you upset and you have no idea why – you might have an aversion to certain experiences and you don’t know why. Trauma is also triggered, so maybe someone uses similar words or you find yourself in a certain location and it’s triggered that original trauma. It can be confusing for people, and it can be an incredibly powerful thing when someone starts connecting those dots for you.”

 Admitting you  might need therapy

Mathur says people in the UK are becoming more open to therapy. “As a therapist, it’s quite hard to work with someone who’s not willing, or recognising there’s a challenge there,” she says. “They have to be willing to explore things and open up. It’s a massive step for people to take, especially if there are things that are repressed, because in their childhood they were taught that you shouldn’t open up. That stiff upper lip approach is actually quite damaging, but I think we’re recognising that.

“With all the parenting resources we have now, we’re being a lot more accommodating with our children’s emotions, so there’s been a huge shift. But William and Harry are of that generation where Harry seems to have a foot in both camps. He’s got this new awareness, and no doubt he’ll be encouraging his children to open up emotionally and validate emotions that were perhaps never validated in his own childhood.

“We probably have friends that are having therapy that might not have mentioned it, so I’m pretty sure Harry will be giving people the confidence to talk about it. “

Accessing therapy

You can seek therapy through the NHS, your school or work, through charities or voluntary services, or pay to see a private therapist. Mathur says: “We’re in a mental health crisis and not everyone can access private therapy, so tools are widely available online too.”

And Jesper warns: “A lot of people don’t realise that in the UK, anyone can call themselves a counsellor or psychotherapist – it’s not a profession that’s regulated by law.” She stresses that patients should find a therapist who’s registered with a professional body accredited by the Professional Standards Authority, such as BACP, so they know the therapist meets high professional and ethical standards, and is fully qualified.