In his forthcoming memoir Spare, Prince Harry claims Prince William attacked him during an argument at the younger brother’s Nottingham Cottage home in 2019. The first person the Duke of Sussex called after the physical fight was not his wife – who was the main subject of the brothers’ alleged squabble – but his therapist.
In an extract from the royal’s book, which is due for release on 10 January, Harry writes that his older brother grabbed him by the collar, ripped his necklace off and “knocked” him to the ground. The argument began when William allegedly called Meghan “difficult”, “rude” and “abrasive”, and escalated when Harry fell onto the dog’s bowl with the broken pieces cutting into his back.
After William left his brother’s home, looking “regretful” as Harry recalls, the duke writes that he didn’t immediately tell Meghan, but called his therapist after the altercation. It wasn’t until his wife noticed “scrapes and bruises” on his back that he told her of the attack.
Prince Harry is no stranger to therapy and it doesn’t come as a surprise that Harry would have his therapist on speed dial. Given the circumstances of his life, it’s baffling how he could ever live without one.
The royal’s foray into therapy is not unlike the 21.6 per cent of Americans who sought mental health treatment last year: anxiety issues, grief from losing a loved one, PTSD after serving in the military, and the stress of family dysfunction.
Following the death of his mother Princess Diana when he was just 12 years old, Harry didn’t seek professional help until his late 20s, which he described as two years of “total chaos”. The prince once told The Telegraph in 2017 he sought counseling after he was on the verge of a “complete breakdown”.
“I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well,” he said at the time. “My way with dealing with it was sticking my head in the sand, refusing to think about my mom, because why would that help? So from an emotional side, I was like, ‘Right, don’t ever let your emotions be part of anything.’”
While it’s unclear how often Prince Harry sought these therapy sessions – or when they stopped – the royal has said that it wasn’t until meeting Meghan that she encouraged him to see a therapist again.
In the Apple TV Plus series The Me You Can’t See, Harry recalled an argument that he and his now wife had during the early days of their relationship, admitting that he would risk losing “this woman who I could see spending the rest of my life with” if he did not go to therapy.
“I saw GPs, I saw doctors, I saw therapists, I saw alternative therapists. I saw all sorts of people, but it was meeting and being with Meghan,” he said. While he didn’t divulge what the argument was about, he added that Meghan suggested he needed to seek professional help after he “reverted back to 12-year-old Harry”.
“It was probably in my second session, my therapist turned to me and said, that sounds like you reverting to 12-year-old Harry,” he said. “I felt somewhat ashamed and defensive, like how dare you, you’re calling me a child? And she said I’m not calling you a child, I’m expressing sympathy and empathy for you and for what happened when you were a child. You never processed it, you were never allowed to talk about it, and all of a sudden now, it’s coming up in different ways as projection.”
Harry has been open about the trauma he’s experienced from his mother Diana’s sudden death, citing the moment he was urged by his family to walk behind his mother’s coffin as part of the funeral procession to Westminster Abbey when he was 12 years old.
“Of course for me, London is a trigger, unfortunately. Because of what happened to my mum, and because of what I experienced and what I saw,” he said during the docuseries.
Because of this, he’s sought out forms of therapy beyond your average leather couch session, such as EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. EDMR is a special form of psychotherapy that “enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences,” using a series of eye movements as part of the lengthy process of coming to terms with repressed traumatic experiences.
“EMDR is always something that I wanted to try and that was one of the varieties of different forms of healing or curing that I was willing to experiment with,” Harry said. “I never would have been open to that had I not put in the work and the therapy that I’ve done over the years.”
In a society where men are stigmatised for seeking mental health help, Prince Harry has shown time and time again his dedication towards healing, and using his platform to help men do the same.
In 2021, the percentage of adult women who received any mental health treatment within the year was significantly higher than the number of men. Among adults aged 18 to 44, 28.6 per cent of women received mental health treatment while 17.8 per cent of men sought therapy.
Although the number of men seeking therapy has increased over the years, archaic ideas of masculinity have forced men to keep their emotions hidden. For decades, men have been told that expressing their feelings is a sign of weakness, and they should handle their emotions “like a man”.
This stigma makes it hard for men to admit when they need help, and could lead to even more serious mental health issues in the future. And in a family like Prince Harry’s – whose motto he claims is “never complain, never explain” – this stigma is just the norm.
Perhaps Prince William, who has championed himself as an advocate for mental health, should take a page out of his brother’s book.