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AB: ‘Harry Potter Power’ has a unique premise: it uses the Harry Potter series as a starting point to help children explore and learn to overcome issues such as depression and anxiety. What gave you the idea of using Harry’s world and experiences to help children in our world?
JS: As a psychologist, I admired the Harry Potter books long before we ever heard about the movies. I mean, young people turning off the TV? Learning how to read books? Thanks to J.K. Rowling, children everywhere have improved their literacy skills, language skills, problem-solving skills, and creative powers. But behind all the fascinating myth, legend, and history in Harry Potter’s world, I noticed the story had real psychological flair. After I analysed the text and story, and researched the meanings of myths and magic creatures, I discovered a world rich in psychological material. In the real world, depression and anxiety are leading health problems, 1 in 5 people suffer mental illness, and many young people are contemplating or committing suicide. Why wouldn’t you want to write a book that helps people to beat depression, anxiety, anger and suicide? The greatest impetus for my book, however, comes from the deepest, darkest, and worst time of my life. Drawing from the field of psychology and people’s awe-inspiring stories from real life, I really wanted to tell my readers that anyone can triumph over tragedy and free their inner power.
AB: You’ve had a lot of experience as a psychologist, working with prisoners, young people and people with mental illnesses. How has this experience influenced you, and how much of a need do you see for books like ‘Harry Potter Power’?
JS: As a helping professional, I have noticed that all sorts of people can become great heroes in their own lives. To help, heal, and empower people, it’s strategic to bring out the best in people because positive thoughts and behaviours are a person’s most powerful assets. As for needing books like ‘Harry Potter Power’, we definitely need instructive and inspirational influences to guide us in positive ways – books, songs, movies, nature, and uplifting spiritual systems. After all, everyone desires to be happy. In today’s world, that’s tough: modern life introduces issues like information overload, materialism, increasing obesity, environmental destruction, animal extinction, and terrorism. ‘Harry Potter Power’ strives to help people achieve their healthiest, happiest, and highest selves in the present world... and more.
AB: ‘Harry Potter Power’ is designed to help children develop positive coping strategies. Why do you think it’s so important to teach young people resilience, and strategies to empower themselves?
JS: Not only are mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and suicide on the rise, the modern world is challenging and complex. As information abounds, and with many local and global issues to contemplate, let’s face it: people (especially young people – tomorrow’s leaders) must become smarter, stronger, and more caring decision-makers in order to help the human race and our precious planet survive and (even better) thrive. The notion of resilience and its psychological relatives (eg. personal power, resourcefulness, perceived control) protects people from the negative effects of stress, keeps people healthier, boosts survival skills, and helps people to achieve their desired goals.
AB: ‘Harry Potter Power’ is also a very practical book, and includes tables and activities for children to complete. In your own work, do you find that activities like this help people to apply theories to their own lives?
JS: Information without action is useless. To become competent at anything, we must know and do – and then do it as much as possible! The practical nature of ‘Harry Potter Power’ is also partly due to feedback from reader surveys. Over the seven years it has taken to write this book, I have surveyed 10-50 year olds – students, working class people, professional experts, and readers overseas. One main thing readers liked and wanted to see more of was activities in the book. Action helps people to apply theoretical knowledge, practise new thoughts and behaviours, remember information, and simply have a good time.
AB: One thing I love about ‘Harry Potter Power’ is its positive tone, and the emphasis it places on the fact that we can overcome tragedy, and grow through grief. How important do you think it is for young people to realise that there is hope, even in the face of adversity?
JS: A main feature of depression is a lack of hope. The main trigger for suicide is a lack of hope. If people believe their problem is impossible to solve, they have nothing to live for, and their future looks bleak. That’s when people can start to withdraw from life and block themselves from taking healthy action. They start thinking things like ‘Why bother trying? What’s the use if my situation is completely and utterly hopeless?’ Fortunately, there are positive, optimistic, and hopeful ways to boost people’s feelings of well-being and personal control. This is where Buckbeak – the magic flying hippogriff from Harry’s world – comes in. According to myth, hippogriffs symbolise and offer hope. What better way to explain a psychological concept like hope to readers than to talk about a horse-griffin creature combo with big wings?
AB: Just like the Harry Potter books, ‘Harry Potter Power’ talks about love, and the power it has to overcome hatred. Do you often see this come into play in your work as a psychologist?
JS: Many psychologists love ‘love’. Research on ‘attachment behaviour’, for example, provides compelling evidence that we have a strong intrinsic need to be loved. Other studies, on topics like ‘emotional intelligence’, also show that caring and loving individuals feel and function best. By contrast, unhealthy hatred resounds in antisocial and callous personality traits. As ‘Harry Potter Power’ explains, if you want to feel happier, healthier, and more powerful in life, then you need to guide your thoughts and actions in the most loving way possible; then you will experience the best life possible. Love (in the form of positive thoughts, caring actions, and many other constructive behaviours) equals true personal power.
Dr Julie-Anne Sykley is an Australian psychologist with various academic and written achievements. She has worked as a helping professional for about 20 years. From inner city Sydney to the remote Territory outback, Julie-Anne has helped people from many walks of life with mental health problems.
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