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CBT Techniques in Harry Potter Lesson 1: Expecto Patronum by Darlene Weldon

Welcome to class, Muggles! Today we are going to cover some Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques for depression, borrowed from my colleague, Remus Lupin, from Hogwarts. You can see much of Professor Lupin’s work demonstrated in the movie “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” l will be referring to this movie for our talk today.

Depression is a condition which depletes joy and makes you feel helpless and hopeless. In the Harry Potter movies, depression is represented by the dementors who literally suck the joy and happy memories out of their victims, leaving them feeling cold and “…like I’d never be cheerful again.” (Ron in Prisoner of Azkaban)

To fight the dementors, Lupin teaches the powerful technique Expecto Patronum. To use this technique, you think of a happy memory or a happy time in your life. Whatever that is for you, recall it in as much detail as you can. When wizards do this, and say “Expecto Patronum” at the same time, it calls forth their magical spirit animal, one that is particular to their psyche, personality, and needs. Native Americans have a similar concept known as the totem animal. In the wizarding world, this spirit animal is called a patronus. In Latin expecto patronum means “I await a guardian.”

When called upon, the patronus, goes forth powerfully and protectively in a glowing white light that drives away the dementors. The key phrase is “when called upon.” When the dementors are upon you, it can be very difficult to remember to use Expecto Patronum. Happy memories may be hard to recall. At times you will need to ask for help, to talk to someone who is not being attacked by dementors, who can remind you of your happy times and hold hope for you when you can’t hold it for yourself. In the movie, Harry sends his own patronus, the stag, to save his godfather, Sirius, who is about to perish from a dementor attack. A good support system is important. If we are dealing with true depression rather than sadness, it is also important to visit with a therapist to uncover the causes and get some support tailored to your situation. At times, an SSRI (medication) can be helpful, or even life-saving for some.

I often recommend my clients keep a “Happy Thoughts” journal. You can write down any happy memories, funny times, achievements, accolades, things you are looking forward to…whatever makes you happy to think about. When you are having a hard time or a low mood, read your Happy Thoughts journal, recall a happy time or imagine one in the future. Positive thinking sustains your patronus!

After an attack by dementors, Lupin offers his friends and students some therapeutic chocolate. Eating chocolate can be a metaphor for practicing good self-care. “Chocolate” can of course be actual chocolate, (I prefer Ghiradelli milk chocolate!) or it can be any beneficial thing that brings comfort such taking a long bath, a nap, going outside, listening to some favorite music, talking to a friend, reading a book, going for a run, gardening, prayer, or whatever helps you restore yourself after a difficult time.

If you are a Harry Potter fan like I am…ob-viously… just saying Expecto Patronum can bring a sense of fun, light and joy over a challenging situation. For my young and young-at-heart clients who like Harry Potter, Expecto Patronum is a CBT technique they can relate to that is helpful, memorable and fun. Take a moment and think about what your patronus would be. Maybe it’s an animal for which you’ve always felt an affinity or admired. For those who would rather be assigned a patronus, there are plenty of quizzes you can take online including

In Lesson 2 we will be covering Bogarts and the spell Ridikulus, useful for anxiety, phobias, and OCD!

copyright 2017 Darlene Weldon

Navigating Your Feelings

Darlene Kirtley, MS LPC

Avoidance of feelings is one of the biggest causes of struggle for people. That feeling may be boredom, sadness, anger, fear, loneliness, or any number of other unpleasant feelings. Of course we don’t like having those feelings but listen carefully to this: Attempting to avoid feeling them is harmful. People do all kinds of self-destructive, unproductive things in order to avoid experiencing feelings they don’t like. They may turn to food, alcohol, drugs, sex, affairs, materialism, excessive worry, or excessive busy-ness. Another avoidance strategy is to flee a situation or try to manipulate people or events so that they are more to our liking. All of these attempts usually make the problem worse. Unfortunately, some feel so trapped in painful feelings or circumstances and want so desperately to avoid them that they take their own lives.

By learning effective coping skills, including mindfulness and distress tolerance, people can learn to accept an unpleasant feeling for what it is–a temporary experience that is not preferable, but which does not need to be eliminated immediately at any cost. Although strong emotions of fear, anger or sadness can feel like emergencies that require swift action to make them go away, most of the time, there is no emergency about it, no action required to “fix” it.

In addition to mindfulness, another helpful strategy that I like to teach people is the Event-Thought-Feeling sequence developed by psychologist Albert Ellis. 999 out of 1000 people truly believe that events cause feelings. For the most part, it is our thoughts that cause our feelings. The same event can happen to 10 people and it’s possible they could have 10 different feelings about it. For the sake of example, let’s take two people who both got a a bad grade on a test. The Event is the bad grade. Person A thinks “Oh well, I’ll try harder next time. The teacher will probably grade on a curve since the whole class bombed this test.” His feeling is one of calm and/or slight disappointment. Person B thinks “This is a disaster! There goes my GPA. I’ll never get into college. My future is ruined!” And his feeling is one of despair. The way we talk to ourselves has a ton to do with how we feel at any given moment. The mental commentary is always running, and it is from that self-talk that our feelings originate, not from the event itself.

Try keeping a log of Event-Thought-Feeling. If you see some feelings on there that you don’t like, go back to your thoughts and see if there is anything there that may not be true, may be an exaggeration, or the result of another thinking error. One clue is “Would you say that to a friend in a similar situation?” If you wouldn’t say it to a friend, you probably shouldn’t be talking to yourself that way either! In the example above, would you say to your friend “Well, you’re screwed. You’ll never get into college now!” Of course you wouldn’t! Can you replace that thought with a different, more reasonable or positive thought? If you do, I think you will probably experience a change in your feeling as well.

We can’t escape difficult feelings or difficult circumstances but we can develop healthy coping and thinking skills to help us face them. By accepting and learning to tolerate some distress, things have a way of becoming less distressing!