A look at Prince Harry’s longstanding relation with therapy

Prince Harry claims he called his therapist before speaking to his wife Meghan after being ‘knocked to the floor’ by his brother William during a furious row, and it’s perhaps no surprise given his long history of analysis and alternative therapies. 

The Duke of Sussex, 38, who lives with Meghan Markle and their two children in Montecito, California, started to see therapist after ‘total chaos’ in his late 20s, before undergoing a further five year analysis after meeting Meghan.  

Since moving to the US in 2020, Harry has experimented with different styles, including EMDR therapy, which aims to help someone come to terms with trauma.

In his and Meghan’s explosive Netflix documentary, which was released last December, the couple could also be seen taking part in an emotional guided meditation exercise. 

As Prince Harry has reportedly claimed in an extraordinary extract from his upcoming book, Spare, that he called his therapist after a violent row between him and his brother in 2019, Femail looks at the royal's longstanding relationship with therapy. Harry, 38, and Meghan Markle, 41, who live in Montecito, California, took part in a guided meditation session for their Netflix docuseries, which was released last month

As Prince Harry has reportedly claimed in an extraordinary extract from his upcoming book, Spare, that he called his therapist after a violent row between him and his brother in 2019, Femail looks at the royal’s longstanding relationship with therapy. Harry, 38, and Meghan Markle, 41, who live in Montecito, California, took part in a guided meditation session for their Netflix docuseries, which was released last month

Harry’s foray into getting professional help began in his late 20s, when he first saw a ‘counsellor’ at the age of 28, or in around 2014, because he felt ‘on the verge of punching someone’ and faced anxiety on royal engagements. 

In an April 2017 interview with Bryony Gordon at the Daily Telegraph, Harry said it was only then that he began to address the trauma that had left him ‘very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions’, although Prince William had encouraged him to seek help prior to this point.

At the time of the interview – some nine months after he and Meghan started dating – Harry said he was in a ‘good place’.   

The Duke of Sussex said he was encouraged by his wife to seek help for his mental health in the early days of their relationship. Pictured in January 2020

The Duke of Sussex said he was encouraged by his wife to seek help for his mental health in the early days of their relationship. Pictured in January 2020

The Duke of Sussex said he was encouraged by his wife to seek help for his mental health in the early days of their relationship. Pictured in January 2020

It’s not clear when his therapy came to an end, but it appears there was a break in his sessions before he met his wife Meghan.

In a series of candid interviews with Oprah Winfrey for the Apple+ series The Me You Can’t See, which was released in 2021, Harry recalled how Meghan suggested that he start seeing a therapist after they had an argument in the early days of their relationship.

Harry explained the trauma of his mother’s death when he was just 12-years-old led him to use alcohol and drugs to ‘mask’ his emotions and to ‘feel less like I was feeling’.

He also said he experienced burnout in his late 20s as a result of a ‘hectic’ royal engagement schedule and suffered ‘severe anxiety and panic attacks’ until the age of 32, roughly around the same time he met Meghan.

Harry also was filmed taking part in a EMDR therapy session in 2021, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing - and praised the practice for helping him deal with his past

Harry also was filmed taking part in a EMDR therapy session in 2021, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing - and praised the practice for helping him deal with his past

Harry also was filmed taking part in a EMDR therapy session in 2021, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing – and praised the practice for helping him deal with his past

‘I knew that if I didn’t do the therapy and fix myself that I was going to lose this woman who I could see myself spending the rest of my life with,’ he told Oprah. He has now done therapy for ‘four and a bit, five years’.

Prince Harry bared his soul on the AppleTV+ series, revealing how he turned to alcohol as a way to numb the devastating pain he felt following the death of Princess Diana in 1997. 

How EMDR therapy tries to unblock the impact of a traumatic experience 

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy treatment that helps people heal from the symptoms and emotional distress following disturbing life experiences.

The idea is that the mind can heal from trauma by using mental processes that helps to unblock the impact of a traumatic experience so someone can heal from it.

Experts have compared it to the physical practice of removing a foreign object from a wound to help it heal. 

Ssessions see eye movements used, with the client asked to hold different aspects of a memory in their mind. They are then encouraged to use their eyes to track the therapist’s hand as it moves back and forth across the client’s field of vision.

Studies have connected this with the biological mechanisms involved in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which bring out internal associations and help clients process the memory and disturbing feelings.

This is then meant to help clients conclude that EMDR therapy makes them feel empowered by the experiences, with the wounds closed and transformed. 

Over 100,000 clinicians around the world are said to have used the therapy, with millions of people treated with it over the past 25 years. 

He told co-host Oprah Winfrey: ‘I was willing to drink, I was willing to take drugs, I was willing to try and do the things that made me feel less like I was feeling.’

The royal said he would drink a week’s worth of alcohol on a Friday or Saturday night ‘not because I was enjoying it but because I was trying to mask something’. 

Asking about how Harry was able to address the issues later in the series, Oprah said: ‘Was there a moment, was there a single moment, or a series of experiences or encounters, happenings, that forced you to say: “I need help, maybe I’m drinking too much, I’m doing this too much”. Was there an incident?’

He replied: ‘No, it was only when a couple of people close to me started to say “this isn’t normal behaviour. Perhaps you should look into this. Perhaps you should go and seek help”.

‘Immediately I was like [gesture cross arms] I don’t need help. And now in hindsight, looking back, it’s all about timing. Towards my late 20s, everything became really hectic for me, to the point of exhaustion. 

‘I was travelling all over the place because, from my family’s perspective, I guess I was the person where “we need someone to go there… Nepal… Harry. You go.” I was always the yes man. I was always the one willing to say “yes”. But that yes, yes, yes, yes of course, yes, yes, yes. [It] led to burnout. 

‘It was like someone had taken a lid off all of the emotions I had suppressed for so many years, suddenly came to the forefront. I saw GPs, I saw doctors, I saw therapists, I saw alternative therapists. I saw all sorts of people.’  

He explained in the series how he suffered with anxiety and severe panic attacks from the ages 28 to 32.

‘I was just all over the place mentally,’ he said. ‘Every time I put a suit on and tie on … having to do the role, and go, “right, game face”, look in the mirror and say, “let’s go”. Before I even left the house I was pouring with sweat. I was in fight or flight mode.’  

Prince Harry has reportedly claimed his brother William grabbed him by the collar and threw him to the floor during a heated argument over his wife Meghan Markle

Prince Harry has reportedly claimed his brother William grabbed him by the collar and threw him to the floor during a heated argument over his wife Meghan Markle

Prince Harry has reportedly claimed his brother William grabbed him by the collar and threw him to the floor during a heated argument over his wife Meghan Markle

Prince Harry's book is expected to double down on his attacks on the Royal Family. Pictured: Prince Harry on CBS News

Prince Harry's book is expected to double down on his attacks on the Royal Family. Pictured: Prince Harry on CBS News

Prince Harry’s book is expected to double down on his attacks on the Royal Family. Pictured: Prince Harry on CBS News 

The Duke of Sussex said Meghan suggested he start seeing a therapist after they had an argument in the early days of their relationship in which he ‘reverted back to 12-year-old Harry’.  

‘I felt somewhat ashamed and defensive [when the therapist said that]. Like, “How dare you? You’re calling me a child”. And she goes, “No, I’m not calling you a child. 

‘I’m expressing sympathy and empathy for you for what happened to you 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”. 

‘That was the start of a learning journey for me. I became aware that I’d been living in a bubble within this family, within this institution and I was sort of almost trapped in a thought process or a mindset.’ 

He added: ‘For me, therapy has equipped me to be able to take on anything.’  

As part of the documentary series Prince Harry was filmed having EMDR therapy, which aims to help someone come to terms with trauma. 

It’s based on the idea that you can process severe trauma by tapping your hands and moving your eyes 

This saw Harry carry out a series of movements such as closing his eyes and crossing his arms while remembering past events. 

The Duke, who now lives in an £11million mansion in Montecito, California, carried out the therapy via videolink with Sanja Oakley, a UK-based psychotherapist who used to be a trauma specialist for London Underground.

Prince Harry told the documentary at the time of its release: ‘For most of my life I’ve always felt worried, concerned, a little bit tense and uptight whenever I fly back into the UK, whenever I fly back into London.

‘And I could never understand why. I was aware of it, I wasn’t aware of it at the time when I was younger, but after I started doing therapy stuff I became aware of it.

‘I was like, why do I feel so uncomfortable? And 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 told London-based Ms Oakley: ‘Happens every time. I can’t remember the first time it happened, I can just remember the feeling, anxiety, like a hollow empty feeling almost of nervousness, is it fear? Everything feels tense.

‘It’s being the hunted, and being helpless and knowing that you can’t do anything about it. There is no escape. There is no way out of this.’

Speaking to Oprah in episode three about his work with Ms Oakley, he added: ‘Wherever I could I wanted to understand more about what was going on and why my nervous system was reacting the way that it was.

‘I quickly established that if this relationship was going to work then I was going to have to deal with my past, because there was anger there, and it wasn’t anger at her, it was just anger, and she recognised it, she saw it.

‘Well, so how do I fix this? And it was a case of needing to go back to the past, go back to the point of trauma, deal with it, process it, and then move forward.

‘Having now done therapy for four and bit years, five years now, for me it’s all about prevention.

‘That doesn’t mean we have to speak to them every single day, but to have someone that can help guide us and create that awareness in our own life to when we might be feeling pain and how to get out of that and what the tools are available to us on any given day to make sure that it doesn’t snowball into something bigger.

‘EMDR is always something that I’ve wanted to try and that was one of the varieties of different forms of healing or curing that I was willing to experiment with.

‘And 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.’

Since moving to the US, the Duke of Sussex and his wife have turned to more experimental forms of therapy, included a guided meditation they filmed for their explosive Netflix docuseries Harry and Meghan, which was released last December. 

Both were seen breathing deeply with their eyes closed, listening to the instruction  of the mental health professional via conference call.  

The Duchess of Sussex was seen wiping tears off of her face at the end of the emotional session.  

In April 2022, Harry opened up about how therapy is perceived in his adopted state of California, compared to in the UK. 

In the LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman’s Masters of Scale podcast, the royal said: ‘You talk about it here in California, “I’ll get my therapist to call your therapist”. Whereas in the UK, it’s like, “Therapist? What therapist? Whose therapist? I don’t have a therapist. No, I definitely don’t, I’ve never spoken to a therapist”. ‘

Last October, during an event in San Francisco, Prince Harry said he had believed there was ‘only one way to live’ before he started getting treatment, LBC reported at the time. 

He was speaking at professional coaching and mental health firm BetterUp as its Chief Impact Officer, and was taking part in a panel discussion with the company’s CEO Alexi Robichaux at the Masters of Scale Summit.

‘The moment I started doing therapy, it opened my eyes, he said. ‘I was moving through life thinking there was only one way to live and therapy burst that bubble.’

‘Then, when I found my way to coaching, the next bubble burst, and all of a sudden I realised that now I have perspective and a great understanding of my value. I regained confidence that I never thought I had,’ he added. 

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