"Harry Potter and the Shrinks "
by Janet McConnaughey (Associated Press, May 8, 2001)
NEW ORLEANS - A roomful of psychiatrists analyzed Harry Potter and concluded the boy wizard is wonderful.
The orphaned hero of four best-selling children's novels makes mistakes but comes through in the end. He not only survived an abusive childhood in the home of hateful relatives, but came out with hope and the ability to love intact.
``He is adventuresome, tolerant of a lot of negativism directed his way, yet is not aggressive, arrogant or clinically depressed,'' said Dr. Leah J. Dickstein, a psychiatrist and former elementary school teacher.
Dickstein chaired a symposium Monday dedicated to Harry Potter - one of more than 1,000 sessions underway as part of the American Psychiatric Association's four-day annual meeting. This one looked at why Harry Potter is so wildly popular.
Panel members noted that not only are the Potter books - written by Scottish author J.K. Rowling - great fun, but they also can help both young readers and psychiatrists.
Dr. Elissa P. Benedek, a forensic and child psychiatrist, said she regularly asks patients and their parents what TV shows and videos they watch and what books they read.
``Now I ask if they read Harry Potter. Who do they like? Who do they not like? What are their favorite scenes?''
It helps establish rapport and gives her an idea of what the children think and feel, she said.
One thing is consistent, Benedek said. None of her young patients - not even those who idolize the rapper Eminem and quote his violent lyrics - identifies with the character of Harry's archenemy Voldemort, a dark wizard driven by his lust for power into a life of evil.
``And I see some pretty bad kids,'' Benedek said.
The books are ``not merely escapes but tools for children and adults to work through their daily struggles,'' said Dr. Daniel P. Dickstein, a pediatrician and resident in child psychology.
Almost everyone in the audience of about 100 psychiatrists, psychiatry students and their spouses said they'd read at least one of the Potter books. Three-quarters had read all four.
In an interview before the session, Dr. Earle Biassey of Fairfield, Conn., said he had only read bits of the books.
Biassey, who treats mainly adult patients, said he has worked with some children who've became obsessed with Harry Potter and take the books as proof that they don't have to obey adults.
``They think more in terms of how powerful they can be and get more control than anybody else,'' he said, adding one 10-year-old became so violent her parents called the police. ``She was ready to take on the police department.''
He said the girl has become less combative since Nancy Drew replaced Harry Potter in her bookshelves.
Afterward, Biassey said the discussion made him ``rethink a lot of things.'' He was most impressed by discussion of how parents can use the books to connect with their children and talk about ethics and values.
``It's grist for the mill. That's what I'm here for,'' he said.