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The Healthy Warrior in The King's Speech


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By Alyce Barry

When the film "The King's Speech" was in theatres, I heard from a colleague that it showed a therapist using some unusual techniques that weren't all that different from Shadow Work®. So I watched it with eagerness, and I enjoyed it immensely.

While there's a lot going on in this very complex story about a speech therapist helping a monarch who stutters, what I found most thrilling was the portrayal of therapist Lionel Logue's healthy Warrior energy.

In my experience, films more often show us the shadow side of the Warrior: violence, revenge, brutality, lack of integrity and sleaziness, blame and denial of responsibility. It's rare to see the golden side of the Warrior — healthy boundaries and the courage it takes to establish and maintain them — so vividly and movingly on display.

That isn't to say that Lionel Logue isn't healthy in other energies as well. While I don't think any archetype ever appears in true isolation from the others, I find it can be helpful to point out the unique qualities of each. Logue is unfailingly compassionate, accepting and supportive, qualities I would call Sovereign. He is wise about human nature, intuitive and good-humored, qualities I would call Magician. He is close to his wife and sons and vulnerable enough to accept not only support but advice from them, and I would call his connectedness and vulnerability healthy qualities of the Lover.

Spoiler alert: This article refers to numerous details about the film.

A SIMILAR CONTAINER

Most strikingly similar to Shadow Work® are Logue's methods of holding what we call a safe container. He refers to the necessity for safety and trust in his first contact with the Duchess of York, wife of the man who will become Lionel's patient and later the King of England.

"I can cure your husband, but for my method to work, I need trust and total equality, here in the safety of my consultation room."
In their sessions together, Lionel gives the patient he calls Bertie space. He gives him physical space, of which "I was told not to sit too close" is one example, and his repeated opening of windows is another, signifying that there are no barriers to speaking here.

Lionel gives Bertie emotional space by accepting what he says, actively encouraging Bertie's first awkward attempts at venting anger, and eventually baiting him to bring the anger out. During Bertie's first wartime speech at the end of the film, blessing and support radiate from Lionel's face.

Logue's most dramatic gift of emotional space takes place outdoors as the two men walk through a park, when he says to the man who is still the Duke of York, "You could do it," meaning, "You could be successful as king," intuitively disputing Bertie's doubt of his own capabilities and inviting Bertie to envision himself in a better light. Bertie initially rejects Logue's attempt as treasonable and only later understands what he was trying to do and apologizes.

From very early in the film, we see Bertie's anger erupting, first at an traditional but inept speech therapist and then at Lionel when asked why he's come ("Because I bloody well stammer!") and again when asked for payment of a wager ("Forget about the blessed shilling!"). The angry words pour out of Bertie without any sign of a stutter, and Lionel encourages Bertie to vent more, goading him to swear loudly so he prove the point. "Yes, defecation flows trippingly from the tongue," Lionel clucks happily.

Much as a Shadow Work® facilitator does, Logue offers ideas about what will help not as if he's in charge but as if he's an experienced guide willing to stand at Bertie's side, taking the cues from Bertie about how far and how fast he's willing to go.

RULES

Healthy boundaries are, of course, a necessary part of a safe container, and Lionel excels at establishing these. The Duke's wife, Elizabeth, is a formidable woman; one biographer described her as "a marshmallow made by a welding machine." She tests Lionel's boundaries, and Lionel stands firm.

"No exceptions," he tells her. "My game, my turf, my rules."

Apparently impressed by someone who won't yield either because she demands it or because she is royalty, the Duchess hires him on the spot. As we the audience know, Logue isn't the first therapist she has hired, and we suspect he won't be the last if Logue doesn't fit the bill.

Logue is firm in his boundaries with Bertie, too. When Bertie prepares to light a cigarette in Lionel's office, Lionel forbids it. "My castle, my rules," he says.

Confidentiality is another healthy boundary essential to a safe container, and Logue never mentions the name of his famous patient to his wife until she encounters the King and Queen in her dining room.

FAMILY ORIGINS

On screen we hear and see only the adult stories and echoes of the brutality Bertie experienced as a boy, though we hear enough to imagine far more.

We watch as Bertie's father, King George V, says casually about speaking into a microphone, "Easy when you know how," as if this were a matter of knowledge, and thereby implying that anyone who can't do it is simply stupid. As Bertie practices a Christmas message, the King becomes increasingly impatient and irritated, irrationally convinced that berating Bertie will help his son speak clearly, until he finally yells, "Do it!" and makes a mockery of what might, in a healthy father-son relationship, qualify as healthy Warrior encouragement.

Bertie later tells Lionel three stories about his father (as well as a horrific story about treatment from his nanny). Bertie's father has said to him, "I was afraid of my father, and my children are damn well gonna be afraid of me." Faced with the model airplanes being built by Lionel's boys, Bertie confesses that he wanted to build models as a boy but "[Father] collected stamps, so we had to collect stamps." The story reveals that King George refused to let Bertie differentiate himself as every parent must in order to help a child form the healthy Warrior boundary we call a sense of self.

After his father's death, Bertie tells Lionel of his father's last words ("Bertie has more guts than the rest of his brothers put together"). Bertie appears to take some comfort from this tribute to his courage while regretting his father couldn't say it to his face.

When taking the throne, Bertie himself seems to refuse another chance to differentiate from his father when he decides to reign as George VI. I've read that he did so for the sake of continuity, so it may be that he put what he regarded as his country's need ahead of his own. He may also have had little choice, since his other given names were either too Germanic (Albert and Frederick) to appeal to Britain as it prepared for war with Germany's Third Reich or perhaps too high-reaching (Arthur) for a man with such a low opinion of himself.

It seems fitting that in the speech at the film's end, Bertie speaks out against "the principle that might is right," which might describe his father's parenting style as well as the Nazi regime.

VOICE

The King's Speech is to a large extent about having a voice. While that may seem like an obvious thing to say about a story about stuttering, I think the issue of voice goes much deeper than the ability to make sounds fluidly without halting.

When we're small, our voice is a crucial way we can set boundaries with those who take care of us, since we're not yet strong enough to set boundaries through physical action against those who are much bigger than we are. The two-year-old who yells "no!" is saying, in effect, "This is where I draw my line."

The issue of voice comes into the open as Lionel helps Bertie rehearse for his coronation ceremony.

Bertie: Listen to me! Listen to me!

Lionel: Listen to you? By what right?

Bertie: By Divine Right, if you must. I am your King.

Lionel: No, you're not. You told me so yourself. You said you didn't want it. Why should I waste my time listening to you?

Bertie: Because I have a right to be heard! I have a voice!

Lionel: Yes, you do. You have such perseverance, Bertie. You're the bravest man I know. You'll make a bloody good king.

I think having a voice is closely tied to having an identity: our voice expresses who we are and where we stand, and we use it to "talk back," to differentiate ourselves from others.

In Practically Shameless I described the Warrior process I did years ago to reclaim my voice. When I watch The King's Speech I get a vicarious thrill from remembering how pumped I was afterward with the power of my own voice.

WHAT SHADOW WORK® MIGHT HAVE LOOKED LIKE

Lionel supports Bertie in uncovering the past experiences that led to his stutter but Bertie is initially most unwilling to talk about anything personal. Shadow Work® would support Bertie in delving deeper.

In every Shadow Work® workshop or private session, the facilitator starts by asking, "What would you like to have happen here?" to establish the want that will guide the session.

Lionel never asks Bertie, "What do you want?" in so many words. He asks Bertie why he has come, to which Bertie responds, "Because I bloody well stammer!"

That Bertie's goal is never explicitly spoken is an intriguing master overlay: it requires a voice to say what you want, and Bertie doesn't have his voice, it's been buried in response to brutality. How might Bertie have expressed what he wanted? Simply to speak without stuttering? To become the voice of his nation? To become an eloquent orator like the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill? The film doesn't contain the answer (though perhaps his personal letters or diaries do).

At one point Lionel asks, "What is it about your brother David that stops you speaking?" Here I envision a Shadow Work® split: Lionel assigning to an object in the room the role of David, to be characterized with a specific spot in the room, an imagined stance (standing, sitting, kneeling, etc.), a color, and a message that sums up what Bertie hears coming from David.

Once David's voice was embodied in the room (as "the bad guy" that is essential to every dynamic), I envision a second split to clarify Bertie's reaction to the message from his older and more confident and popular brother. From there, any of a number of Shadow Work® processes might follow, including a Warrior Run in which Bertie takes his voice back.

That Lionel's technique of recording Bertie speaking while listening to loud music is successful in eliminating the stutter, inclines me to think that the stutter was actually a strategy on the part of Bertie's risk manager. Any strategy by a risk manager is designed to protect the person from a worse fate. In this case, perhaps stuttering protected Bertie from an even harsher criticism, ridicule or blame from his father, or from being given royal duties where his performance would be subject to his father's scathing critiques.

Shadow Work® might have changed Bertie's internal dynamic permanently and boosted his self-esteem in the process. Lionel does his best to shift Bertie's inner experience by saying,

"You don't need to carry [your father] around in your pocket. Or your brother. You don't need to be afraid of the things you were afraid of when you were five. You're very much your own man, Bertie."
As warming as it is to hear words like that from a therapist, hearing them doesn't alter the pattern going on at a deep emotional level, though it can provide a supportive memory the person can sometimes call to mind in times of doubt.

I became very fond of Bertie while watching The King's Speech. It gives me pleasure to imagine him doing a Warrior Run to take back his voice with a group of friends, including me, cheering him on.

 
Alyce Barry is a Certified Shadow Work® Group Facilitator and Coach in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. She is the author of Practically Shameless, available in paperback and on audio CD and as an e-book. Read more about Alyce.

This article originally appeared in our free email newsletter in August 2011. To subscribe, visit our subscription page.

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