Sometimes we can learn magnificent lessons from historical films. The stories told often parallel modern challenges. Such is the case in the story of the film The King’s Speech. In the film we come to know about the plight faced by King George VI of England.
In a remarkable portrayal of the king, Colin Firth takes us into the private world of disability, frustration, shame and embarrassment as experienced by an historical figure and world leader. However, we are also exposed to the same man’s triumph over a disabling speech impediment. All stories of triumph in the face of adversity seem to hold some universal truths that are worth contemplating. While the story of George VI is concerned with his speech, I think some of the factors that play in his success can be applied to disabilities associated with emotional problems and mental illness.
The story of King George VI can be likened to Joseph Campbell’s myth, the Hero’s Journey. George, or “Bertie,” as he is affectionately called, is summoned to a great adventure, to become king following the abdication of the throne by his brother, Edward. Because of a severe speech disability that involves stammering, Bertie refuses the call. Nevertheless, a sense of obligation prevails, and he is thrust upon the world stage just prior to World War II.
Much like the hero in Campbell’s story, Bertie enters the “belly of the whale,” the place in his life where he hits a low point of despair and intense frustration due to his challenges with stutters, stammers and long pauses during public speaking. But it is also a place where he recognizes the possibility of something new, something great.
During this time, encouraged by his wife, he begins to work closely with Lionel Logue, an eccentric speech therapist. His relationships with his wife and his therapist can be thought of a “healing relationships.” He travels the “road of trials” and ultimately achieves the goal of success. This is due, in no small part, to the grace with which he and his support system face the problem with a sense of honor. It is this grace and honor that form the foundation for strengthening the resilience needed to succeed.
Much like people with other illnesses or disabilities, people with emotional problems or people with mental illness also profit from being in healing relationships. Such relationships are critical to the development and sustainment of resilience needed to achieve wellness goals. This is a universal truth.
Family and friends can create healing relationships with people who are suffering from mental illness, but there is a crucial role for knowledgeable, capable and compassionate professionals to also participate in these relationships. I believe that when people recognize the power of the healing relationship, fear of being stigmatized because of a mental illness can be diminished. This is the work of mental health professionals.