NEW ORLEANS – A roomful of psychiatrists analyzed Harry Potter and found him wonderful.
He 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 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 fourth- through sixth-grade teacher.
Not only that, but he can help psychiatrists. Dr. Elissa P. Benedek, a forensic and child psychiatrist, said that, for a long time, she has asked both the children she treats and their parents about what they watch on TV, what videos they watch, what computer sites they visit 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 by the yard -- identifies with the head bad guy, Voldemort.
"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.
They spoke Monday in an American Psychiatric Association panel about "understanding the Harry Potter phenomenon."
When Benedek asked who had read some of the books, just about everyone in the audience of psychiatrists, psychiatry students and their spouses raised a hand. Three-quarters of them had read all four.
In an interview before the session began, Dr. Earle Biassey of Fairfield, Conn., said he had read only bits of the books, but his daughter, a counselor, had told him they were anti-Christian.
Biassey said his practice was mostly adult, but he has worked with some children who 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. One 10-year-old became so violent that her parents called the police. "She was ready to take on the police department," Biassey said.
He said the girl has become less combative since Nancy Drew replaced Harry Potter in her bookshelves.
Audience members started a lively discussion of whether the books' psychological messages were marred by the transformation Harry's sidekick Hermione Granger undergoes for their first school dance.
"I have an issue with that. ... Nobody notices her as a woman until she gets a pretty dress ... and gets giggly," one woman said. Audience members did not identify themselves before speaking.
As the forum ended, Biassey told the group that the lightning-bolt mark on Harry's forehead made him think about the biblical mark of the Beast.
But, he said afterward, the discussion makes 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.
But he said his original reason for not reading the books stands: "I want to see it through the kids' eyes, not from the adult's eyes."