Psychological Analysis: Harley Quinn

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One of the main reasons I started Gorgeously-Human was to reduce the stigma associated with therapy and mental illness and to spread awareness. For me, it’s important to change the narrative in our community that therapy is only for “crazy” people. Sometimes concepts related to mental illness may seem abstract without concrete examples we can relate to, so in an effort to give these concepts real life meaning, I’ve started a new series on my blog called In Session. This series will focus on the therapeutic work I might do with a fictional, popular character from tv and movies and lay them on the proverbial couch to determine what makes them tick if they were an actual client in my practice. Today’s session, inspired by the new release of the film Suicide Squad, is with Harley Quinn. She is a popular character in the Batman comics and animated series. The first session with any client is the getting-to-know-you session where I obtain a lot of important information from the client about the history of their symptoms, family history of mental illness, and childhood experiences.

Full Name: Harleen Quinzel

Alias: Harley Quinn

Former Occupation: Psychiatrist

Current Occupation: Criminal and accomplice to the Joker

Personal Life
Harley had a traumatic childhood and experienced abuse at the hands of her father. Her childhood abuse contributes to her unhealthy attachment and histrionic disorder later in life. Due to this, the Joker manipulates her and plays on her weaknesses to earn her friendship and empathy.Before Harley took on her alternate persona she was Dr. Harleen Quinzel a psychiatrist working at Arkham Asylum, Gotham city’s largest prison for psychotic criminals. This is where she met the Joker. She became his therapist.

Relationship with the Joker
Being the manipulator that he is, the Joker turns on the charm and begins giving Harley flowers and showering her with affection. The Joker uses Harley traumatic childhood to his advantage by lying and telling her that he was also abused. She quickly fell in love and formed an unhealthy (and unethical) attachment to him during their psychotherapy sessions. Eventually, she was wrapped so tight around his finger that she helped him escape from the asylum. Afterwards, she changed her name to Harley Quinn, becoming the Joker’s co-conspirator and girlfriend. However, the term girlfriend is used very loosely. Their relationship dynamic is, in a word, abusive. In these situations, she responds by submitting to his abuse and intimidation to avoid abandonment. Harley is constantly manipulated and both psychologically and physically abused by the Joker.

Diagnostic Impression

She has a form of insecure attachment with the Joker, specifically, the anxious type and extremely dependent. Despite how emotionally abusive, degrading and untrustworthy the Joker is, Harley’s actions are motivated by her desire to please him and impress him. She eagerly does whatever he asks plus more, including hurting innocent people, stealing, and trying to kill Batman all for the sake of earning his love.

Histrionic Personality Disorder

Harley displays all the classic signs of histrionic personality disorder. Harley’s outfits, behaviors, and language are often inappropriately sexual. She also talks extremely loudly and has a habit of making every situation about her. Her voice (at least, in the Batman animated series and Suicide Squad) is high-pitched and immature, as is her language. Other DSM-V histrionic personality disorder criteria that Harley meet are:

-Being flirtatious or seductive
– Wanting to be the center of attention
– Provocative clothes
– Dramatizes and exagertaes events or issues
– Suggestible by others (gullible)
– Overestimates the intimacy of social relationships

For Harley Quinn’s treatment, psychotherapy would be the best modality because it is the most common and most effective with personality disorders. Individual therapy would be necessary to help her develop new positive coping skills and to address her abuse and fear of abandonment. People with this diagnosis often are incapable of insight into their underlying motivations. Suicidal behavior and self-mutalation are often seen in a person suffering from this disorder as a way to get attention. Harley and I would establish a suicide contract that specifies a plan of acton if she feels that she is going to hurt herself.

Is there another character you would like to see In Session? Share your suggestions in the comments!


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