I've just finished a project in which some of the main characters work as paramedics in a very chaotic and violent place. After doing the very best job I could, including some online research, I sent it to my sister for critique; she's been a medevac helicopter pilot in the army for the last six years and just got home from Afghanistan. She knows some stuff about emergency medical procedures in chaotic and violent places.
And wow, was I glad I did, because she identified inaccuracies I'd never have noticed or thought of. She said stuff like, "a medic would NEVER [blahblahblah]" or "this is how we really do [XYZ]." To her, some of the stuff I'd put in was laughable, and worse, annoying. I felt sort of silly, like I should have known better, but there's no way I really could have. I had to ask. I had to go deeper than my shallow knowledge and assumptions.
It was a great lesson in perspective, because I've been on the other side of that equation a lot. The reason is simple--people love writing about psychological issues and portraying them on television, and they often get it WRONG. Sometimes it's simple stuff, like hearing Dr. Lance Sweets on a recent episode of Bones describe someone's symptoms as "disassociative" as opposed to "dissociative." Or seeing someone on the AW forums casually referring to a character with schizophrenia as "schizoid." Sometimes it's BIG stuff, like mixing up schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder as a major plot element.
Let me tell you--there are enough inaccuracies about psychology in books and movies to tell me it's possible to sneak stuff by. I blogged about this recently. However, I will also say this--agents and editors are getting increasingly savvy (as is the general population), and many of them can quickly recognize an ignorant, insensitive, or flamingly inaccurate depiction of mental illness, therapy, or other psychological stuff. And they will hit the REJECT button fast. Further, having an agent myself, I can tell you that she vets and researches
So! As many of you have seen if you read this blog regularly, it's hard to get this stuff exactly right. There are a lot of oft-repeated misconceptions. The solution? Research! And what will make this research a trillion times easier?
The Writer's Guide to Psychology.
Yes. I am telling you now. If you are writing about any mental health issue, including diagnosis, therapy, psychiatric medications, psychiatric hospitalizations, psychopaths and serial killers, personality disorders ... I beg you, get this book. It's going to increase the likelihood that you're going about it the right way. It's going to make it more likely that you won't shackle yourself to an indefensible, implausible plot device. It's going to help you succeed.
The book itself is thoroughly engaging. As I was reading it, I was kind of boggled by the number of movie and book references--this isn't a dry, boring text. It's connected to the things a writer is interested in. [For you Twilight fans and haters, Dr. Kaufman even calls out a little psychological terminology inaccuracy in one of the books in that series.]
As a psychologist myself, I can tell you this is good stuff. Well-informed, accurate, and at the same time, pretty entertaining. Dr. Kaufman can tell you what a real therapy session would look like--depending on the theoretical orientation of the therapist. She'll even give you examples of what a therapist from a particular orientation might say or ask. Her sections on psychopathology (different diagnoses) are excellent, particularly because she doesn't just tell you a few facts about each disorder; she discusses the overlap with other disorders and how to tell the difference.
There are sections on childhood and adolescent disorders, but I would say most of the focus is on adult psychology (that usually includes older adolescents). I noticed that because I'm a child psychologist, and I think Dr. Kaufman would probably agree with me that The Writer's Guide to Psychology is an excellent start to your book research (and will often be sufficient)--but you might have to do additional research if you're writing in depth about a particular disorder. Fortunately, Dr. Kaufman provides a complete bibliography of her own resources. She also offers her website: http://www.archetypewriting.com/, which is just. Wow.
Clinical psychology, and human psychology in general, is a vastly complicated, ever-evolving field. A simple Google search might give a researching writer very contradictory results (try this with "attachment disorder" and you might see what I mean). Having a book like The Writer's Guide can take a lot of the risk and confusion out of the research process (and while you're researching, you can indulge in a collegial little snicker at mistakes made by some very famous writers).
And with that, I am EXTREMELY excited to announce that Dr. Carolyn Kaufman will be guest blogging here on Wednesday. She'll be discussing some cutting edge treatments for depression. On top of offering some pretty rich plot fodder, it's just fascinating, wild stuff. She'll check in on Wednesday to answer your questions, and we'll be giving away a signed copy of The Writer's Guide to Psychology to one of the Wednesday commenters--so please come back and see what Dr. Kaufman has to say!
Remember to drop by Lydia's blog for her Medical Monday post and Laura's blog for her Mental Health Monday post!
So--do you have The Writer's Guide to Psychology? Have you heard about it? Do you write about psychological issues? Mental illness? Therapy? How do you research the issues you write about? And--how do you know if you're accurate or not?