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Psychology for Writers

As part of my research for Head Games, I've been reading into what my psychologist/psychiatrist team would be doing for our heroes.
The Writer's Guide to Psychology by Dr. Carolyn Kaufman has been really helpful in this aspect.  Sadly, she passed away a few years ago, but her work remains an excellent resource.  She explains things in ways people with no training would understand, but doesn't dumb it down so much that you're bored if you have some knowledge of psychology.

Even if you're not a writer, but just a fan of mental health issues and disorders in pop culture, you might enjoy this book.  Kaufman includes examples, both good and bad, from popular media (up to publication in 2010), always with explanations of what it would look like in real life.

There are extensive explanations of the most common mental health disorders, broken down into related sections.  This helps keep similar disorders separate  (like schizophrenia vs. schizo-affective) and dispel common confusions  (such as schizophrenia vs. multiple personality disorder).  The discussion of medications and medical interventions is thorough and up to date, as far as my experience in health care is concerned.

There are a few drawbacks to this book, but they can be mitigated with a little extra work.  Since publication, a new mental health classification, the DSM 5 has been released by the American Psychiatric Association.  While not everything is different from the DSM 4 current when Kaufman published this, organization of disorders and how they are related to each other are very different. If you're planning on using a specific disorder, do your diligence and look it up somewhere besides WebMD in addition to this book.  While anecdotes from primary sources are useful for coloring characters, academic and educational resources will be more accurate.

For Head Games, I'm relying on this book for psychiatric therapy sessions, anxiety, depression, grief, and PTSD.  In particular, I'm hoping to make my therapy sessions effective for my characters and believable for my readers.

If you want insight into the mental health issues that one in five Americans will struggle with in a year, and you want your writing to reflect them accurately, I definitely recommend The Writer's Guide to Psychology. Have another reference you use?  Share it with us!


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