Time for August’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group. Writers, learn more HERE and join us.
Hey, everyone. I’m Jennifer Lane, psychologist/author (psycho author). I do therapy on the weekdays and write on the weekends, and I can’t decide which is more fun.
Character growth is essential in any story, and I often help my characters develop through psychotherapy. Finding the balance between authentic therapy and engaging storytelling can be tricky. Here are some tips:
1) Empathy. Otherwise known as validation or good listening, empathy is reflecting the speaker’s emotion. It’s a key therapy skill, regardless of the therapist’s theoretical orientation. Here are some examples of empathy:
Client: “What’s the point?”
Therapist: “You’re feeling hopeless.”
Client: “He’s such an ass!”
Therapist: “You’re really angry at him.”
Sounds simple, right? It’s not. A lot of times we want to give advice or solve problems, when all people need is validation. Empathic listening is quite therapeutic.
2) Boundaries. Therapists’ ethical codes discourage multiple relationships with clients. If I’m your therapist, I can’t be your friend, lover, business partner, babysitter, etc. Hollywood often shows therapists shagging their clients with no negative consequences. Not realistic.
3) Diagnosis. Though some therapists don’t put much stock into psychiatric diagnosis, it’s helpful to have a somewhat accurate diagnosis for the character. I giggled when I read Christian Grey’s initial diagnoses as haphephobia (fear of being touched) and parasomnia (sleep disorders). Fortunately Ms. James did her research for a later book, diagnosing him with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Here’s a good website summarizing mental health disorders. I also like the Writers Helping Writers Emotional Wound series.
4) Progress. Is it common for a huge therapeutic breakthrough to occur? An insight that changes everything for a character? Not really. While I adore this scene in Good Will Hunting, it’s not characteristic of therapy.
Change tends to be difficult and gradual, and clients are unique in their responses to therapy. Some clients feel better merely by naming or reframing the problem. Others just benefit from a private, nonjudgmental space to talk.
5) Character Development. Therapy is a wonderful vehicle to develop your characters. Is your hero funny? Write dialogue for him that makes the therapist crack up. Does your heroine try to mother everyone? Perhaps she brings tea for the therapist, or knits the therapist a hat in the winter. Character interpersonal dynamics will unfold in the therapy relationship just like any other relationship, inserting some fun into the drama.
Have you ever tried to write a therapy scene? Hopefully these tips will help.