Friday, October 12, 2012



A writer-turned-psychologist outlines all the major mental illnesses and disorders so that writers will stop perpetuating misinformation.


The author of this writing guide actually decided to become a psychologist partially so she could become a better writer. Wanting to more accurately and fully explore the way people think, she delved into the study of the human brain and what can happen when it is out of balance. The more she learned, the more she realized that a lot of writers get it very wrong when talking about mental illness and personality disorders. This guide uses clear language to explain mental illnesses so that writers can accurately portray and diagnose the symptoms, behaviors and treatments of their characters. The book includes information about the training and ethics of psychologists and psychiatrists as well as their clients.

The guide provides a fascinating overview of the major disorders and then delves into each one using examples from literature, film and history. There are also many examples of the misuse of terms and diagnoses by real writers. One of the most common is mixing up people who suffer from schizophrenia, people with dissociative identity disorder (multiple personalities), and psychopaths, all of which are quite distinct. It is also extraordinarily difficult to hospitalize someone against their will, people going to therapy actually want help, no one gets lobotomized anymore, and modern electro-convulsive shock therapy does not cause people to flail around or experience pain.

The author explains the factors, both biological and circumstantial, that cause mental illness with an accessible, balanced voice. She speaks of people who live with mental illness with compassion and precision. I confess that the book left me analyzing everyone around me in terms of mental illness and personality disorders. Human behavior is just so fascinating, and there are literally dozens of ideas for great stories in the pages of this guide. But even if I never write another book, I'm to have some of my own misconceptions corrected. This is definitely a book to hold on to for future reference.


Archetype Writing Blog. Kaufman is also a regular contributor to blogs on Querytracker and Psychology Today.


$9.99 for the Kindle edition


How does it affect your reading when an author gets the facts wrong about an illness or situation with which you are familiar? Do you stop reading? Do you overlook it for the sake of the story?


  1. Interesting book and question. I have to admit as a general rule I think I stop reading if a text contains grossly inaccurate information the exception is probably a classic text or a novel where the prose is simply sublime. But gross inaccuracies make me want to throw a book across the room.

  2. Suspend belief...the classic rule when reading fiction! Of course one must overlook it, for the sake of the story.It happens in other situations also; when foreign writers wrongly ascribe some attraction in Edinburgh,I am momentaily disturbed...but overlook it in pursuit of the tale to be told. That's what fiction is; do we beleive a girl in a red coat duped a wolf? A boy climbed a tree and usurped a giant? Bears lived in a wood with actual furniture and cooking pots full of porridge?


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