Friday, January 25, 2013

This Way Lies Madness – A New Book for Your Reference Shelf

Somewhere in my wanderings through the internet last week I came upon a book recommendation that I was moved to follow up on. The book was The Writer's Guide to Psychology by Carolyn Kaufman, Psy.D. Whoever recommended it said it would help writers to depict body language accurately. It won't do that, but that's something you can do for yourself, if you have any sort of eye at all. What it will do is describe psychotherapists accurately, describe therapy sessions accurately, and describe the behavior accurately of people who are suffering from mental disturbances. Or not suffering, some of them, but causing those around them to suffer.

It's no exaggeration to say that this book belongs on every writer's reference shelf. I had to interview my friend the psychiatric social worker for half an hour or so just to find out a small part of what is offered in this book, the description of one disorder. Dr. Kaufman talks about every sort of psychosis and disorder from schizophrenia to Martha Mitchell syndrome (that's when your therapist thinks you're suffering from paranoid delusions, but the fact is you're being persecuted). The approaches to therapy, the prognosis for various conditions, the drugs, if any, a short history of treatment for mental illness; it's all here.

My favorite is Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD). It makes you behave like a thirteen-year-old drama queen. We've all been there; most of us left.

Since Dr. Kaufman is also a writer, and reads a lot, every few pages she quotes from a book (or a movie, or a TV show) where the writer got it totally wrong, conflating two mutually exclusive conditions, for example, or having a therapist behave in a way that no reputable therapist ever would. Famous writers. That has to be embarrassing. So buy the book! Read it! Keep it on your shelf! The next time you have to write a character who is off the rails, you can do it with accuracy. Otherwise you might find yourself quoted in the First Revised Edition.

Kate Gallison


  1. Also, if a writer wants to contact a real person who really knows this field - Liz Zelvin, writer and psychotherapist, would be able to give you information on all kinds of psychological disorders. Liz is one of the brightest minds in the American publishing community and as a practising therapist can give you invaluable input in this field! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

  2. I ordered a copy, Kate. Thanks. I can use a heads-up on what's behind the vacant smile and tight grimace of the guys and gals I meet in my line of work.

  3. This sounds fascinating. I want to read it just to find out about the mistakes in the movies!

  4. Just wanted to let you know that when the DSM V comes out this spring Histrionic Personality Disorder will be no more. Alas, the personality traits (entertaining to some of us, wearisome to the nearest and dearest who have to deal with them) will still be around. There are all sorts of theories as to why the personality disorders are being tampered with, but many people felt that a diagnosis of HPD was frequently a way to exact revenge on a female client you might dislike. - Stephanie Patterson