Character Career Question

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polsmurphy
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Character Career Question

Post by polsmurphy » July 20th, 2010, 10:48 pm

My current heroine is a psychologist. Her profession is a big part of the novel /series. I've done research, including subscribing to psychology today magazine. Obviously I can't say she's a psychologist then have her performing surgery, but I'm wondering how much leeway I can take with how she runs her sessions. Do I need to keep to standard techniques? Frankly, she is helping her patients faster than I've ever been helped by a psychologist in my life.

I don't read a novel and say "Oh that's not SOP for a landscaper." Short of planting cactus in Maine I wouldn't have a problem. I wouldn't argue if the landscaper watered the plants in the evening or the morning, or fertilized roses and pansies with the same fertilizer.

How accurate do I need to be? In her sessions? In her thoughts?

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Quill
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Re: Character Career Question

Post by Quill » July 20th, 2010, 11:02 pm

More accurate than I suspect you want to be. Fans in the know will pick up on discrepancies so be as realistic as possible, if your work is a serious one. For practical purposes I'd guess 80% accurate or higher is what you'll best shoot for. That last 15% or 20% can slide; call it dramatic license.

P.S. I do say "that's not SOP for a landscaper" when I read, because I am one.

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cheekychook
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Re: Character Career Question

Post by cheekychook » July 20th, 2010, 11:25 pm

I'm not a psychologist but I have a master's degree is social work and I practiced in a clinical setting for many years---this included a bit of work in joint sessions/conjunction with both psychologists and psychiatrists.

Personal style varies very widely in the practice of all the mental health fields, so in that regard you have bit of leeway regarding how sessions are conducted. That said, there are certain things a licensed therapist of any sort wouldn't (or shouldn't) ever do. How "accurate" and "realistic" you want to keep your psychologist character would have to do with a lot of different things including your character's ethics, training, experience level, personality, personal style, manner, etc. For that matter it would depend a lot on whether or not you want them portrayed as competent or as a bit of a hack/quack.

If you have more specific questions I'd be happy to take a shot at answering them either here or in a PM. Hope that helps!
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wilderness
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Re: Character Career Question

Post by wilderness » July 21st, 2010, 1:14 am

My opinion is that you only have to be realistic enough for a lay person. I'm in software and I find most hacker movies absurd. My friends who are lawyers are quick to point out all the flaws in law/crime shows. The fact is most of our jobs are boring and any creative representations of them are going to be exaggerated. But if a lay person can point out that your facts are ridiculous, you know you have a problem.

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Re: Character Career Question

Post by Quill » July 21st, 2010, 10:22 am

I think it gets down to what sort of piece one is writing. A comedy like "The Devil Wore Prada" doesn't need to depict the clothing trade as realistically as "All the President's Men" needs to get journalists at least mostly right. I know I just used movies for examples and compared a fiction with a dramatized true story, but the point remains, the level of believability needs to go up with the seriousness of the piece.

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Re: Character Career Question

Post by Margo » July 21st, 2010, 10:33 am

I'm with Quill on this one. You need to be pretty realistic. Not only are you faced with readers who are therapists, psychologists, social workers, and psychiatrists, but you will have a much larger number of readers who have been their clients. If you have a social worker dispensing drugs or a psychiatrist acting like a psychologist, readers absolutely will write in to complain to you. You can bet they will also be complaining to their friends.

I have one recommendation, based on the things I've seen writers use in their work that just blew it for me. Do some reading on the ethical code of psychologists. You can generally find something brief and to the point on the web site of the appropriate professional organization. It will give you an idea of how a professional thinks and acts in general when it comes to clients. Also, it doesn't mean your character can't break those rules, but it would have to be with some (perhaps great) trepidation and there would be consequences.
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polsmurphy
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Re: Character Career Question

Post by polsmurphy » July 21st, 2010, 10:35 am

Thank you.

The story itself is a paranormal comedy, but I would like her to be portrayed as a professional. There is no room in the book for the week to week plodding that tends to happen in normal sessions. I want them to get help and move on.

Quill, you notice, but does it put you off the book?

Cheekychook, I want her to have her doctorate, be relatively young and just starting her own practice.

wilderness, your opinion mirrors my own. But my dad, a former IT director, said "a psychologist wouldn't think that" He tends to be most critical when it comes to my work. He stopped watching House not because it wasn’t realistic, but because House was obviously a genius and shouldn't be questioned.
Last edited by polsmurphy on July 21st, 2010, 10:40 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Character Career Question

Post by polsmurphy » July 21st, 2010, 10:39 am

Margo, thank you. I'll look into their code of ethics.

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Holly
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Re: Character Career Question

Post by Holly » July 21st, 2010, 11:36 am

polsmurphy wrote:My current heroine is a psychologist. Her profession is a big part of the novel /series. I've done research, including subscribing to psychology today magazine. Obviously I can't say she's a psychologist then have her performing surgery, but I'm wondering how much leeway I can take with how she runs her sessions. Do I need to keep to standard techniques? Frankly, she is helping her patients faster than I've ever been helped by a psychologist in my life.

I don't read a novel and say "Oh that's not SOP for a landscaper." Short of planting cactus in Maine I wouldn't have a problem. I wouldn't argue if the landscaper watered the plants in the evening or the morning, or fertilized roses and pansies with the same fertilizer.

How accurate do I need to be? In her sessions? In her thoughts?
I would go with Margo's and Quill's suggestions, plus try to find a friendly psychologist who would answer some of my questions. You could tell them what you are writing, ask to make an appointment, and offer to pay them for their time. I read books all the time where an author questioned an expert and then said thanks in the acknowledgements.

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cheekychook
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Re: Character Career Question

Post by cheekychook » July 21st, 2010, 11:55 am

Sounds like you are on the right track. Your character would definitely need to have a doctorate degree to be practicing psychology in a clinical setting---that would mean if she went straight from undergraduate to graduate school she could have her Ph.D. by the time she's in her late 20s. At that point she would most likely join an established group practice and would develop her reputation there. It is far less common to go straight into private practice because it's hard to drum up the clients without experience and it's hard to maintain certification without supervision by seasoned professionals. If your character is in her early-mid 30s she could have completed these stages and moved on to the point where she could have a thriving private practice, particularly if, as you indicate, she's so fantastic at helping her clients.

Obviously her skill/success as a therapist is completely up to you, as the writer. You can make her the most amazing therapist the world has ever known or you can make her a complete hack who's only in the profession to control other people's lives and laugh at their misery---the possibilities are endless. Regardless of what you describe her as being, chances are somewhere someone has had a therapist "like her".

Also, you seem to mention her resolving issues quickly....I don't know the pacing/style of your book, but in order to make it seem less like she's waving some magic wand to fix problems "just like that, in one session" you could kind of gloss over the slower sessions....in other words start her convo with a client with something like "So, Mr. So-and-So, we've been meeting for a month now and I think our goals are pretty clear, how are you doing with.....blahblahblah (insert problem and pre-discussed solution here)"---that way the reader knows that they've had a month of sessions, knows what they agreed to do to better the client situation, and are coming in at a point where the client gets to say "Yeah, it's been going well, I've noted this, that and the other improvement."

It's a very therapist-y thing to do to reassess the "situation" and make sure the client and practitioner are on the same page, so that kind of reassessment chat can be used to fill in the background and bring us current on whoever she's meeting with...and it keeps her sounding like a therapist who is client-centered and has some idea of what she's doing.

Hope that makes sense.
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wilderness
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Re: Character Career Question

Post by wilderness » July 21st, 2010, 1:05 pm

I think it gets down to what sort of piece one is writing. A comedy like "The Devil Wore Prada" doesn't need to depict the clothing trade as realistically as "All the President's Men" needs to get journalists at least mostly right. I know I just used movies for examples and compared a fiction with a dramatized true story, but the point remains, the level of believability needs to go up with the seriousness of the piece.
Quill - you're pointing out that your own example is wrong. The appeal of The Devil Wore Prada was that the author had intimate knowledge of the fashion industry. :)

But you're right about there being different expectations depending on the book. I would not say it is just comedy versus drama, but just on a detail by detail basis. If you are taking creative license to move the story forward, I think it is fine. In real life, the police don't have much time to spend on any one case, but obviously police mysteries show them going through all sorts of hoops to solve the case. I think the point is: do your research and learn the correct way of doing something. It never hurts to know more. Then take creative license where you feel it will help rather than hurt your story. Yes, I think it is okay to "solve" the therapy problem faster than it would really go.

Hope that helps!

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Re: Character Career Question

Post by sbs_mjc1 » July 21st, 2010, 4:06 pm

First, I'd suggest that you tie your character to a particular style. Most psychologists are trained in a particular style-- say, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-- and predominantly use that. They also tend to specialize in particular clients-- for example, I (S.B.) had a psychologist who was trained in EMDR and worked almost exclusively with people with PTSD. It would have been odd for her to take a client with, say, anxiety over a divorce.

Second, take it seriously. I absolutely loathe when someone makes it clear they think therapy is a crock and mock it in their work (I will stop the movie, put the book down, switch off the TV...). Obviously, there are nitwit therapists and clients with relatively trivial issues, but I think this is a minority. Have your psychologist character really care about her clients and her job.

Third, this would be a good resource: http://shrinktalk.net/
It's written by a psychologist, "from the trenches".
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cheekychook
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Re: Character Career Question

Post by cheekychook » July 21st, 2010, 4:28 pm

I respectfully disagree with the suggestion of tying in to a particular therapy style. Unless you are going to really research the heck out of a particular style (as in get yourself a degree in it) I think you're more likely to trip yourself up with a glaring error. In today's therapy world there are still therapists who adhere to a particular modality, but generally there's much more fluidity and melding of styles than there was in the past. I would advise keeping the therapeutic style as generic as possible to avoid getting caught in a technicality. Just my opinion. As a reader I'd be much more likely to scrutinize a character who is pretending to be a particular sort of therapist than one who is just "a psychologist".
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Mira
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Re: Character Career Question

Post by Mira » July 21st, 2010, 5:48 pm

Well, if it's central to the plot that she is a psychologist, perhaps you could be vague about her work. You can write the book stating that she went to her job, or was working with whatever client, without getting into the details.

If you want her to help clients quickly, have her focus on a speciality that is short-term and goal focused. Testing for intelligence is something pyschologists do, and that's short-term work. Hypnosis, short-term trauma work. EMDR (rapid eye movement, working with trauma survivors). Couple's counseling can sometimes be quick. Career counseling. Goal-focused short term therapy, where the client tries to break bad habits. Some work with anxiety is short. Things like that.

I should admit that as someone in the field, I have a concern because therapists are so rarely portrayed accurately in media. It's not helpful to the field that therapists keep running around sleeping with their clients in books and movies, for example. So, I guess I have a personal preference that if a writer is going to go directly into a therapy session, they are very careful to protray it accurately. But that's just my own bias, so take it for what it's worth...but, given that bias, I would ask you to please be careful! :)

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Quill
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Re: Character Career Question

Post by Quill » July 22nd, 2010, 10:49 am

I hold comedy and action stories to a lesser standard than drama because I expect more exaggeration. I do turn away from these, even, if a certain level of believability is not met. The apparent accuracy of professions is just one factor contributing to believability. Others range from realism and consistency in relationships and dialogue to degree of adherence to the laws of physics.

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