Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Review of The Writer's Guide to Psychology by Carolyn Kaufman, Psy.D.

Because authors tend to write about seriously flawed people, we often delve into the realm of psychology, intentionally or not. Stories in a wide array of genres feature psychologists, psychiatrists, psychopaths, schizophrenics, and any number of other characters that fall within the pale of modern psychology. Unfortunately, however, modern authors are too often guilty of taking their understanding of psychology at face value and running away with common misconceptions without a second thought. How many of us know the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist or the difference between psychopathy and psychosis? How many of us (and if you’ve watched A Beautiful Mind, you don’t count!) know that schizophrenia does not involve multiple personalities?

Amid this scene of confusion, Carolyn Kaufman’s accessible The Writer’s Guide to Psychology offers both a fascinating read and a wealth of resource material. This is the kind of book you’ll want to read from cover to cover and then store within reach of your desk for quick reference. Kaufman tackles a complicated subject and breaks it down into easily digestible pieces. She discusses everything from common myths and mistakes, to “thinking like a shrink,” to detailed descriptions of many prominent disorders, including mood disorders, dementia, eating disorders, and PTSD, among many others.

The book is peppered with a delightful gamut of extra goodies, including Q&As and the always fun “Don’t Let This Happen to You,” in which Kaufman uses examples from popular film and fiction to illustrate how not to write about psychological subjects. The book came in particularly handy for me, since one of the stories I’m working on features a psychologist (now I don’t have to worry about whether he should be called a psychiatrist instead!), but I have no doubt that it will be equally useful even in writing stories with no blatant connection to psychology. This one will be on my shelf for a long time to come.

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