Monthly Archives: August 2012

A Little Couple Psychology

Here’s a picture of our cats, Wadi and Lulu—fighting. Bear in mind, they’re brother and sister, and they’ve obviously known each other their entire lives. Yet they still fight.

If you want to see them not fighting, check out the Family Album page.

In therapy, I’ve often said couples are like my cats. They know each other —they love each other—but for some reason, one of them looks wrong at the other, the hackles go up, and they’re off and fighting.

In session, sometimes I just want to yell, “KNOCK IT OFF!” I do yell that at Wadi.

Effective couple therapy often lasts a number of months to make sure the couple learns how to handle, and recover from, episodes where hackles get raised.

My motto in therapy is—there’s a reason people think, feel, and do everything—however, it may not work, and you may not deserve it. What that means is that it’s no mystery why people behave the way they do, although it may be hidden deep in the recesses of one’s brain.

Stay tuned for more on this.

So there’s a reason Wadi picked on his sister this particular day, but he’s not saying what it is.

© Cristine Eastin, 2012

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Categories: Psychology | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Writing Believable Characters

LAuthor Jon Hassler wrote brilliantly. I haven’t finished devouring his work, but Rookery Blues, The Dean’s List, and North of Hope are set in small-town northern Minnesota where people cope with life. Obviously, people cope elsewhere, but crafting a fascinating story about fascinating people doing not much in the middle of nowhere takes skill. No wonder Hassler taught creative writing. He was a master.

In my opinion, one of the reasons Hassler’s work crackles is that he creates extraordinarily believable characters. I picture him writing with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the bible of mental health diagnoses, propped next to the keyboard.

To create real, consistent—believable—characters, it wouldn’t be a bad idea if writers really did that—familiarized themselves with the criteria from the DSM-IV.

It’s jarring if a character does something we just know people like that don’t do, because we know these people.

Read the descriptions for: Personality Disorders, Mood Disorders, Eating Disorders, Substance Abuse, Adjustment Disorders, Childhood Disorders, Cognitive Disorders, Anxiety Disorders, Impulse Control Disorders, and Psychotic Disorders. That will get you started on drawing real-life people and their problems, remembering the continuum factor.

Writers love to get characters into trouble and watch them squirm to see what happens. The process and outcome of coping should usually ring true to a character’s personality, whether it’s reactions to trouble of the character’s own making, or events or actions of others. A narcissist is unlikely to be overcome by a wave of altruism, unless it’s self-serving. A hoarder, chronic worrier, or clean freak is unlikely to ever be free of all obsessive-compulsive behaviors or anxious thoughts. A character who’s basically OK before a seriously depressing event occurs is likely to have the resources to cope and be relatively OK again. And eating disorders aren’t about being thin, though the client may protest too much, they’re about emotions and control.

There was a time when I railed against diagnosing my psychotherapy clients, but I did it because third party payers require it. I’m resigned that we’re stuck with the medical model and insurance companies. (And if I continue down this particular bunny trail, I’ll start foaming at the mouth.) Diagnosing has its point, though, in that it gives therapists a framework within which to understand and treat people.

Diagnostic categories can also be the basis for putting flesh and bone on our fictitious characters.

© Cristine Eastin, 2012
Categories: About Writing | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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