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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Treatment Tuesday - Asperger's Syndrome

This assessment is for Mara, who is writing a YA novel about a child with Asperger's Syndrome. She asked about the likelihood of a teen with Asberger's taking a driving test, failing, and then wanting to take the test again. My response is below.

First of all, Asperger's is an autism spectrum disorder. These indivduals typically have more language preservation (as well as cognitive development in general) than people with Autism, but they are similar in that people with Asberger's have difficulties in social situations and also have restricted, stereotyped patterns of behaviors and interests. See this article here for more information about the disorder itself.

Now, on to Mara's question and the feasibility of her plot element centered around driving. I believe there are several "aspies" (as they call themselves) who drive, and drive well...but by and large, a fair percentage don't. On this website here ( there is a sampling of posts by people with Aspergers who are writing in about whether they drive, why or why not. People with Asbergers have limited social interaction (although not as much as those with Autism) and actually most fear social encounters. So if this character managed to fight that enough to get behind the wheel with an instructor next to him...and then fails, it might be a tad unlikely for him to want to take the test again. At least any time soon.

Thanks for writing in, Mara! Hope this helps.

Just as aside for any author writing about a person with a developmental or mental disability: It's important in today's time to make sure to refer to these individuals as "people/children with Aspergers," or whatever disorder they might have, and not Asperger children or adults. The disorder does not define them as a person, and Regional Centers that work with them adhere to a person-centered planning model, which does not look at a disorder/disability from the medical model of what's wrong with a person. It would be considered offensive to refer to them any other way.

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to

"The Character Therapist"

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Thursday Therapeutic Thought - Forgiveness

This will be my first Therapeutic Thought on the blog, so let me know what you think. Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down? They won't all look like this, but gotta start somewhere!

Today I thought I'd talk about two types of forgiveness, which of course can be incorporated into our novels and lives. The first type is Restoration Forgiveness. This is the type that we most often want to encounter, but often eludes us fully. To have restoration is to have complete healing of the breach between two parties. Something as final as death or as inconvenient as geography can prevent this from happening. In its most ideal state, it looks like this:

1) Party A offends Party B
2) Party B chooses to forgive A
3) Party A, acknowledges the wrongdoing and accepts the forgiveness
4) Relationship between A and B is healed

Imagine two people hugging one another as a symbol of this type of forgiveness. So what's the other type of forgiveness, then? Release Forgiveness. Compare to the above:

1) Party A offends Party B
2) Party B chooses to forgive A
3) Party A never acknowledges the wrongdoing
4) Party B chooses to release Party A

This is the hardest type to experience, and many never quite make it to the fourth point, choosing to hold on to their offense and their grudge. It is very important, if one of your characters (or even if someone you know in life) has this type of problem, to acknowledge their hurt. If Party A never acknowledges the hurt, then Party B may never move on. A third party, though, (in many cases, a therapist) can help tremendously by just acknowledging the hurt, which in turn would help Party B be able to release it. Because before release is a possibility, the hurt has to be recognized and validated as an authentic, he/she-shouldn't-have-done-that hurt. Emotional health and healing will never occur as long as the bitterness is inside.


If you have one of your characters suffering from a hurt that hasn't been acknowledged, either by the wrong-doer or someone else, the chances of this character coming to a believable healing by the end of the book isn't feasible. Psychology tells us so. :)

If you have a hurt in your own life that resembles one that you need to release, tell someone about it that you trust, and let them help recognize the hurt for what it is so you can then release it and move on.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Writing to Heal, Part Three

As promised, more on the idea of conflict and writing to heal. I like to think that whenever we encounter conflict, whether it's a person who cut us off on the way home today or it's a long-standing grudge that we've carried for years, writing through the conflict can be a way to make sense of it.

There's something healing about putting your own responses into the character's response (or what we wished we had done). We see in black and white the proof of what we did (or wish we had done) and we can either be proud of it or ashamed. If proud, great. You stared conflict straight in the eye and didn't lose your integrity. If ashamed, then you can further analyze why that was the case.

Writing should evoke emotion, as I wrote before. So if that emotion, evoked by words, can kill another bird with the same stone, i.e., make you think about something you said or did or didn't, then it's all the more powerful in the life of the word-writer.

Monday, March 16, 2009


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Writing to Heal, Part Two

I was thinking about this topic again this morning over breakfast. For writing to be healing doesn't mean that the world will suddenly look like you are viewing it from rose-colored glasses. Healing writing can evoke various emotions, some of which aren't on the "happy" continuum. Sadness, anger, regret, guilt, annoyance, confusion - only to name a few - can and do have their place in writing.

Personally, I like to work in little vignettes that have happened to me over the course of my life into my books. I'm grinning even now as I remember one of my favorites. Of course, not all of them are favorites, but it just goes to show how life is a writer's fodder. There will never be a drought of life (although you may certainly suffer from writer's block from time to time) from which you won't be able to garner material for writing. It's everywhere.

One of my favorite examples of a well-known author who did this is Karen Kingsbury. She wrote a series about the 9-11 attacks, and in her preface said it had been her own way to assimilate and try to make sense of what happened on that awful day. The story idea just came to her as she watched the news coverage. It was healing. And anyone reading her books (if you can get through one of her books without crying, my hat's off to you) also is taken on her journey of healing. As her characters cried out against what happened, we cry out. As they grieved the loss of loved ones and the feeling of security, we grieved. Healing writing at its finest.

So think about what issues you might have in your life currently, or in your past, that you might be able to heal - or at least allow to scab over - by writing. Usually our "issues" revolve around conflict, and as any student of the writing craft knows, conflict creates great plot. More on this in the next post.
Jeannie is available to do limited guest blogs or interviews on topics relating to marriage, family, relationships parenting, grief, anxiety, depression, attachment, personality disorders, personality types, and many other therapeutic matters. Since Jeannie is a writer, she also enjoys connecting the above subjects for writers to take their writing to a different level.

Check out some previous guest blog posts she's done:

Inkwell Inspirations, June 2010

WordVessel, October 2009

Seriously Write, September, 2009

Seekerville, May 2009

For a sample interview she accepted, stop by Keli Gwyn's Romance Writer's on the Journey.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Writing to Heal, Part One

On the side, I've been cataloging the reasons why a writer would write. There could be any number of responses: compelled to, for the money, for the accolades, to see your name on the spine on a book, for the sense of accomplishment.

But I'm adding to that list: writing to heal, or therapeutic writing. This is something that therapists use frequently when in session with a client. Keeping a journal is usually a homework exercise. Letter writing is also a common exercise, but either way, it's healing. You can journal your innermost thoughts on a piece of paper (or word processor) that doesn't talk back, try to get you to change your mind, or make you feel guilty for what you expressed. You can use bad grammar (well, unless you really want to be published), be repetitive, chase rabbits and have no apparent point...and that's okay!

In the interest of being transparent, I wrote my first novel for very therapeutic reasons. When I was fresh out of college, I did an internship for a year where I worked with college students. Being young and immature, I messed up. A lot. And the regret I felt really stayed with me. So I wrote this book, and the protagonist was a girl who looked strikingly like me and had lots of my character traits, but I wrote her doing things right. I wrote her doing things the way I wish I had done.

In essence, I rewrote my past. Well, to be more specific, I rewrote a portion of my past that caused me and a lot of others pain. In a way, I was asking for forgiveness through my writing. Forgiveness from God, forgiveness from the ones I hurt and forgiveness from myself. By the time I finished that book...I felt more complete. Whole. Forgiven. And that was worth the toil and labor for that book.

Stay tuned for more thoughts on writing to heal.
Jeannie is a monthly contributor to Christian Fiction Online Magazine where she does her trademark Therapeutic Thoughts.

My Book Therapy Voices Ezine
Consulting with the Specialists (April '10)

Since September 2009, Jeannie has been writing monthly articles for SAGE Girls Ministry Online Magazine. Her Parent Pointer articles can be accessed by clicking on them below.

Redefining Prayer (Feb '10)
Holy Emotion (Mar '10)
Keepin' It Real (April '10)
Modest Waiting (May '10)
To Teach or To Coddle? (June '10)
Pure Joy (July '10)
Sacrificing Abercrombie & Fitch (Aug '10)

She also is a core staff writer for Full Spirit Magazine, a national print publication that is distributed locally through churches and Christian non-profit groups. The magazine is getting ready to launch its first edition!

Jeannie has also published several feature articles in The Oxford Eagle and news and feature articles in The Daily Mississippian, two local newspapers from her hometown.

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Jeannie would love to hear from you! You can email her by clicking on her character therapist logo to to top right of her blog.

You can also find Jeannie on the web at the following locations:


Twitter (use the hashtag #charactertherapy)

Where Romance Meets Therapy, her writing blog

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Jeannie writes what she likes to call therapeutic romances. All of her inspirational romances feature a mental disorder or emotional problem. Studies show one-fourth of Americans suffer from a mental disorder, and Jeannie thought her books should reflect that statistic.

She writes from a very realistic perspective, having first-hand knowledge and experience of the types of issues that bring people into her office every day. There is no magic cure for mental disorders, but Jeannie's books reflect the hope that belief in Christ can instill.

That Guy, That Girl (Contemporary Romance, 87k) deals with grief over the loss of a spouse.

Blessed Beyond the Curse (Romantic Suspense, 109k) deals with a social worker's rape and subsequent Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The Character Therapist (Contemporary Romance, WIP) wanders into the realm of the impact of childhood emotional abuse, and the effect it has on developing fulfilling relationships as an adult.

Jeannie also has, in various stages, books about an Obsessive-Compulsive pianist, a dissociative fashion designer, and a hypochondriac who falls in love with a doctor (can you say ironic?).

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Jeannie Campbell is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFC # 45366) in the state of California. She is Head of Clinical Services for a large non-profit in Humboldt County, and enjoys working mainly with children and parents.

She graduated summa cum laude from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary with a Masters of Divinity with Specialization in Psychology and Counseling and magna cum laude from the University of Mississippi with a double major in psychology and journalism. She's worked in a crisis pregnancy center, homeless shelters, a psychiatric hospital, a drug rehabilitative program, several non-profits, with a foster family agency, and she has also counseled in private practice.

She is proudly married to a former U.S. Coastguardsman, and they have one 2-year old little girl and a 5-year-old cat named Cookie.

Jeannie is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors and American Christian Fiction Writers.

If you have any questions for her regarding your fictional characters or plot feasibility, she can be reached at charactertherapist (at) hotmail (dot) com.

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Jeannie loves to do book reviews for authors. She writes her reviews from a therapist's perspective, which makes them a bit different from average. She's done many reviews and has had authors seek her out to be on their blog tours.

Click on the titles below to see what type of review Jeannie gives, and then contact her by clicking on her email logo in the top right of her blog to request her to do a review for you. She'll agree based on how much time she has available that month.

Never Without Hope, by Michelle Sutton

Maid of Murder, by Amanda Flower

Meander Scar, by Lisa J. Lickel

Yesterday's Promise, by Delia Latham

Snow Melts in Spring, by Deborah Vogts

The Narrow Path, by Gail Sattler

A Case for Love, by Kaye Dacus

A Stray Drop of Blood, by Roseanna White

The Pastor's Wife, by Jennifer AlLee

Thin Places, by Mary DeMuth

Thicker Than Blood by CJ Darlington

The Bartered Bride by Erica Vetsch

Behold the Dawn by K.M. Weiland

Piece de Resistance by Sandra Byrd

The Familiar Stranger by Christina Berry

A Slow Burn by Mary DeMuth

Rocky Mountain Oasis by Lynnette Bonner

The Duchess and the Dragon by Jamie Carie

The Convenient Groom by Denise Hunter

Menu for Romance by Kaye Dacus

Montana Rose by Mary Connealy

Daughters of Boston series by Julie Lessman

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Special thanks to everyone who has given me a blog award!

Thanks, Dawn and Heather!

Thanks, Mary!

Thanks, Tara!

Thanks, Kristen!

Thanks, Cathy!

Thanks, Roni!

Thanks, Kristen!

Thanks, Jill and Cathy!

Thanks, Sherrinda!

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Writer's Resources

Writer's Guide to Personality Types

Use the four classic personality types to your advantage when thinking about character development. Inherent in each type is conflict, inner goals, and motivations to make your characters more realistic. Take it straight from the document to your manuscript.

Also useful for youth leaders, committee chairs, and other ministry leaders to understand the people you are working with, as well as for your group to understand each other.

20 pages of material to add to your writer's toolbox for just $6.00!!

Writer's Guide to Personality Disorders

Now you can have all the information you need about personality disorders at your fingertips. Give your reader a reason to empathize with your villain or relate to your protagonist. Pick and choose a couple traits for each to give a weird quirk or neurosis.

10 disorders broken down over 34 pages. Yours for $9 bucks!

FREE Download!

Therapeutic Writing: Why You Shouldn't Delete Your Work

Additional Resources:

Max Lucado on Writing

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Character Therapy: The Basics


Character Therapist [kar-ik-ter ther-uh-pist] noun. A person trained in the use of psychological methods for diagnosing and evaluating fictional characters to help authors write more realistically.

This is what I do. So how can you—a published or aspiring writer—and your beloved characters benefit?

Rather than tell you, I’ll show you. Here are a few examples of the types of questions I field each week.

  • “I have the man so tied to his mother that he can't break away from her. Do I need a good reason behind this?”
  • “How would compartmentalizing parts of self damage a person? How would the buried parts manifest themselves? How easy would it be to slip up? He's pretended to be someone else for so long...what if he's that new person now, and can't find himself anymore?”
  • “My character suffers from a head injury and has amnesia. Her memory will return by the end of the novel, but from my understanding, it typically returns a little a time. What would that be like? How would the character feel/react?”
  • “Is it feasible for a teenager with Asperger’s Syndrome to take a driving test, fail, and then want to take the test again?”
  • “If someone has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and they are triggered, would they have “panic attacks” or something that would send them to the hospital for a few days?”

This is just a sampling of content areas a character therapist could help you with. Internal motivations, effects of external conflicts, plot feasibility, character strengths and weaknesses, behavioral manifestations or limitations…a character therapist’s playground.


The prevalence of mental disorders is astounding. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in every four adults has a mental disorder. TWENTY-FIVE PERCENT. So chances are you or someone you know has struggled with depression (often called the common cold of mental health), anxiety, eating disorders, bipolar, substance abuse, or sleeping disorders.

And what do we most often write about? What we know. So these disorders creep into our manuscripts often as a way to give a hero/heroine a vice (“He’s an alcoholic.”) or to explain away some secondary character’s erratic behavior (“She’s bipolar.”).

Mental disorders often become cliché or stereotyped, because what does the average author know about these disorders? You can Google them, sure, and you’ll get a lot of stale facts and criteria for diagnosing, but very little real-life answers as to how to portray these disorders—breathe life into them—for your characters.

That’s where I come in.


In real life, when you see a counselor, you typically have an assessment session. The counselor asks questions about your background, reason for coming in, etc. Information exchange is the only way for the therapist to get a feel for the client.

It’s the same with fictional characters. All I need to work with is a character sketch. I’ve gotten sketches that were a short paragraph to some several pages long. Some of the more fun assessments I’ve posted on my blog were the result of email “sessions” between the author and myself as we delved deeper.

If you have specific questions, that can help narrow down my focus. Otherwise, I look at the overall psychological picture you present of your character. Quirks, pet peeves, family history, hobbies…all these things add up! I might not diagnose every one of the characters I do therapy on, but quite a few of them qualify.

On occasion, I see a glaring omission from a therapeutic perspective. For example, how can a young heroine who has not experienced any real unconditional love from her parents or anyone else, recognize true love from the hero—much less trust it—if she hasn’t had some sort of example? I pointed this out to one author and she admitted, “It was a missing piece that popped into the light when you mentioned it. I knew there was something missing somewhere and that's what it was!!”

Other times feasibility can be an issue. For example, children with Asperger’s Syndrome typically fear social encounters. So it’s pretty unlikely that one who was able to conquer that fear enough to take a driver’s test would want to get behind the wheel again after failing. Another example of unfeasibility would be portraying a disorder in a stereotypical manner, like a bipolar character switching from manic to depressed back to manic in the span of two pages.


Characters are paramount to any story. Books have to have characters and those characters have to have problems, or you don’t have a book.

In order to resonate with our readers, our books should be authentic to human nature. Could anything be more important? Authors can spend inordinate amounts of time researching legal procedures and geographical locations, but if a character doesn’t ring true amidst all that, you’ve lost your reader and your chance to connect.

Character therapy is just one more tool in your toolbox to take your writing to the next level. Pick my brain so you don’t have to pick yours.


Hopefully I’ve convinced you of the value of this service and you’ve decided your characters need therapy. Now what do you do?

You just email me at charactertherapist (at) hotmail (dot) com with the words "character therapy" in the subject line. In the body of the email (NOT in an attachment), include your first name, genre, time period, and your character sketch. Usually back story is taboo, but it’s preferred for therapists! I’ll send you a quick email to let you know I got the sketch and ask any additional questions if needed. Check back on my blog every Tuesday to see when your assessment is posted. I change all names to protect the fictional characters, but I identify each assessment by the author’s first name.

I look forward to therapizing…er…terrorizing…uh…analyzing your characters!

Jeannie Campbell is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She received her Masters of Divinity with Specialization in Psychology and Counseling at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and her BA in both psychology and journalism from the University of Mississippi. Her passion is helping those not afflicted with mental disorders to understand and have compassion on those who are. You can find her at The Character Therapist (where she posts Treatment Tuesdays and Thursday Therapeutic Thoughts) and her writing blog, Where Romance Meets Therapy.

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