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Thursday, July 30, 2009

T3 - Lowered Expectations

Welcome to another Thursday Therapeutic Thought post, from henceforth to be called T3 (because I'm tired of writing it out each time). I'm going to get a little theological and philosophical (that seminary training kicking in, you know), so bear with me. Hopefully you'll find it interesting enough to read through to the end.

At some point of other, we've all had to lower our expectations. Whether it was with our spouse, our children, our parents, a coworker...we know that having high expectations can lead to disappointment and even depression.

So what's the solution? How do we go about living life hoping for the best but tempering that with being prepared for the worse? Are you a glass-is-half-full or a glass-is-half-empty type of person? If the glass is half-full, how do you deal with life when it doesn't pan out in the most optimal, optimistic way?

The answer for some is simple: just lower your expectations. (Check out the video above, which is a spoof off the e-Harmony advertisements....pretty funny!) But how does that fit with Jesus saying he's come that we might have joy and abundant life? Would he really want us going around expecting the worse?

I know when I was single, one of the things I was told a lot was not to expect great things from guys (I dated a LOT of stellar people, lemme tell you) and when they surpassed my lowered expectations, I would be dazzled an excited. When I didn't expect a guy to call and he did, then I'd really be in a great mood that night...that type of thing.

For the average non-Christian client, this just might be where I would stop. It wouldn't be ethical for me to introduce my own religious beliefs to a client who didn't ask for them. But since I'm on a blog, and there isn't a hypothetical client (or even a character!), I'll give you my thoughts.

I think this way of living...expecting the worse out of life and people...really is substandard living. It's the reason our society is as bad as it is. Now, I'm fairly young and ideological, but I think we should expect the best from people. Kids today squeak by with the barest minimum standard in school because that's what's required. Just to be average, not to excel. What if the bar was raised? It's been my experience in therapy that when I set a high goal (with the help of the client) and give them the proper motivation and encouragement that I really do believe they will reach this goal, I'd say 7-8 times out of 10, the person meets the goal! It's so inspiring to see them rise to the occasion.

Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10b)
He also said, "Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete." (John 16:24b)

Have life to the full and complete joy! What does that look like for you or your characters? If you had to sit your character down, what would the fullest amount of God's blessing on them look like? Their own narrowmindedness will limit their expectations of God. But like Jabez, if we can simply expect GREAT things from God, I believe he will be tickled to give them to us and increase out faith. I'm not promoting a prosperity gospel here, folks, I'm just saying that Jesus is in the business of blessing.

King David wrote in Psalm 37:4 the following: "Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart."

DELIGHT = JOY. They are synonymous. This is a win-win! For us, our characters, everyone. To expect better than status quo. To rise above the humdrum of chintzy living and step out in faith! Yes, we could be disappointed, but God still has a plan through that. It's all about perspective. Yes, people can shatter our illusions. They are human, fallen, inperfect people. Sometimes, we might even feel dismayed with God (I know many a character arc has revolved around this). But we shouldn't let one or two or five or ten or twenty less-than-joy-filled outcomes influence our desire to continue to live this life out on earth to the fullest extent possible.

Don't lower your expectations; raise your standards! Expect God's richest blessings.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Book Hits Home with This Therapist

I just finished a book that is all about where romance meets therapy. I read Denise Hunter's The Convenient Groom in about 6 hours total today. This book was an absolute must-buy simply based on its premise (that, and I'm a complete sucker for the heroine-and-hero-have-to-get-married type books).

Here's a blurb from the author's website:

Dr. Kate has it all-a radio talk show, a nationally-syndicated column, and a publisher who is paying for a lavish wedding to coincide with the release of her first book, Finding Mr. Right-For-You. But when her fiance jilts her the morning of the wedding, her life begins to crash around her. Who, after all, would want a relationship book by a counselor who can't even hold her own engagement together?

When Lucas Wright realizes what has happened, he offers to marry Kate and save her public image. Kate's heart-and her pride-have been deeply wounded. Are Lucas's handsome smile and utter devotion enough to convince her that her marriage is more than she had ever expected?

I was all over this in the store. She's a high-profile therapist--you have to be if you are called Dr. First-Name--and her specialty is relationships. She gets jilted, a PR nightmare for someone like her. Enter selfless (or is he?) stand-in. Awesome reading.

One of my favorite parts was the beginning of each chapter starting with an excerpt from Dr. Kate's book, Finding Mr.-Right-for-You. Each quote was very therapy-sounding, and many were even along the lines of what I've told clients! Of course, the quote always played into the chapter content, so after reading the quote, I would push on through the chapter, dying to know how it would play out.

I also loved the character arc for the therapist. Being one, I can easily see how we might tend to lean toward the misconception that we know everything there is to know. :) I also can totally identify with the idea that we can't let our own human weaknesses show on the outside. (I mean, what would my clients think if they knew their therapist had also suffered from depression?) Therapists are kind of like pastors. We go through the same stuff everyone else does, but for some reason, everyone thinks we don't. (I know I've thought my pastors were just one under the Trinity in holiness and perfection....but they have all put their underwear on one foot at a time like we all do.) So therapists have learning curves, too...perhaps harder than average, as we're working against all our book knowledge of human behavior instead of just hanging it all out there blindly. Make sense?

Denise is an excellent writer...I had never read any of her work before. But you can bet I'll be grabbing up her first Nantucket Love Story when I have a chance.

Thanks for reading my review...pick this book up!

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Treatment Tuesday - Compulsive Shopping Disorder?

This week’s assessment is the last in a series for Chas. His novels are about former angels/demons-turned-human. Let’s look at Cynthia.*

Cynthia is an angel in the virtues Squadron. She fought a lot on Evelyn’s behalf during Evelyn’s first days on Earth. She was crippled when she fell in love with Jean-Michel, a grad student and choir director. She was afraid that “angels shouldn’t fall in love with humans.” Later she learned that she was really just afraid to be vulnerable. She eventually gets over her fear and is married to Jean-Michel. But she uses her compulsion to shop to cover up her insecurities and her timid heart. She wants to be stronger in areas of trust, but she still needs to learn how to trust God and her spouse more openly.

* Names have been changed to protect the fictional.

According to Chas, there is no background on why Cynthia has difficulty being vulnerable. She was never “duped” in the past, as she’s never had any other relationships. Her real
fear stems from her insecurity. How would she handle the possible rejection of giving her human heart to a man?

And what woman (or man, for that matter) hasn’t wrestled with that? Rejection comes part and parcel with loving someone. Even once you’ve committed yourself to someone and married them, there is still the possibility they might hurt you or reject you. You place your trust in them much the same way you put your faith in God. But because humans are fallible, you don’t exactly get the same return on your good faith.

So on one hand, Cynthia has good reason to be concerned about loving Jean-Michel. Love is a risk (and a battlefield, according to Pat Benatar). And seems to me a Virtues Squadron angelic being should have some experience with this battlefield thing. So perhaps your angelic counselors could reframe love for her. It’s kind of like investing in mutual funds…they dip and rise on the short-term reports, but the long-term outcome is worth it. You’re better off taking the risk than you would be nursing your fear.

Now, to address her shopping compulsion. The extreme popularity of Sophia Kinsela’s Shopaholic series attest
s to how much people (mainly women) relate to this concept. But there is some debate about Compulsive Shopping Disorder actually being a disorder. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), though, it's not a disorder.

There IS such a thing as an Impulse-Control Disorder Not Otherwise Specified—NOS—(meaning, the impulse control issue doesn’t center around certain more prominent disorders like gambling, hair pulling, fire starting, and stealing). The DSM leaves the NOS specifier (or specification, in lay terms) for when a person’s problem doesn’t quite fit into the other, better-defined disorders.

That said, psychiatrist Gail Saltz (author and frequent contributor on the Today show), recognizes it as a true disorder on her website. There are certain similarities (or symptoms, depending on how you want to look at it) that “shopaholics” have. Likely they have credit card debt beyond management, legal problems, bankruptcy, and marital/friendship problems as a result of lying about their compulsive shopping. Saltz says people with CSD may also suffer from anxiety and depression and often shop in hopes of reducing their tension or elevating their mood. Of course, shopping is a short-term solution and many feel worse later due to the consequences of compulsive spending. These people may shop for the same thing over and over (shoes, or clothes, or home goods), and the objects might never get used. There may even be emotional “blackouts” where they can’t remember their shopping excursion at all.

You’ll have to think about how far you want to take her compulsive spending. But think about the reason behind the spending. You mentioned earlier it was for Cynthia to hide her insecurities and “timid heart,” so figure out how exactly shopping will be a “balm” for these unwelcome feelings. And her character arc will need to include other ways for her to work through her timidity instead.

Now about that. When I think of timidity, I think of a passive, non-confrontational type person. But that doesn’t seem to fit a former Virtues Squadron angel-slash-soldier. But if on the off-chance it does, then I would suggest assertiveness training. You can Google this, of course, but the general idea is that assertiveness lies in between passiveness and aggressiveness. It’s the ability to speak your mind without a running commentary on the other person’s actions. The therapist would teach Cynthia how to use I-messages (e.g., “I feel/felt X when you do/did Y and I would like Z to happen.”) instead of You-statements (“You are always late.”). It would be much better for her to say, “I felt let down when you weren’t on time. In the future, I’d love it if you could make more of an effort to value being on time.”

Well, that’s all I’ve got. Chas, it’s been a pleasure. Hopefully you’ve got some good fodder for making those therapy sessions come to life. Email me with any other questions, and I’ll do my best.

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

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Therapeutic Thought - The Downlow on Phobias

My crit partner Katie asked me to do a Thursday Thought on phobias. Because I love her (and because phobias really are just cool), I took her up on her suggestion. Thanks girl.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 4-TR (a therapist's psychological Bible of all mental disorders), phobias fall into three categories: agoraphobia, social phobia, and specific phobia. The reason for this classification is simple. Most people who have a phobia usually have agoraphobia or social phobia. The rest make up the smaller percentage of people who fear something specific, like spiders or heights or seeing blood.

In all cases of phobias, the fear is marked and persistent. Exposure to the feared situation or object invariable provokes an immediate anxiety response (could be a panic attack or in children, just crying, tantruming, freezing and clinging could indicate their anxiety). An adult with a phobia realizes that the fear is excessive or unreasonable, but that doesn't stop the anxiety response.

In a nutshell, agoraphobia is an intense fear a person has of being in a situation where immediate escape is not possible or in which help would not be available if the person should become overwhelmed by anxiety or experience a panic attack or panic-like symptoms. This disorder often goes hand-in-hand with panic disorder (as well as many other fears).

Social phobia is a fear of social or performance situations in which embarrassment may occur. The fear can be generalized in that the fear is
related to most social situations, or it can be relegated to select circumstances (public speaking).

Specific phobia is a fear cued by the presence or anticipation of a specific object or situation. Exposure provokes an immediate anxiety response (could trigger an panic attack). There are five types of specifiers that most specific fears fall into: Animal Type (scared of dogs, spiders); Natural Environment Type (scared of heights, storms, water); Blood-Injection-Injury Type (scared of needles, seeing blood, breaking bones), Situational Type (scared of airplanes, elevators, enclosed places) and Other Type (fear of contracting an illness, fear of clowns, etc).

There is a great listing of all the specific phobias on Fredd Culbertson developed this list by compiling every phobia he's ever run across in reading, etc. Since the fact is if you name something, someone can be afraid of it, I just couldn't make myself list them all here.

So here is a brief overview of phobias that hopefully will help while you're developing your characters. Just think of all the possibilities and quirks this could give you!

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Kaye Dacus' Menu for Romance

Kaye Dacus' second book in the Brides of Bonneterre series was such an enjoyable read! She writes "inspirational romance with a sense of humor," and I'd say that is spot on. Picking up where The Stand-In Groom left off, Menu for Romance focuses on thirty-something event planner and an executive chef, and of course everything that stands in the way of them getting together!

What I liked about this book is how Kaye focused on internal feelings we've all had and can relate to. For example, Meredith, the party event planner works for her parents. As a result, she feels that she's not respected, that her authority and title are just for show as her parents still try to run things. I love how Kaye shows Meredith's progression from indignation to doing something about it!

Meredith also comes from a big family. Not everyone comes from this type background, but likely we know someone who does! Her family can be nosy, in-your-face, embarrassing...all the things that families can be (even if yours isn't big) and its interesting to read how Meredith chooses to deal with them. There is a happy balance when you have proper boundaries. (Hmm...might have to write a Therapeutic Thought on that.)

The chef, Major O'Hara, has a totally different set of issues to work through....the kind of set that involves mental illness, so I was happily clapping my hands. Having a mother with schizophrenia makes life difficult for Major. He's afraid to share the burden with anyone else, which is really SO realistic it's sad. Kaye even writes a schizophrenic break in one of the scenes....very compelling stuff, people.

So, that's my review. I liked Stand-In Groom b/c the premise was just wonderful. I liked Menu for Romance because the writing (as well as her premise, name it) was just plain good. :)

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Treatment Tuesday - What Makes a Womanizer Tick?

This week’s Assessment comes courtesy of Betty. She wrote in with essentially one question that she wanted answered for the current novel she’s working on. She asked:

What makes a womanizer tick? (and in Betty’s book, this doesn’t equate with sleeping around…just serial dating, inability to commit, that sort of thing).

Don’t we all wish we knew the answer to this question! The reality is that there is no psychiatric formula to point to which results in womanizing. There are, however, some generalities you can make, which I will write about before getting more into the specifics of Betty’s character sketch.

According to Jed Diamond, author of The Irritable Male, serial seducers generally come from a home with an absent father. Turning to women for validation can be a way to compensate for a lack of connection to their father. Neil Strauss, who authored The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pick-Up Artists, said that of most of the players he met, many of them were “late bloomers.” High school wasn’t exactly a time of success with the opposite sex. But college often changes the equation for these men and they take off at a full run.

Based on Betty’s character sketch, I’m not sure either of these suggestions would work for her manuscript, but it’s something to think about for other authors.

With true womanizers (who try to get women in bed), as well as your tamer Christian fiction counterpart, low self-esteem is an important part of why they do what they do. There is a certain amount of attention and power and control that being a womanizer brings a man, and these emotions would come into play regardless of what happens after the dates are over.

Your hero needs to feed off these women (no, not like Edward in Twilight ☺). The question you need to ask yourself is this: What need of his are these women meeting? This is what a therapist would try to figure out in session. Is it to give him an ego stroke? That could be two-fold, giving him an internal stroke—i.e., “It might not have worked out with so-and-so who left me or so-and-so who died, but I could get with this girl if I wanted” type thing—as well as an external stroke—i.e., “when I walk in with her on my arm, every male is going to turn around and stare, this upping me in their estimation.”

It might be your hero is in need of a power trip. Incorporate his career into why he might be with so many women. Does he want a different one on his arm at each corporate function? Does that give him a feeling of control in a world that feels out of control? He’s GOT to have a motivation for seeking these women out, for putting himself in situations to meet women. The book will fall flat if that’s not in there.

There is some general information regarding womanizers. But to get more specific to Betty’s hero, here’s a bit more to factor in: His fiancé died from ovarian cancer. He’s mad at the doctors for not helping her and mad at God for not healing her, either. His grief is stuck in the anger stage. He was into heavy drinking, but Betty wonders how she could take out the alcohol issue and still have the womanizing.

I really think Betty’s solution lies in her dilemma for this character. I emailed her earlier and suggested that instead of having the fiancé die, have her spurn him instead. A tremendous pain from a romantic interest could definitely turn a man toward womanizing, like a love lost or a love unreturned (think Ryan Reynolds in the movie Just Friends). If you don’t want the fiancé to do this, however, I think it would be equally as awful for him to have been spurned earlier in his life before meeting his fiancé, who then dies, leaving him feeling hopeless things will ever work out for him in the love department. It would be very realistic to have him then turn to the “revolving door of women” you mentioned in your email (which I liked, by the way).

To really make your hero believable, my advice is to work in some backstory about him being a late bloomer (not nearly as attractive as he’s portrayed now) and really give him solid motivations for being with these women so it doesn’t read contrived. Just answer the question: What needs of his are being met? And then, by the end of the book (or by the end of my therapy sessions with someone like this), I would hope he's meeting those needs in a healthier way to give him a nice, round character arc.

Thanks for writing in. Feel free to email me with any questions this assessment might dredge up. ☺

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

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thursday Therapeutic Thought - When Physical Pain Isn't So Physical

Picture courtesy of johnnyalive

A few weeks back, I asked my readership if there were any burning therapy questions they might want answered for one of my Thoughts. Eileen over at A Christian Romance Writer's Journey asked this question:

Is there a term for when someone obsesses over fearing something to the point where physical symptoms, like localized pain, appears?

And the answer is YES. Often, psychological factors can have an major role in the onset, severity, exacerbation or maintenance of pain. This would be called....drum roll's very technical...a Pain Disorder.

Pain Disorder is one of the many Somatoform Disorders (which basically means there is a presence of a physical symptom that would suggest a medical condition but which are not fully explained by a medical condition, direct effects of a substance or by another mental disorder).

What the heck then?

Pain in various anatomical parts of the body can be brought about by more than just aging or car accidents or disease. Psychological factors, such as a reaction to a life stressor or possibly even another disorder like depression or anxiety, can also cause localized or generalized pain.

For someone to fit in this category, the pain has to the predominant focus of the person's presentation in my office and it needs to have been of sufficient severity to warrant clinical attention. It also has to cause significant stress or impairment in the person's life (i.e., inability to attend work or school, frequent use of the health care system, substantial use of medications, relational problems such as marital discord and disruption of the family's normal lifestyle). A therapist would have to judge psychological factors as having a major role in the occurrence and severity of the pain and the pain is not produced intentionally (as there are other disorders for that called Factitious Disorder and Malingering).

Pain Disorder is considered Acute when the duration of the pain is less than 6 months and Chronic is the duration of the pain is longer than 6 months.

Some of the most common causes of Pain Disorder are unemployment, disability and family problems. And there is always the risk that someone with chronic pain will develop a dependence on medication to stop the pain, so usually a substance abuse disorder is also diagnosed for these individuals. Severe depression and terminal illness can cause pain that leaves that individual at an increased risk for suicide. Often, people with pain like this will think some health provider somewhere has the "cure," and will spend inordinate amounts of money searching for a "fix."

Chronic pain is more often associated with Depressive and Anxiety Disorders while Acute pain is more often associated with Anxiety Disorders, so when writing a character who suffers from this remember to lean toward the "anxious" side if your character is going to battle pain for under 6 months.

Females seem to be more perceptible to having Pain Disorders than males, frequently presenting in therapists' offices with migraine and tension-type headaches and musculo-skeletal pain. Pain can occur at any age. It is important to note that the longer a pain is present, the more likely it is to become chronic and persistent.

Important factors to overcome the pain could be various, but I'll include some here so if you do want to include something like this in your character's arc, you'll have an idea where to go. The individual has to acknowledge the pain, not tip-toe around the fact that something's not wrong. They need to give up unproductive efforts to control the pain, which might mean giving up health care providers, who sometimes can unknowingly feed into the person's belief something is wrong. They should participate in regularly scheduled activities like work despite the pain. They should recognize and treat comorbid disorders (disorders that exist at the same time; in conjunction with the pain) and not allow the pain to become the determining factor in their life (i.e. don't live around the pain).

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mary Connealy's Montana Rose

I can hardly wait to dig into this review! Here's a blurb from Mary's website:

Left pregnant and widowed in the unforgiving west, Cassie is forced into an unwanted marriage to rancher Red Dawson.

No decent man could turn away from Cassie and leave her to the rough men in Divide, Montana. Red Dawson can't turn his back on the spoiled, snooty, beautiful woman. Now he's got himself a wife he's sure God never intended. And when he informs her there'll be no more silk dresses and she has to do some work around the ranch he's surprised she immediately tries to help with everything. Too bad she's a walking disaster. His ranch may not survive her efforts to pitch in.

Now, instead of a spoiled wife he's got himself an overly obedient and badly incompetent one, and poor Red is so charmed by her he can't bear to scold. He's not much for bossing people around, anyway.

While Red tries to survive Cassie's help and Cassie tries to use her own mind instead of meekly obeying for the first time in her life, an obsessed man plots to make Cassie his own, something he can't do as long as Red lives.

What a page-turning western/cowboy/romantic suspense/comedy/coming of age story Montana Rose was!

Mary's got such a gift for gripping premises, a knack for throwing the hero and heroine permanently together FAST (and by fast, I mean by p. 29, even though you get lots of interaction before then). And who wouldn't like her hook? Widowed One Day--Wedded the Next. What? You HAVE to pick it up to see why this would happen. And you're not disappointed, as Mary's historical accurateness leaves no room for disbelieving her characters' motivation.

The love story is sweet, filled with plenty of awkward moments as they get to know each other and come to love one another fiercely. There's an entire chapter of hilarity that will have you laughing aloud as one mishap after another happens right after the wedding....just calamity at every turn.

She works in a sub-plot very well to set up her next book in the series...I mean, any woman who has a Husband Tree is worth being written and read about, right? Admit're dying to know what the Husband Tree is! :-)

Okay...donning my therapist cap for a second...

My favorite character in this book was actually her villain. (I know, I've got problems.) But Mary does such an excellent job of giving her villain (as well as her MCs) a great GMC, both internal and external. And he has ISSUES. He's very delusional, and tries to live out these delusions in a frightening way. (Lemme put it this way: if you were to encounter this person today, he'd most definitely be an inpatient in a mental hospital.) He's fixated on the heroine, which of course adds all manner of built-in conflict.

But Mary makes him someone I think anyone could sympathize. His family history background--especially with his father--speaks far louder than any other marginally positive influence (like his mother) on his life he might have had. You pity him rather than wrinkle your nose in distaste. You want better for him. (Or at least I did!) I'd love to sit down with him and ask him a few questions...cause he needs therapy in a big way.

Bravo, Mary, on an excellent read!

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Treatment Tuesday - Dissociative Identity Disorder

Today’s Assessment comes once again from Chas. Since he’s having an angelic therapist come to earth to do therapy with former angels and demons-turned-human, he thought it would be helpful to have a therapist’s perspective on what these heavenly counselors might tackle in session. I was happy to help.

Patty* was a demon (formerly named Poisonous) sentenced to be human. Her past as a demon haunted her before and after she accepted the Lord. Seeing people angry or hateful makes her feel even guiltier, because that was her way of life as a demon and she despises it. She is capable of loving others, even to the point of heartbreak. It is helpful to think of Patty as a child of parents who belong to a hate group, like the Neo-Nazis. She has grown up now, and has walked away from the hatred her parents instilled in her all her life. In fact, just like an ex-smoker, she hates the evil she once practiced more than ever, but the healing process takes time.

Now that last characterization brings Patty’s story to a level other writers besides Chas (and his angelic counselors) might benefit from.

Here’s an aside: some of the most difficult and disturbing people I’ve ever encountered in the mental health field were victims of cult abuse. Hearing about the lives they were subjected to (many at a young age) was hard. I had to remember to school my features against the shock. These are the kind of stories you almost can’t believe.

So if Patty had any kind of upbringing in demonhood that was remotely similar, let’s just say it is very realistic for her to have major issues in adulthood. I’m not sure if you’re going to have some repressed memories surface, but that would be very feasible, as well, so I’m including it in case it may be helpful for your plot development.

There are several diagnostic possibilities for her. The people I’ve worked with from similar situations have had Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder), Schizophrenia, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (almost most definitely), and anxiety disorders that could range from Panic Disorder to Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Here was a case when I needed a little more information to be of more assistance to the author. So I emailed Chas to find out some particulars. He wrote that Patty has a hard time reconciling who she is today (a born again human Believer) with who she was (former demon Poisonous). She feels “like she’s two different people,” which is very much a dissociative identity disorder type symptom. She’s oppressed by her former life in her present life.

This even affects her sexual life (which really is remarkable how much she sounds like one patient I worked with at a mental hospital). While a demon (or in the cult), Patty took a very natural and beautiful thing—sex—and twisted it into lust and debauchery by inciting lustful thoughts and playing up the outside gloss of this sin. [Many cults are defined by their use of terms used in mainstream religions, but they have been altered to mean something else.] So now Patty is faced with the real deal—marital intercourse between her and her husband—and has a hard time reconciling the very act as something God intended from the corrupt and perverted thing demons made it.

Chas also wrote that Patty is deathly afraid her children will inherit some of her demonic traits, and as such, she essentially wants to strive to protect them from aspects of herself. This further “fractures” her, as she’s trying to be the best mom she can be, but she’s got to accept this other part of her—integrate it, if you will—to really be effective in her parenting or in her role as a wife.

So let’s focus on Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), even though Patty may or may not fit all these characteristics. You decide, Chas. I’ll include all the symptoms and you can take or leave what you want. ☺

First of all, DID clients have the presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states that recurrently take control of the person’s behavior. Sometimes the person is unable to remember personal details of one identity while presenting as the other identity. This one might not apply…because when I say distinct personalities (or alters, which is short for alternate personalities), the identity will have different speech patterns, vocabulary, handwriting, age, gender, name…you name it, it’s game. And this can happen right before your eyes when they alter.

But the aspect of DID that definitely applies to Patty is a failure to integrate various aspects of identity, memory, and consciousness. Each personality (her former demon self and her present human self) may be experienced as if having its own personal history, self-image, identity and name. The primary identity would be passive, dependent, guilty and depressed. Sounds a bit like Patty! (And I took this straight out of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.)

Individuals with this disorder experience gaps in memory sometimes for their personal history, both remote and present (as a result of other identities coming to the fore and making the primary identity “lose time.”

One thing to remember about cult members (esp. young children) is the abuse they suffered at the hands of their parents and cult officials/members. And as research shows, people who are abused are more likely to grow up into abusers themselves. In a way, Satan essentially abused Patty when she was a demon…and she grew to “abuse” others (in inciting lustful thoughts, etc., as a demon). Make sense?

Also, something to be aware of is that the guilt and pain of childhood (or demonhood) can cause these individuals to self-mutilate, be aggressive or suicidal. It’s very common for self-harm behaviors to accompany someone with DID.

Now, for treatment goals. The first—and perhaps most obvious—is integration. You want Patty to be a whole person, feeling whole and complete, not fragmented. The idea behind integration is that you use fusion rituals (can be anything deemed appropriate…I actually had one therapist I worked with who had her DID clients have a session to decide to “kill” off various personalities within them…this John Cusack in Identity…whoa) to make the other alters lose their functioning or purpose. So what function does Poisonous serve in Patty’s new life? I can’t answer this question…and Patty might not be able, too, either, but this is the bottom-line question you’ll have to have your therapist get to in the book. An example of the functionality of one alter in someone who was abused could be that the alter served to protect the person from actually experiencing the abuse. The mind split to preserve itself…and the alter took the brunt of the trauma and pain. (Often, this alter has anger issues at the other alters/primary identity, as you can imagine.) But that’ll give you an idea.

Well, hopefully this helps some. Problem with diagnostic assessments is that sometimes a character doesn’t always fit into one diagnosis completely. In the therapeutic world, we have ways around this, and it’s called “Not Otherwise Specified.” So Patty might fit into the category Dissociative Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. In the fictional world, it could work much the same, I suppose. Take the qualities you want; don’t take the others you (or your character) don’t want to tackle. ☺

Thanks for writing in.

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

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Julie Lessman's Daughters of Boston Series

I have had the honor and privilege to read Books 1, 2 & 3 of Julie Lessman's Daughters of Boston series. To quote the Romantic Times, "This isn't your mother's inspirational fiction!"

And boy howdy is it not! As a romantic, I fell in love with the O'Connor women. Julie wrote about historical scenarios each and every one of us can relate to. We've all struggled with how much is "too much" when your dating. I have a friend who experienced Faith's story of loving a man who didn't love her and wasn't a Christian, either. I myself experienced Lizzie's story of falling in love with a "big brother" type who couldn't see past his nose. Charity's story of redemption is easily recognizable by women who have troubled backgrounds or less-than-savory reputations.

Julie deals with HARD issues in her books, putting them in the "edge inspirational fiction" category. And as a therapist, I loved them all! Familial betrayal and backstabbing. Rape. Incest. Alcoholism. War. Assault and battery. Sibling death. Domestic violence. Lying. Cheating. Deception. Suicide. Caught between two loves. All of these and more are touched in in these three books, some more than others. Some are mentioned through backstory development. Some take front and center stage. Characters in each of her books could have really benefitted from some joke. One actually gets some minisiterial counseling, which was nice to read. I might have to do some character therapy for these guys and gals down the road...if I ever run out of people writing in, I just might. :-)

Of course, she also dealt with passion - between married couples and dating couples. I believe Julie has hit upon a huge market of women in the Christian fiction world who hunger and thirst for their toes to curl and their own hearts to beat fast at the anticipation of yet another romantic scene. I confess, I often flipped through pages just to see how long I had to read until I got to another kissing scene. :-) Women love to get caught up in a good love story. And I do mean LOVE story. Why do you think I read all my mom's old Harlequins under the sink in the guest bathroom when she wasn't looking? Now, I get all the emotional rush of reading one of those more classically defined "smut" novels incorporated into a book that has Jesus (or the very real need for Jesus) on every page.

I think what I loved the most about her books was the true depth of feeling she brought to the emotions her characters experienced. I got emotional several times (of course, I'm a huge sucker for a long-awaited wedding) and I believe it was in large part to how Julie depicted the scenes. Her description is wonderful. Plain and simple. She draws the reader in with incredibly original metaphors, action-packed verbs and an enviable deep POV.

I highly recommend these books (duh!) and suggest you start with your moms after you've read them. Were my grandmother living, I might give them to her to read. She just might not be as scandalized as I thought she would be. Real women aren't prudish, so the books we read shouldn't have to be. Praise the Lord!

Thanks, Julie, for sharing your God-given talent. I can't wait to be an influencer for you!

I hope you want to pick up these wonderful books and support Julie. I'm afraid my own copies are on my keeper shelf. :-)

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Thursday Therapeutic Thought - Function of Behavior

Since I just completed a second interview for a behavioral specialist position in a school, I thought I'd write about some of the things I brushed up on for the interview.

One of the things we need to think about when we're writing out our character's behaviors is what the FUNCTION of that behavior is. The easiest way to figure this out is to use an ABC chart. There are many versions of this chart and what the letters stand for, but the behavioral chart is as follows:

A = Antecedent
B = Behavior
C = Consequence

Once you fill in what precedes and follows the behavior, you can start to get an idea what "function" that behavior is serving at that particular time for that particular person. (This is very helpful when children are acting out, as you might can imagine!) The object of therapy would be to meet the need through some alternative way, and use motivation to change the undesired behavior at the same time.

Here's an example. And because my specialty is children, let's say you wrote in a child in your story...Haley. Haley comes from a recently divorced family. The mother has custody and often finds herself crying and battling depression over the outcome of her "perfect" family falling apart. Every time she has a crying bout, Haley ransacks her bedroom, and the mother, at her wits end, spanks Haley every time, screaming at her how she's making a bad situation worse.

Whoa. Time out. Let's look at this!

What happens immediately preceding the ransacking? Mother is crying.
What happens immediately following the ransacking? Mother screams at and spanks Haley.

So what function could Haley's behavior have? You'll know when you're writing (hopefully) what the function is...because this will likely be part of the character arc...for Haley to have the need met through some other, healthier manner. For instance, Haley might feel the divorce was her fault (as children often do) and feel overwhelming guilt every time her mother cried. So she ransacks her room in anger at herself. Wouldn't that knowledge change the mother's response to Haley? Instead of heaping even more guilt on Haley's shoulders (about making a bad situation worse), the mother would likely respond with love and affection, soothing the child instead of escalating things.

So think about how you want your characters to act and WHY. Internal and external motivations are the "why," but you can get as creative as you like with the "how." How would a 10-year old manifest inner feelings of guilt? How would a go-getter attorney manifest disappointment in himself? Find out what function the behavior will have, and then "heal" your poor characters by replacing it with something healthier.

Q4U: Have you thought about the reason BEHIND the behaviors you give your characters?

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Treatment Tuesday - Intermittant Explosive Disorder

Today's assesment comes courtesy once again from Chas. He's written in before about Evelyn, an angel turned human. From the same story premise comes Gretchen*, a human. Here's her character sketch.

* Names have been changed to protect the fictional.

Gretchen has always been the obedient older sister growing up. She was shy and geeky and boys teased and shunned her. She coped with this in high school by playing basketball. Once in college though, she rebelled and slept around because she could. The one significant relationship she had in school was a heartbreaker and she's struggled with men ever since. When she met her husband, she still hadn't resolved using flirtationto seek attention. As her relationship progressed with her husband (before and after her marriage at 27), anger resurfaces from those formidable years growing up, resulting in outbursts she can't control. In once such outburst directed at her husband, Gretchen partakes in an affair.

The first thing to consider is just how angry you want to make her. On the continuum of anger, you can range widely from mild irritation to full out assault or someone else or your self. Gretchen's anger seems outwardly to be directed at others (due to how she was treated), but I would assert it is an anger directed mainly at herself. Maybe she feels insecure because she didn't measure up to others (in her estimation). Maybe each and every time she had sex with a different guy, she was filled with self-loathing. Depending on her relationship with her father and whether or not she felt protected and supported, it's quite easy for her to translate her feelings about him to her husband. These are all questions I would find out the answers to in an initial therapy session with a client coming in for anger management.

Anyone coming in for anger issues will likely expect some sort of miracle fix for their symptoms. Almost 100% do NOT expect the therapist to delve into the reason BEHIND the anger. (I'm not may think this would be a given, but it's not. Especially with court-appointed clients. In and out is what they want.)

So, Chas, have your angelic therapist ascertain the bulk reason behind the anger. As I mentioned, Gretchen might be able to identify it was her treatment by others that still makes her mad today, but WHY is getting to the therapy behind it. Hope this makes sense. Counseling really isn't that hard...very instinctual.

But you will want to address her symptoms as well as the underlying reasons. The easiest way to do this would be with systematic desensitization. This is the same technique used with clients who have a fear or paranoia. It's easier than it sounds. In a nutshell, you have Gretchen come up with a hierarchy of, say, ten things that she gets the angriest over. Have her list them out. Then out teach her progressive relaxation skills (where you go through areas of the body from toe to head clenching and relaxing muscle groups) and then have her visualize the least angering event on her list and monitor her reactions (pulse, breathing). If she is able to remain calm through the visualization, you move onto number 9. Stop immediately when her anger can no longer be controlled in session when she thinks about these things. Treatment is considered complete when she can successfully visualize the number one thing on her list and remain calm.

Some therapists are even more directive then this and want to create the situation that angers or produces fear. If the client is ever asked to recreate an argument with their spouse or something like that (like making a person scared of the subway take a ride), then the technique is called in vivo desensitization.

As to a diagnosis that could fit, Intermittent Explosive Disorder could work, especially if her anger results in aggressive impulses that cause harm to someone else or destroy property (throwing a vase at someone's head would cover both). The key to this disorder is that the aggressiveness is grossly out of proportion to the precipitating psychosocial stressors. This is what we call "flying off at the handle for no reason."

Since Gretchen is at least 27, none of the disorders usually diagnosed is childhood and infancy would fit (like Conduct Disorder) unless she did these things before she was 18. The therapist would need to check her drug history and medical background to make sure nothing could have triggered such outbursts. During this assessment, a psychosocial history would also be gathered, including a developmental timeline. Then the red flags should be abundant. I don't feel she remotely meets the characteristics of Borderline or Antisocial Personality Disorders, but those would have to be ruled out, as would adult ADHD.

Now I haven't forgotten about the affair, just had to cover a lot before then while it was on my mind. The key to how the therapist should approach the affair is in what order it falls in the line of importance with the client. What brought Gretchen in in the first place? If it was the affair and she and her husband want marital counseling to get through the breach of trust, then the anger issues for her might be better explored in individual counseling with her, to keep the focus of the session on the couple instead of singling her out with her issues. I'm assuming that she feels horrible about the affair because she is a Christian, but what led the the breakdown in the marriage in the first place? Most affairs have already occurred long before the actual act of intercourse. The emotional attachment begins with someone else for several reasons, chief among them being the other partner being unavailable emotionally. As takes two to make or break a marriage. It often gets pinned on just the one who committee the overt sin. But it is also a sin to deny your partner yourself except by way of mutual agreement. So what I'm really trying to do here is make sure the husband owns up to his responsibility. Sure, no one forces Gretchen to sleep with someone else, but therapist should never take sides.

I guess this is as good as I can do from an iPhone! So no pictures or links...I might add those later when I get back from the sticks. I hope there isn't any typos, as I'm not at all sure how to go back! As always, more specific questions are welcome in the comment section, Chas. Thanks for writing in!

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

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Thursday Therapeutic Thought - Anger = Secondary Emotion

In therapeutic circles, anger is said to be a secondary emotion (this later came into pop psychology, so likely you've heard this before, but might not know specifics on what it actually means). Hopefully I can shed some light.

There is a great quote by Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, who wrote Man's Search for Meaning. It goes:

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.

Sounds great...and is very accurate. So what's the problem? The problem lies with identifying the response. Anger is actually an immature response. Animals are programmed to act with anger (fight) when they feel any sort of threat. It could also be called a primitive response (because a different section of the brain is actually being used...the lower brain). The emotional need (which would be found on the perimeter of the poster) goes unmet when all you (or your character) can say is, "I feel angry."

The above picture is available as a poster and a magnet for therapists to use in session. And trust me...I've put a lot of miles on my magnet, using it with children and adults alike. I watch their face as they hold the magnet. Brows are furrowed and the cogs are turning as they figure out what prompted their angry outburst at school or what caused them to lay into their spouse after dinner. And WITHOUT FAIL they ALL can pinpoint WHY. They can indicate what emotional need went unmet and led to the angry response.

So our goal should be to increase the "space" between the stimulus and response. (To be less technical...the "space" would also roughly fit that same time period when you might "count to 10.") By doing this, we give ourselves more time to figure out what the primary emotion is (Hurt, Anxiety, Shame, Sadness, Fear, Frustration, Guilt, Disappointment, Worry, Jealousy,Embarrassment, etc.). Any character can show this kind of emotional growth and development simply by the author adding in some action beats during the "space" to show how the character is "counting to 10," so to speak. [And be CREATIVE. Don't just have them count to ten, people.]

Anger is a powerful tool of survival as well as a source of energy. We've all known people who get mad and then clean like a madwoman or run like a racehorse. There are productive ways to channel anger. But to repress our anger or hold onto it for prolonged lengths of time can be very damaging to our emotional well-being (and that of our characters!). But, alas, we do have to have some sort of ticking time bombs, right? *sigh* No doubt about it, this makes a good one. Stuffing and stuffing our emotions (whatever they are) will lead to an explosion (external) or implosion (internal).

As always, specific questions about your characters are welcomed.

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