Therapists in Fiction

Given I am writing novels which have a central character who is a counsellor and encouraged by Anne Goodwin’s blog: I have been investigating how some writers have chosen to portray therapists in fiction.

My holiday reading was The Other Side of You by Salley Vickers and two of the Frieda Klein mysteries by husband and wife team Nicci French. Both therapist characters in these books come to ask interesting questions about therapy and their role as ‘helper’. However, there were moments when both novels stretched my credulity beyond breaking point.

The seven-hour therapy session at the heart of the Vickers’ book was one of these moments. Not only could I not believe that this would ever happen, but also the fluency of the client’s recall, especially of exact conversations, was implausible. But then, one of my compulsions in my writing is about memory and how narrative is always a fashioning, whereas this was obviously not a concern for this Vickers.

In terms of the Klein books, firstly it was her managing to fit meetings and lunch in the odd hour she has between clients, something I would never even attempt to do, particularly if I had to travel across London to do it. And secondly, and more crucially, her constant rushing into intruding on other people’s lives and private spaces. Klein apparently doesn’t like people coming uninvited to her own house, sees it as an intrusion into her privacy, yet she has no questions about pushing her way into the homes of others (including clients). There are hints at complaints and disciplinary action, which come to nothing (because she keeps solving the cases) but she herself appears to have little hesitation. And the she seems to have only started doing this since she began working ‘with’ the police, it’s almost as if she’s a repressed peeping tom given permission to go on the loose.

However, for me there is one glaring omission in the two books. Both Vickers’ narrator and Klein should be having some decent supervision. The need for this doesn’t stop when a therapist becomes ’eminent’. In addition, in my own humble opinion, they could also do with their own therapy. And the writers have missed out on an excellent technique for telling the narrative. I have found with my novels that supervision and therapy sessions are ripe with possibilities in terms of plot and character development.

I do like that these novels do explore the therapists’ vulnerabilities. The idea of the wounded healer is strong in the two stories. It is also an aspect of my novel series and an issue that as a counsellor I recognise only too well.

1 thought on “Therapists in Fiction

  1. Annecdotist

    Great to read this, Kate, and thanks for linking to my blog series. I think your point about supervision and personal therapy is a good one. I’ve now posted on 7 fictional therapists and have another 3 review is ready to go (taking me beyond my original 9) and, while I’ve been quite critical of several, some of the authors do seem to have a good grasp of the process between therapist and client, I’ve only come across one where the therapist has her own supervision, and even then it’s presented as an exception rather than an integral part of the job. And as for personal therapy, I don’t think any of these fictional therapists have experienced it, not even during their training. As you say, it’s not only a matter of verisimilitude, but a missed opportunity for developing the narrative. In one extremely good novel, the therapist had a number of personal issues impacting on her work, but she had to rely on brief anonymised chats with her husband for any kind of debriefing.
    Now, if only those writers had thought to consult us first …



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