Why do we STILL equate psychosis with evil intent?

I had intended to write a second entry on the nature of change, but I just finished reading a novel that I enjoyed. Until the ending. Which resolved the mystery by explaining that the long, convoluted plot for revenge was concocted and carried out single-handedly by a character so deranged that she was later declared incompetent to stand trial.

I keep reminding myself that this was entertainment. Just like all the tv shows that do the same thing. I can’t help but wonder, though, how much this misinformation affects the way we look at the seriously mentally ill. How much does it explain the dearth of quality care and the paltry rates that insurance companies are willing to shell out for mental health care?

All right. I’ll get down off my soap box for that speech, but I still want to say to authors and other interested parties that people with uncontrolled schizophrenia or other psychoses may indeed have voices telling them to do something illegal or harmful. The jails are full of the  mentally ill. But the acts they get arrested for are usually impulsive:  interrupting a court session, bad-mouthing a policeman, disrobing in public, even pulling out a weapon and shooting someone. But in full-blown psychosis, an individual’s thoughts are too disordered to conceive a plot, impersonate someone, perform at a job without raising questions, or even explain a complicated plan to an accomplice or a policeman. In all my career as a psychologist, I have NEVER worked with a psychotic patient who wasn’t his or her own worst enemy, and much more likely to be the targets of abuse rather than the perpetrators. Not a one of them could have begun to formulate such a plot as the one described in the novel I read.

If you are writing a story about a career criminal or a shyster involved in a tangled conspiracy, give your protagonist a personality disorder. (They used to be called character disorders.) Narcissistic, borderline, or, for the big guns, antisocial (also known as sociopath or psychopath) are accurate possibilities. They each have their own characteristics and would play out differently in your story. I’ll offer more details later. But please don’t depict people with rampant psychoses as evil geniuses.

I’m off to popcorn and a movie now. Take care!


The Nature of Change: Misery

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about change for a number of reasons. First, here it is March 1st, two months into the new year, and I have yet to implement a single one of my New Year’s Resolutions. But, better late than never. Actually, March 1 is a much better time to try for change. It’s a harbinger of spring, the season of beginnings. This is true despite the fact that we have been issued a severe weather warning yet again for tonight, a reminder that winter may never end this year. But, let’s assume that it will. And March 1 will usher in, not only spring, but also my New Year’s resolutions. Feel free to borrow my logic.

Secondly, now that my novel, THE HOUSE THAT TILTS is completed, I’ve been polishing up the synopsis, plus creating the synopsis for my next project, and a synopsis encapsulates the changes in a book’s main characters. I have to say that my characters are doing a better job of incorporating change than I am. Still, they’ve been through hell. I’ve made them go through hell because that’s the story. And because hell is the only thing that triggers change.

That brings me to the third reason I’m focused on change. Because I’m a psychologist. My clients come to me in order to change their lives. Or maybe not. I’ve learned that, unless we are absolutely miserable with the way things are, we aren’t likely to do anything different. And some clients, while unhappy, are not miserably unhappy. They’re not quite ready. That’s okay. We all get there on our own schedule.

One of my professors, a wizened, brilliant teacher with the personality of Eeyore, told this story:  There was a man sitting up to his neck in horse manure (however, the wizened professor did not say ‘horse manure’). Every time someone went by, he whined, “It stinks in here. It stinks in here.” Finally, one passerby turned and said, “Well, why don’t you stand up and get out of that?” To which the first man replied, “But it’s cold out there.”

That was our lesson for that day. Not everyone of our clients would be ready to give up the familiar and risk the cold in order to find a better space.  If WE really want to change, if we REALLY want to take up those New Year’s resolutions, we’re going to have to be pretty dang sick of the way things are. And if we’re writing a believable plot, our character has to have reached the end of her rope. Which does not bode well for my resolutions.

So, here goes. I’m off to ingest a totally nutritious, guilt-free dinner of steamed vegetables.

See you later.