Psychology For Writers With Carolyn Kaufman

Psychology is a source of endless fascination for me! In my new novel, Pentecost, the protagonist, Morgan Sierra, is a psychologist from Oxford University and it’s a topic I read about all the time. So I was thrilled to interview Carolyn Kaufman about her new book, The Writer’s Guide to Psychology.

In the intro, I talk about how the launch of Pentecost went and how it feels to have a fiction book out in the world – the good and the bad! Pentecost has now made #5 in religious fiction on the US Kindle Store, #4 in religious fiction all formats, #59 in genre fiction, #96 on UK Thriller Fiction and #9 in Christian fiction UK, so it is an Amazon bestseller! I mention the guest posts I have done at other blogs, particularly the fear of judgment and criticism at Tribal Writer. I also talk about Clarissa Pinkola-Estes The Creative Fire.

Carolyn Kaufman is a Professor and Doctor of Clinical Psychology as well as the author of “The Writer’s Guide to Psychology”. She also writes science-fiction and fantasy and blogs at and

In this podcast, you will learn:

  • How Carolyn has always been writing but when she started teaching, she realized how many misconceptions people have about psychology, especially in books, movies and TV. She wanted to write an accessible book that would be accessible for anyone.
  • In the book, you will find out what therapy is really like and how therapists get people to talk, about psychological disorders, medication and what goes on. Psychology is the science of mind and behavior so it is important for all writers to understand why people do what they do. But it’s based on empirical research.
  • Typical aspects that writers get wrong in psychology: Everyone wants to know about childhood as a therapist – this is only , most therapists don’t ask you to lie down on the couch. Disorders are often shown inaccurately or inconsistently which is incorrect.
  • Some stereotypical therapists in writing – Doctor Sexy, Doctor Wonderful, Dr Evil, Dr Funny, but it’s not really like this!
  • On the history of psychology and psychiatry, Dr Evil was more true 50 years ago. People with disorders weren’t treated well. If you’re writing a historical novel with psychology you need to know about the past. Institutions were more crowded and people were just left in straitjackets for a long time. Mental illness wasn’t understood. Lobotomies did happen and so did electroshock therapy (like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest).
  • On the scale of psychological disorders. The tendency to read the DSM and see yourself in it is called ‘intern syndrome’. If you read it, you’ll see yourself in there somewhere! A lot of behaviors that are diagnosable, we all exhibit in a mild form e.g. anxiety disorder vs being anxious. There is a continuum but disorders are on the extreme end. We can use those insights as writers to tap into the bigger issues.
  • On Kay Redfield Jamison ‘Touched with Fire” – on creativity and manic-depression. Do we have to have a mental disorder to be creative? Maybe creative people are invested in the idea of being eccentric, so some may be looking for it more than it’s actually there. The research suggests there is a link but there is also evidence that treating people means they can become more creative. We have to be a little crazy to be writers but e don’t have to be mentally ill!
  • On the psychology of the villain. There are a lot of stereotypes for villains, almost cardboard cutout. The psychotic killer is a cliche. But remember, there still needs to be motivation so we should understand what’s going on with them. Writers might be uncomfortable getting into the mind of the villain but Stephen King et al show this can be lucrative. Look at what’s motivating the villain.
  • On Milgram’s obedience study. People shocked other people at the command of an authority figure and the research is used a lot to explain Nazi behavior. Some of the people begged to be allowed to stop but continued to killing levels of shock. The authority figure is powerful in the human psyche. It’s important for the military but we also discuss the impact of fundamentalist religion when people do things in the name of God. People also use God to project their own beliefs and use that authority.
  • On psychology and the paranormal. It’s a fascinating topic for many to think about the edges of what is real. There’s something in humans that is always interested in this. There is a search for something supernatural. Most cultures also have a higher power so it is part of human psychology. There is an area of the brain that if stimulated, they will have religious experiences. Some people explain this as yes, there is a higher power and this is the way of communication and other people say it’s evidence for no higher power.
  • On the future of psychology (this is heading into science-fiction). New treatments that are not medication or drug-based for example, trans-cranial and deep brain stimulation. These mean less dependence on drugs and can get rid of problems like depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. We also talk about smart drugs for “normal” people that can enhance cognitive function.
  • Carolyn is currently working on a new book on psychology for writers i.e. how to use psychology to improve our writing and ourselves. It will be research based and why people procrastinate and how the tips for writers can be proved or disproved [I’m looking forward to this!]

You can find Carolyn at and her book “The Writer’s Guide to Psychology” on in print and kindle format.

Be Sociable, Share!


  1. says

    I enjoyed the podcast . I could mention another example of a strong female character that does not fit the female stereorype. I enjoyyed the character of Temperance Brennan, the protagonist of the Kathy Reichs mystery thrillers.
    The main character of Michael Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost is a similarly strong female protagonist.
    I see myself as a follower and are always looking for works with those females in it. I haven’t read your book yet, but will soon.
    Thanks for your interesting blog and pod casts.

    • says

      Thanks Johanna – I love Temperance as well and I watch the series Bones. Her relationship with Booth is something I will try to emulate in my novel series – as well as Reichs’ success of course!

  2. Dixie Goode says

    Just a while ago I spent s weeks with my MIL at the Mayo Clinic while she had 12 electroshock treatments and they were very effective and probably saved her life. Some of the “older” methods are still used, but the Dr.’s were very kind and supportive and the nurses even more so.

    BTW, I got my notification that my copy of “Pentecost” has shipped. I’m eager.


  3. says

    I can tell that you genuinely appreciated this opportunity. Your excitement about Kaufman’s new book really shines through, making this post a great selling point for her. Although I am not extremely interested in psychology, I might check out this book simply because you’ve made the subject seem much more intriguing. Thanks!

  4. says

    Hi Joanna!

    I loved this podcast, it was really very interesting! 😀 Thanks for hosting it.

    I’m a clinical psychology and criminology undergrad. I write fiction, particularly in the SFF genre. Psychology is one of my favorite subjects and studying it helps my writing so much.

    I have a blog over at that focuses mainly on psychology, both in popular culture and in real life! I hope that it can be of use to everyone out there.

    Thanks again,

    Manon Eileen

  5. Carolyn Kaufman says

    Just wanted to say thank you again for the wonderful opportunity to talk with you, Joanna, and to share with your visitors! The podcasts (and the rest of what you do with the site, Twitter, etch) are such fantastic resources for writers!

  6. anne hunter says

    I would love to talk to you and ask you some questions.
    Your writing seems you have so many gifts.
    The review as teacher…best teacher I have ever had

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *