A Writer on the Couch: How My Psychology and Writing Practices Work Together by Cecilia Dominic

Cecilia Dominic is my guest blogger today. She is a licensed psychologist in Georgia who has written a terrific post on how her day job informs her writing and vice versa. (She just started a free service on her blog to give back to other writers called Characters on the Couch, where they can send a character they’re stuck with to a psychologist (her!)). Cecilia is also the author of The Mountain’s Shadow, an urban fantasy being released by Samhain on October 1, 2013. If you have an interesting career that you’d like to blog about, please feel free to contact me (archer at jillarcher dot com). And now… Welcome, Cecilia!

First, thank you so much to Jill for having me as a guest blogger!

By day, I’m a clinical psychologist with a special focus in behavioral sleep medicine. I have a private practice, and my main clientele is people who want to sleep without using medication. I do general psychotherapy as well.

By night and weekends, I write fiction and blog about wine and writing. Although I don’t have any formal writing training beyond one adult continuing education class, which I snuck in while I was in graduate school at UGA, I’ve been writing creatively since I was a child.

The influence psychology has on my writing seems obvious, at least to me. The truth is that I find people and their problems fascinating. They’re both about people, how they change and grow – or choose not to – and the consequences of either path.

One of the biggest benefits my psychology practice has given my writing has been a range of human experience. When someone talks to a psychotherapist, whether it’s about sleep, anxiety, or other problems, they reveal first-hand knowledge beyond what’s found in any books. My clients speak about how awful people can be to each other, but also how kind, compassionate, and helpful. Although I am not elderly, a mother, a man, gay, a lawyer, or in a host of other professions with their associated problems, I have some sense of what it might be like to be in those situations.

Okay, let me head off some assumptions. No, I don’t use my clients, friends, family, or acquaintances as characters, although I have been tempted to kill off a few people fictionally. And really, who hasn’t? Yes, I have used aspects of experiences and details that I can confirm through other sources and separate from their original source. Talking to people as I do on a daily basis gives me a sense of where to start and seeds of ideas and situations to bring into the fictional world. It also allows me to see the commonalities of human experience and how different types of personalities struggle with particular aspects of challenging situations. I use those details to make my characters more real and relatable.

Writing has always been a way for me to escape, and some of my most productive periods have been during stressful periods like waiting for my comprehensive written exam results. However, writing is more than a coping mechanism, and it informs my psychology practice. Humans are wired for drama, which we as writers take on assumption. Think about it — drama captures our attention. If we weren’t wired for it, we wouldn’t want to read or write made-up stories with tension and resolution. Many fictional experiences can be stressful as we go through them, but they’re hopefully worth the payoff at the end. Pay attention the next time you’re watching or reading a suspenseful scene. Your body reacts as though you’re there with signs like elevated heart rate.

This desire for drama is at the heart of a lot of irrational thinking, which leads to symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other problems. Yes, there’s more to psychological disorders than just dramatic thinking. When I tell my clients about how their minds like to take the kernel of truth in a situation and inflate it to produce a bigger emotional reaction, it’s often an “aha!” moment. It’s also normalizing, which in non-psychobabble terms means they can stop beating themselves up for this very human tendency and direct their energy toward observing and changing it.

The second way writing enhances my psychology practice is by highlighting how every client has a story they need help rewriting. They have something they want, reasons they want it, and obstacles they need help removing to reach their goal. Sound familiar? Yep, it’s the Goal-Motivation-Conflict structure. Although I use manualized treatments, there is an art to the profession, and being a writer helps me to assist my clients more creatively. People aren’t always aware of exactly what they want or of all their obstacles, which may include internal ones, and sometimes the best way to overcome resistance is to figure out the right way to say something. It’s like editing in the moment.

In my novel The Mountain’s Shadow, my heroine struggles with having to take a scientific approach to the puzzles surrounding a family curse and the werewolves that hunt on her inherited estate. She’s just been from a research job and really wants to leave it all behind her but keeps getting sucked in. I suspect that even if I make a shift to writing full-time at some point, I’ll always think like a psychologist as well as a writer, and I’m okay with that. I feel lucky to be in two such complementary professions.

The Mountain’s Shadow, an urban fantasy novel featuring werewolves with a scientific twist, will be released on October 1 and is already available for pre-order through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, & other ebook retailers.

The Mountain's Shadow, Cecilia Dominic, urban fantasy, werewolves

More About The Mountain’s Shadow

First it was ADD. Then pediatric bipolar. Now the hot behavioral disorder in children is CLS, or Chronic Lycanthropy Syndrome. Public health researcher Joanie Fisher was closing in on the cause in hopes of finding a treatment until a lab fire and an affair with her boss left her without a job.

When her grandfather leaves her his multimillion-dollar estate in the Ozarks, though, she figures her luck is turning around. Except her inheritance comes with complications: town children who disappear during full moons, an irresistible butler, and a pack of werewolves who can’t seem to decide whether to frighten her or flirt with her.

Joanie’s research is the key to unraveling the mysteries of Wolfsbane Manor. However, resuming her work means facing painful truths about her childhood, which could result in the loss of love, friendship, and the only true family she has left.

Warning: Some sexy scenes, although nothing explicit, and adult language. Also alcohol consumption and food descriptions that may wreck your diet.

More About Cecilia

Cecilia Dominic wrote her first story when she was two years old and has always had a much more interesting life inside her head than outside of it. She became a clinical psychologist because she’s fascinated by people and their stories, but she couldn’t stop writing fiction. The first draft of her dissertation, while not fiction, was still criticized by her major professor for being written in too entertaining a style. She made it through graduate school and got her PhD, started her own practice, and by day, she helps people cure their insomnia without using medication. By night, she blogs about wine and writes fiction she hopes will keep her readers turning the pages all night. Yes, she recognizes the conflict of interest between her two careers, so she writes and blogs under a pen name.  She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with one husband and two cats, which, she’s been told, is a good number of each.

You can find her online here:

I really enjoyed this post. Interesting and informative. Cecilia said: “Humans are wired for drama.” Do you agree? Why do you think that is? (Cecilia, I’d love to hear your thoughts!) I agree that humans love to tell dramatic stories. I guess it’s a way of passing down information from one generation to the next in an easy-to-remember way. Wouldn’t it be great if our memories could be inherited along with our genes? But they can’t, so telling stories is the next best thing. And I love the idea of us writers (or anyone!) applying GMC to ourselves and then “writing” our way out of a conflict or crises. I’ll have to try that next time I’m feeling stuck in a rut. Thank you for guest blogging today, Cecilia!

Published by

Jill Archer

Jill Archer is the author of the Noon Onyx series, genre-bending fantasy novels including DARK LIGHT OF DAY, FIERY EDGE OF STEEL, WHITE HEART OF JUSTICE, and POCKET FULL OF TINDER.

2 thoughts on “A Writer on the Couch: How My Psychology and Writing Practices Work Together by Cecilia Dominic

  1. Jill, I think you’re on the right track as to why people are wired for drama. There was an article in a writing magazine earlier this year — and I can’t find it back — about how when people gave important information to each other, doing so in a more dramatic way made survival more likely because people would remember it. The example the article used was warning the rest of the tribe about a crocodile at the watering hole. This applies to us because we don’t have crocodiles (or at least most of us don’t), so the mind tries to make them up, for example by inflating smaller anxieties.

    1. Hi Cecilia– I tried to find the article too, because it sounded really interesting, but I couldn’t locate either. (All I found were posts on how to survive a croc encounter or tell the difference btwn a croc and a gator). Loved this discussion though and will keep an eye out for similar articles in the future. (Wonder if this means that people who exaggerate are more evolutionarily advanced? I’m going to argue that storytellers are! LOL 😀 )

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