Jeannie Campbell

Jeannie Campbell is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. She is Head of Clinical Services for a large non-profit and enjoys working mainly with children and couples. She has a Masters of Divinity in Psychology and Counseling and bachelors degrees in both psychology and journalism. Jeannie started doing character therapy in March of 2009. Her Treatment Tuesdays feature assessments of fictional characters and plot feasibility while her Thursday Therapeutic Thoughts take a psychological topic and make it relevant to writers. She can be found at her blog, The Character Therapist, at

Today Wasn’t That Bad At All

by Jeannie Campbell

Today wasn’t all that bad, actually. Just one client with suicidal ideation, a couple with marital problems—not the least of which is being homeless and raising four children—and one positive methamphetamine test to contend with. Not to mention facilitating two plan development meetings, developing a treatment plan for one mom and her daughter, and writing my own progress notes. Oh, and leading a therapeutic group of alternative teenagers who would rather be doing anything else but attending group.

Nope, today wasn’t that bad at all.

I go home and encounter my sweet child of two years running around a floor littered with pieces of pretend food, cookware, and books. I allow myself to be dragged to the couch to read most all the books within reach, and then we eat dinner.

Afterward, I reach for my laptop. Last night, before sleep caved in on me, I told myself to remember to jot down something about a scene I was working on. I’m trying to evoke those foggy memories when a little pudgy hand pushes the top down of my laptop.

“’Puter away, Mommy. ’Puter away.” She then grabs another book. “Read book?”

I’d be a monster to turn her down. So we read some more, maybe play with blocks or a puzzle, and then it’s time for her to brush her teeth, take a bath, and dress for bed. My husband and I take turns with bedtime routine, so I can sometimes sneak in a word or two while he’s bathing her. I feel guilty at the relief I experience on the nights he’s got toddler duty, but it means a precious few minutes of uninterrupted thought, concentration, and actual typing.

After bath time, we talk about our day—don’t worry, I don’t fill in my daughter about my day—and then we pray and good-naturedly argue about who loves the other “the mostest.” When her bedroom door gently thuds shut, with a contented sigh I flop onto the couch.

For the next two hours or so, I concentrate on my second occupation. The one that doesn’t bring in a single cent but occupies a corner of my mind continually. The one that’s like a scratch to my itch.

Writer by night.

I started out writing that all-important autobiographical novel (read: romance). The one where the main character looks, talks, and acts like me. It was healing for me in a way I can’t quite explain to others, and it kindled the passion I have had all my life for the written word. I chose to write about a time in my life I deeply regretted, and having the literary “me” make different choices, better choices, was my way of apologizing to God, to myself, and to others I encountered during that time.

Of course, after I finished this mere 230,000-word masterpiece, I immediately started another. I also began to keep an idea notebook, the book ideas still rolling around inside my head. It was during this process that I found tapping into my day job as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist was the best fodder to support my nighttime addiction of writing.

One in four people have a mental disorder. This means two important things:

1) I have great day job security.
2) I have great night job material.

I began looking at fiction through a new lens. I realized two things: 1) The ugly truth that many of these disorders weren’t found in Christian books (at least that I had read); and 2) the disorders authors did deal with were mostly too stereotyped to be real. None of those characters would have walked through my office door presenting their symptoms as they were portrayed.

As a result of these epiphanies, my nights have become more productive. I generally take a disorder or common mental health problem and work it into my manuscript. Sometimes the manuscript centers around the disorder, sometimes it takes a backseat to romantic tension or suspense, but either way, it’s there. It’s real. It’s neither sugarcoated nor overblown.

Why? Because I base a lot of it on real people I’ve counseled or interacted with in some way. I never use identifying information, of course, but the spirit of the problem remains intact, and brings a life of its own to the page.

I mean, sometimes the real experience is so good I can’t make up anything better!

Just as I get further into the story—chapter seven already!—I realize the time. If I’m not in bed by eleven o’clock at the latest, my clients suffer for it the next day as I yawn and try to stay awake during a session.

Reluctantly I close my laptop. I have to check on the baby to make sure she didn’t roll out from under her blanket. I track down the cat to make sure she didn’t slip into the baby’s room before I shut the door. Then I turn out the lights.

My brain stays awake a good fifteen minutes after I lie down. Should I have really allowed the hero to say that? What if he were to say this instead? Then the heroine would have responded differently. That sounds better. Much better, actually. He would totally put her off by feeding into her insecurity. Yes!

I need to jot that down in the morning before heading off to work...