Monday, January 23, 2006

JK: Mental Health and History

This past December I was asked to be the guest for an on-line interview. Those asking the questions are writers, some already published and some soon to be I had no doubt. They asked some great questions and I thought I’d share some of them and my responses.

Question: I notice you have a background in mental health. Do you use that to develop your characters? I write regency novels and am a clinical nurse as well and wondered about blending contemporary mental health with historical novels. Answer: I do use my mental health background, all the time. My works tend to be character driven though the novels are historical and it is sometimes a balancing act to identify causation known in contemporary times but perhaps not known in historical times. I found that there was a medical diagnosis of "wasting women" a form of eating disorder in the late 1800s which was how some women dealt with depression and other mental health issues that are more common today. That sort of historical detail gives credence to modern trials people have while still not "rewriting" history.

I was drawn to story as a way of healing or using my mental health because story is so powerful. I worked for 17 years on an Indian reservation and I know that some of the healers there said that when they go in to meet with someone ill they ask three questions: When was the last time you sang; when was the last time you danced and when was the last time your told your story. Story just plain matters!

The research being done on post traumatic stress Disorder in children (Baylor University) just confirms the power of story. It notes that when a child has been abused, for example, his/her brain shuts down to the usual counseling interventions. The child goes on survival mode and focusing on almost anything for any length of time is just too difficult. But what does reach a child (and frankly I think adults as well who are in wilderness places in their lives) is music, movement/dance/quilting/etc, art and story. I often tell people who are struggling with things in their lives, can't concentrate, to find a good children's book so they can be engaged and nurtured through the words and metaphors. The word parable comes from the Greek word pebble meaning to "toss along beside" and the Greek word for comfort means "to come along beside." I think mental health, counseling etc. are naturals for coming along beside another to help them on their journey.

Jane Kirkpatrick,

Award-winning author of 11 novels and two non-fiction books. Look for A Clearing in the Wild, Book One of the Change and Cherish Series (WaterBrook Press/Random House) in April.


At 1:35 AM, Blogger Camy Tang said...

That's really good insight. I majored in psychology and this completely makes sense to me. I have to remember this.


At 9:07 AM, Blogger Cheryl said...

Wow. Some good points to think about.

The power of story.

At 5:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm just learning how to respond back to people! So thanks for taking note Camy and cheryl. I hope you find your own power of story, truly. Have a good week! Jane


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