The relationship between writers and mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, personality disorders like BPD, and substance abuse has been well documented; as has the link between psychologists and mental health issues. 

The parallel between writers and psychologists, well, definitively less so.

Perhaps it is because on the surface, writers and psychologists appear to have little in common other than their predisposition towards a mental illness. After all, writers are creative dreamers, and psychologists are logical healers.

But once you begin to dig deeper into both professions, it becomes quite obvious that writers and psychologists are, in fact, two sides of the same coin.

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Writing is an element of the arts. It is the creative interpretation and/or literal representation of numerous sociological concepts. Sociology is the science of collective behaviour, i.e. human social activity. It studies societal matters, such as interpersonal relationships, discrimination and civil rights, politics, and religion. And because sociology is a social science, it is closely related to other social sciences, especially psychology. Psychology is the science of the mind. It analyses the attitudes, emotions, perceptions, learning processes and values of individuals.

Sociology and psychology depend on each other for their own comprehension, as the human mind is influenced by social environment, culture, customs, and traditions.

Writers apply the analytical processes and results of both social sciences to their plot and characters, and present them to audiences in a creative and entertaining attempt to explain individual (psychology) or societal (sociology) behaviours and beliefs. In fact, a truly skilled writer is able to express ideas that contribute significantly to a society’s understanding of itself.

So, ultimately, writers and psychologists share two common objectives – to help others understand the world around us, and to reconcile it to the attitudes, emotions and values within us. 

To achieve these goals, both writers and psychologists require an understanding of the effectiveness of communication and how language structure can be manipulated. Both professions must be able to read between the lines, and be fluent in hypotheticals, allegories and metaphors.

Some other personality traits possessed by writers and psychologists include:

  • Inquisitive
  • Tolerant
  • Flexible
  • Intelligent
  • Intuitive
  • Patient
  • Tenacious

One of the biggest similarities between writers and psychologists, both professionally and personally, is their profound capacity for empathy.

Many psychologists enter the profession because they have a history of psychological difficulties and are trying to understand or overcome their own problems. Freud himself asserted that childhood trauma was the underlying cause of an adult’s desire to help others. Writers, too, often take up the craft in order to internally process or externally express overwhelmingly positive or painful emotions (this is especially true of poets).

This caring nature is why most writers and psychologists excel at their jobs, and why so few leave their respective industries. In fact, writing and psychology are two professions where employees will find alternative routes in the face of any professional setbacks, instead of changing career paths altogether.

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Despite their notable similarities, writers and psychologists have much to learn from each other’s differences.

For example, fiction writers could utilise psychological profiling or counselling techniques if they’re struggling to uncover motivations for their antagonist or supporting cast, which will create more layered and relatable characters. And all writers – fiction and nonfiction alike – could learn a thing or two from the precision required in psychology research.

Psychologists could implement evocative techniques required in literature to remind themselves to view the quantitative methods of psychology as involving actual people and not just numbers.

John Steinbeck, author of the classic novella Of Mice and Men, once wrote in his personal journal, “In every bit of honest writing in the world there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other, you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man never lead to hate, and nearly always leads to love. There is writing promoting social change, writing punishing injustice, writing in celebration of heroism, but always that base theme. Try to understand each other.”

Although writers and psychologists may appear to be at opposite ends of the personality spectrum, at the end of day, despite any differences, both writers and psychologists aim to leave this world in a better state of understanding than they found it.

So, flip a coin. Heads, writer; tails, psychologist. Either way, you’ll win.

Do you agree that there is a parallel between writers and psychologists? Have you noticed similarities in the processes and objectives of both professions? Or do you feel that their differences place them at different ends of the sociology spectrum? Leave your comment below.

© Tara Jenkinson 2017