1. Rechan
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    Rechan Member

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    Reconciling a Character's Role with Profession (Warning)

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Rechan, Jul 28, 2010.

    Warning: This post discusses adult topics that might be touchy or trigger issues for some.

    All right. I have a story where a girl is sexually traumatized and afterward the issue is not addressed. So she bottles it up. When she is older, the problems resurface in a new way. A neighbor offers to help her, to counsel her. The neighbor seeks to both heal her wounds as well as show her that sex isn't the horrible, painful thing that she has associated it with.

    My problem is with the neighbor's character. He is not trying to use her damaged emotional state or any qualifications he has to take advantage of her. He genuinely wants to help. I, as the author, want that help to go down the route of sexual therapy in a one-to-one basis. Exploring issues of trust, possibly her own dark desires or at least the raw hurt therein.

    But if he's an actual Therapist, someone with concrete psychological training, getting involved with her is utterly unethical to a fault. If he does that, he will lose credibility with the girl and the reader, and likely look as though he is taking advantage. But if he's not a therapist, how could he have any qualifications to do offer and then do what he's doing? How would he have any credibility for her to agree to his help in the first place if he does not have those credentials?
     
  2. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    First off I would do a ton of research.

    From what I've heard though he wouldn't be able to do this ethically if he was actually physically or emotionally involved with her. I've never seen a counselor, from what I understand though they are supposed to be impartial and not be attached in any way.

    So another suggestion. Maybe she finds emotional healing through a relationship and going to therapy? Just don't simplify it either. Someone who has been through something like that isn't going to be very trusting right off. It will take a lot of time. I experienced a lot of emotional abuse as a kid/teenager and it still affects me deeply even though it ended a few years ago. I know this is different. I'm just using this as an example. It makes you very afraid to trust anyone or to give anyone the power to hurt you deeply when you've already been hurt so badly. So it will be slow going.

    I also suggest seeing if anyone who's been through this would be willing to talk to you and give you some insight about it. Best of luck.
     
  3. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    He could have a half finished degree, or a degree in some other more theoretical field of psychology, like neropsychology or biopsychology. Working with people that suffered physical brain trauma in traffic accidents maybe.

    And to give him credit let him struggle with just these considerations himself. If it is right and if he doing her more harm and id it is ethical.
     
  4. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Does the neighbour need to perform therapy? If he acts like a close friend, not a therapist, it may seem less unethical.

    Is it possible for the main character to be in control and lead the process? That may make it seem less like the neighbour is taking advantage of her.

    Is the neighbour older? If so, the bigger the age difference, the more it will seem like he's taking advantage of her.
     
  5. Videodrome
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    Videodrome Member

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    What if the neighbor was also abused in the past? They are not a trained professional, but think their own experience gives them some tools to help.

    Also I wouldn't even say the neighbor needs to be abused in an identical way sexually. That seems to coincidental. Maybe they had an abusive alcoholic father or something.

    Maybe even the process of helping someone else is therapeutic to the neighbor as well.
     
  6. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    May he USED to be a therapist, but quite the profession after he wasn't able to save a patient of his and his inability to help her was too painful to allow himself to continue working.

    Now, with this new person, he sees a chance to redeem himself in his own mind, but since he's no longer a practicing therapist he doesn't have all of the ethical obligations that go along with that.
     
  7. Rechan
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    While true (honestly, any doctor is not supposed to treat their family but that little ethical thing is often violated), the relationship wouldn't spring up first. It would be a slow thing. As you say before, there's an issue of trust, and the trust needs to be built up.

    The idea is that at 14 she was abused for a short period by her brother. At 18, she hasn't really Talked to anyone about it in any solid length, because the family hushed it up. She just believes sex is painful and bad and has no interest in it whatsoever, and possibly avoids people. But the other repercussions of the abuse are manifesting, like nightmares and general fear and anxiety.

    So a relationship is not likely in the cards for her.

    Hm. Therapy isn't necessary, but there's only so far I think a friend could go with talking.

    I'm actually not sure how that might work.

    Yes. I figure he's somewhere in his thirties.

    An interesting option, although a bit of a coincidence.

    Now that's a thought. Although my natural inclination is to emotional abuse, which I think would be a bit different. I don't know how it would compare. Physical abuse from a father is more comparable.

    One thought is to make him a minister. Not a priest but a religious figure in some capacity. Another thought is that the girl could be religious, or of a denomination that would be very tight lipped both about this and in general.

    Partly I'm having problems with this story. That the story I want to tell is conflicting with logical/reasonable necessity of the characters. If he's going to do this, why would she bother trusting him? The way they meet, in retrospect, might be more terrifying to her than reassuring. In all honesty I have just two or three very strong scenes in mind, and the more thought I put into it, the more these scenes fall apart under the stress of "how would anyone react that way?"
     
  8. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    Why do people gather to mourn in a funeral and offer advice to the grieving family like "This is all God's will, be brave", "You have to think of your children now"..etc? It's a form of therapy practice in every society. My point is, one need not have a degree to help somebody reconcile with his/her present/past. As for seeming like taking advantage of, or genuinely helping the girl, it depends on how you write it, the words you choose, the scenes you choose etc. Sure it may look like the girl being taken advantage of by the man to others(other chars in the story), you can exploit that to create a tension in their relationship or it might even act as a trigger for them to get even closer.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It is not unethical for a therapist to offer advice to someone he or she is involved with, or to develop a relationship with someone he or she gives informal advice to. It happens all the time.

    What is unethical is for a therapist to enter into a personal relationship with an actual client, or to take on someone he or she has a personal relationship with as a client.

    Do you think therapists are bound to a vow of chatity? They are perfectly free to have relationships, and all relationships get messy.

    Yes, a therapist will fall back on that knowledge sometimes, and although not ethical, it can be a crappy way to deal with people. My mother was a psychiatric social worker before she retired, and her use of her knowledge of psychology in resolving arguments in her favor was a problem. She and I eventually fought our way past that.
     
  10. constant scribbler
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    Make the age difference between them smaller. If she is eighteen and he is mid thirties is just wrong. It will definatly seem like he is taking advantage of her.

    As to how to make it seem like he isn't taking advantage of her? During the theropy she could like him and he like her but he doesn't act on it. After the theropy is done they could continue to meet and then they could get more involved. Or their could be a mutual agreement that they go past the patient/ doctor relashionship. I did like what someone else said about having him go through a similar situation and not a theropist which clears up the whole issue. It does matter how the story ends to determine whether it seems like he is taking advantage of her.
     
  11. jwilder
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    Or, another interesting twist could be that the neighbor used to be a therapist but quit the profession (or perhaps was kicked out/license revoked) because of a relationship he developed with a patient at one point. This will help open the door to the ethical struggles of emotional involvement, and resurface the pain/confusion/whatever that the neighbor has to deal with, giving him a "past issue" (as it were) to also contend with. Thus, you have multiple levels of similiar but not identical issues happening. If you have the main character initiating the involvement, it gives the neighbor a chance at self-redemption, but at what cost to the main character, etc etc. Lots of plot possibilities here, on many emotional and character levels.
     
  12. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    I am surprise at most of the comments here suggesting to make the person morally and ethically correct. What happened to the notion that interesting characters have flaws? I personally think it will be much more interesting to have a character who is a practising therapist and falls genuinely in love with his much younger patient for whatever reasons (past issues sounds like a good reason). It is up to the writer to make him an advantage taker or a genuinely concern lover.
     
  13. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    You have a good point. It depends on what direction the writer wants it to go in I suppose.

    Therapist or not he's still human and we are all flawed and have weaknesses as well as strengths.
     
  14. Anonym
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    I thought there was such a thing as legitimate sex therapy. huh

    Also, as someone who has had a relationship with his therapist, I don't personally believe it to be innately unethical. Depends on the context and how it comes about.
     
  15. themistoclea
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    There are actually some useful non-fiction books out there with anecdotal stories of patients and their experiences with therapists. Almost categorically, in the specific instances where a patient entered into a sexual relationship with the therapist, the longterm result for the patient was the feeling of violation and a betrayal of trust. In some cases patients specifically described that the therapist suggested sex to heal from past trauma, and to get through a 'block' in the patient's life.

    I thoroughly cannot comprehend how this act could be ethical. It would purely be a betrayal of a code of conduct. Subconscious or conscious fantasy between therapist and patient has also been theorised about and may be worth a read.
    Abhorrently unethical in real life (I know I sound harsh...) it could, however be an interesting read about a conflicted, voyeuristic, flawed and sadistic individual who in/avertedly preys upon a young woman.
    Good Luck!!

    P.S.
    I want to add that this is my opinion, I know that there are exceptions to the examples I mentioned above, and all relationships and situations are unique.
    I'm not seeking to go into details, but with my specific medical practitioner, that sort of thing would be very wrong.
     
  16. Rechan
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    See, it's not just going to be 'lay on the couch and tell me your feelings', actual sexual contact would constitute some of the intended help.

    Sort of like how you address a fear by desensitizing the subject to the fear. If they fear heights, you get them to think about being up high. Then you show them a picture of being up high. Then you just get them on a high floor of a building, but not near a window. Then you take them near the window. Then you go on a balcony. At each step the subject gets comfortable with the idea, and once they are not afraid of that step, you go to the next step.

    Thus, some of the help will be sexual in the first place, there'd be little separation between the relationship and the help.

    Some of it would go beyond proper ethical concerns. And I think that a professional who, knowing the Rules, breaks them would not look good. See the above poster making the point.

    I understand conflict is good and that would be an interesting thing to wrestle with, but not for this story.

    Because I'd rather not leave it that vague. I don't want there to be a question of the taking advantage.

    Unless the point of a story is to have the reader, say, doubt the virtue of a hero, then it's unnecessary and counterproductive to put things in there to make them doubt the hero's virtue. If the author wants the hero to seem virtuous to the reader, then casting doubts is counter-productive.

    I believe in character flaws but I don't think that flaw is acceptable and it would damage the piece if it's ambiguous or not clear about motivation. If readers believe that a character is breaching conduct, violating trust and taking advantage of a victim, then the reader is not going to like him. That will work against This story, not for it.

    The story is about romance, about being damaged and trying to push past it, on exploring the dangerous territory of what characters are comfortable with, of the tension of working that close to the demons inside of you. And if there's real doubt, no trust on the reader's part on behalf of one of the characters, not only will they not believe the characters, but they won't buy into it, they won't accept it. They won't want these characters together because of the notion one is exploiting another. If someone is in an abusive relationship, you don't want them to stay in that relationship, and seeing them in it will frustrate you. If I inspire that in a reader then I'm doing this story wrong.

    What I want is for X to happen and to "get away with it" morally. Or at least cast enough wiggle room that it's not overtly going to look bad. A true blue therapist would know the dangers, know it all, and so I just cannot get around that this character can do it without being a Bad Person, or at the very least an Irresponsible Person.

    Thus I don't feel a therapist is appropriate for the character. And if not a therapist, then the character needs to know at least a little. Otherwise it's a monkey playing with a landmine.
     
  17. Manav
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    Because I'd rather not leave it that vague. I don't want there to be a question of the taking advantage.

    Unless the point of a story is to have the reader, say, doubt the virtue of a hero, then it's unnecessary and counterproductive to put things in there to make them doubt the hero's virtue. If the author wants the hero to seem virtuous to the reader, then casting doubts is counter-productive.

    I believe in character flaws but I don't think that flaw is acceptable and would damage the piece if it's ambiguous or not clear about motivation.



    All I am saying is virtuous heroes are boring. Just give him little more dimensions.

    You can have him in the beginning with selfish motives (attracted by her beauty he just wanted to strike a conversation etc), but things could change when he gets to know her better or some kind of incident (don't have to be a big incident) make them come closer. This won't take away anything from the char, but I feel it will add to the char development. I mean let's face it, people mostly do have selfish motives when they do something no matter what they say.
     
  18. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    From my point of view, then, I think there's a problem, because I just don't see myself _not_ seeing a big, big ethical problem with this. As a romantic relationship, it would be fine. As a non-romantic but sexual relationship, fine.

    As a therapeutic relationship, even if he's not a professional, not fine, and I can't see a way of making it fine. You say that a true therapist would know the dangers, but I think that pretty near everybody knows that therapists and sex don't go together, so it's just not working for me.

    ChickenFreak
     
  19. madhoca
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  20. Islander
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    The whole subject makes me uncomfortable, and I doubt that a story could be written in such a way that it seemed ethical, at least to me. We won't know for sure until we've seen the story, though.
     
  21. Rechan
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    The consensus seems to be that there is no way to do this without offending the reader and/or it just being emotionally wrong. If the visceral reaction is going to be the opposite of what I want the reader to feel, then there's no point in the exercise.
     
  22. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    A thought: Does it absolutely have to be about sex? Could it be, say agoraphobia or some other fear? You can still then have some kind of abuse, a resulting fear of people, a relationship where he helps her overcome that fear, but by eliminating the sex angle, you're eliminating most of the ethical issues. You're still left with the ethical issues of whether he knows what he's doing, but the whole predatory self-gratification thing is eliminated.
     
  23. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    Awww don't give up on it! There's ways around things. Go back through and read replies! If you tweak some aspects of it then it will more likely get the response you are looking for in a reader.
     
  24. Rechan
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    No, the story is about someone who was abused sexually. Part of the... fun of it is exploring the sexual component of the therapy in the first place.

    Besides, it's not just the response of the reader. The characters responses don't make sense either.

    To give an explanation: The first scene involves the woman waking up from an intense nightmare into a dark and somewhat unfamiliar bedroom (her aunt's which she has moved to recently). Her response is to bolt and run out into the storm. Her neighbor, who is on his back porch, sees someone running and goes to investigate, finding her huddled in the rain, and he gets her to come inside, to sit in front of a fire, and she falls asleep.

    What makes no sense is that these responses just seem too unlikely. For a person who has trust issues, who just responded to a fearful experience by running away, a strange man coaxing her out of the storm and into his house would be more nerve wracking than comforting. It just makes no sense for her to go along with that.

    I mean I like the scene, it's so vividly stuck in my head (and been there for the longest time), but I can't rationalize it out given what I know about the character.

    Another scene, the other really concrete one I have about this story, is similar in that the response I want, the message would just be lost on the character and likely have the opposite response.

    I just don't think it's workable.
     
  25. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    This could always be a later part in the story. Where she has started to trust just this one particular person. If you move it to another part where she is more comfortable with him then it will make much more sense.
     

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