Looking for fiction about therapy or mental health treatment.
August 1, 2012 7:31 AM   Subscribe

Looking for fiction about therapy or mental health treatment.

I'm looking for books whose central character(s), setting, or plot focuses on therapy or other mental health treatment. Group therapy, hospital wards, residential treatment centers, or even one person going through therapy is okay. I'd love books that include several main characters with multiple kinds of "issues".

YA books are fine.

Books like Cut ( residential treatment center), It's Kind of a Funny Story (inpatient hospital setting), The Passion of Alice (inpatient hospital setting) and Impulse (residential treatment center) are what I'm looking for.

Memoirs are okay if they focus on these, but only if they're good. (There are a whole lot of mediocre ones.)

Really specific criteria (but please feel free to just recommend away, and I'll sort through):
- Female narrators and characters would be excellent.

- Books about eating disorders are fine but I am quite sure I've read all of them. (Really. All of them. So please don't recommend Wasted.) If it's come out in the past three years and they are well-written, that's cool though.

- Books about drug/alcohol addiction and recovery not preferable.
posted by anonymous to Writing & Language (51 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
The Good Psychologist by Noam Shpancer. The narrator is a man but many of the other characters are women.
posted by alms at 7:35 AM on August 1, 2012

She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb takes place, in part, at a mental hospital. But that's certainly not the whole book.

Part of The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy is sort of about therapy, although it's more the therapist meeting with her patient's brother to discuss her patient then actual therapy.

Both of these are novels that I love.
posted by amro at 7:38 AM on August 1, 2012

The Bell Jar is a classic of the form.
posted by escabeche at 7:43 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

You should probably read Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon. It's about a group of autistics.
posted by valkyryn at 7:46 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Robertson Davies' The Manticore
posted by crocomancer at 7:47 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and A Fan's Notes, of course!
posted by escabeche at 7:50 AM on August 1, 2012

Paulo Coelho's Veronika Decides To Die.
posted by carryon at 7:53 AM on August 1, 2012

Judith Guest's Ordinary People

Susanna Kaysen's Girl Interrupted
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:53 AM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Group therapy in the form of drug rehab is a fairly important part of Infinite Jest.
posted by jquinby at 7:55 AM on August 1, 2012

(Rats, strike my suggestion - I missed your last bullet point)
posted by jquinby at 7:55 AM on August 1, 2012

The White Hotel.
posted by mizrachi at 7:56 AM on August 1, 2012

Manic by Terri Cheney covered electro-shock therapy. She is in favour of it. It's an episodic memoir and it skips around a lot, but she does talk a lot about drug and talking therapies.
posted by mippy at 7:57 AM on August 1, 2012

Also, you probably know this, but Marya Hornbacher wrote a follow-up memoir about her experiences with manic depression.

Elizabeth Wurtzel's More, Now, Again had a lot of stuff about therapy in it, and while she's, erm, a bit of a divisive figure, I enjoyed it. Much more so than Prozac Nation.

There's also Therapy by David Lodge, where a middle-aged man writes for his cognitive therapy class.
posted by mippy at 8:00 AM on August 1, 2012

Dr. Neruda's Cure for Evil has many great female characters in it, even if the narrator is male. It's an amazing portrait of a psychoanalyst from the ground up, beginning in childhood and following through all the way to the discovery of his great (and controversial) work, a literal cure for evil in humankind.
posted by hermitosis at 8:04 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Chuck Klosterman's The Visible Man is entirely about the relationship between a man who has invented an invisibility cloak and his therapist. I really enjoyed it.
posted by jabes at 8:14 AM on August 1, 2012

Bogeywoman by Jaimy Gordon is not only an exceptional novel, most of it takes place in a mental hospital. (I think her recent National Book Award winning Lord of Misrule is a slightly better book, but it takes place at a racetrack.)

The Listener by Shira Nayman takes place at a private mental hospital, and I know folks who have liked it a lot.

In The Country of Mothers by A. M. Homes is a fun novel about a therapist who becomes convinced that her new patient is the daughter she put up for adoption years ago.
posted by OmieWise at 8:16 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Best Awful by Carrie Fisher is semi-autobiographical and about a psychotic break that puts her into a hospital for therapy. Great description of the descent into mania too.
posted by merocet at 8:20 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, Bogeywoman and In The Country both have female narrators. I'm not sure about The Listener.

Both One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and Catch-22 are classics for a reason. They are both excellent!
posted by OmieWise at 8:26 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I Am the Cheese
posted by jbickers at 8:40 AM on August 1, 2012

August, Judith Rossner. Amazon link
posted by theora55 at 8:42 AM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Lancelot, by Walker Percy.
posted by BibiRose at 8:42 AM on August 1, 2012

Asylum, by Patrick McGrath.
posted by BibiRose at 8:48 AM on August 1, 2012

Love in the Asylum, by Lisa Carey.
posted by BibiRose at 8:50 AM on August 1, 2012

Regeneration, by Pat Barker.
posted by this roof at 8:56 AM on August 1, 2012

Prozac Highway by Persimmon Blackbridge. Sunnybrook: A True Story with Lies by Persimmon Blackbridge.

Probably on the "already read" list, but Running with Scissors (Augusten Burroughs) and various essays/stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Nthing Girl, Interrupted; Ordinary People; and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:07 AM on August 1, 2012

It's been a long time since I read it, but I remember Last Time I Wore a Dress to be quite good. There is a drug rehab stint, but that it was part of the person's attempt to 'game' the system that was placed upon her.
posted by wg at 9:39 AM on August 1, 2012

Apologies if it is one of the ones you've read, but Tyranny is a graphic novel that might interest you.
posted by backwards guitar at 10:00 AM on August 1, 2012

Super high astronomical recommendation of Halfway House, by Katharine Noel, a novel about a teenage girl's struggles with severe bipolar disorder.

Similar super high reco for Is There No Place on Earth for Me?, by Susan Sheehan. This one might not meet your criteria, as it's reportage about a woman suffering from schizophrenia. There's quite a bit of interesting stuff about the Creedmoor "hospital" in Queens, NY, though. It's very readable, too.
posted by scratch at 10:11 AM on August 1, 2012

And seconding Last Time I Wore a Dress.
posted by scratch at 10:12 AM on August 1, 2012

Irvin D. Yalom is a psychotherapist who has written numerous books centered around therapy sessions; some are based on fictional characters and others are based on his own patients. He is an excellent storyteller. The three books of his that best meet your criteria for female characterss and several main characters with multiple issues are Love's Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy, Momma and the Meaning of Lief: Tales of Psychotherapy, and Every Day Gets a Little Closer: A Twice-Told Therapy (journal entries written by both therapist and patient after each session).
posted by datarose at 10:21 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Couch Fiction by Philippa Perry.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 10:31 AM on August 1, 2012

All in the Mind, Alistair Campell, about therapy.
posted by paduasoy at 10:34 AM on August 1, 2012

Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time has a protagonist who spends time at a mental hospital.
posted by slidell at 10:38 AM on August 1, 2012

"The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It's not a happy story, though.
posted by synecdoche at 10:41 AM on August 1, 2012

Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel, a companion volume to her superb book Fun Home.
posted by pmb at 11:15 AM on August 1, 2012

I loved Norah Vincent's Voluntary Madness. Also I second More, Now, Again by Elizabeth Wurtzel.
posted by 3491again at 11:18 AM on August 1, 2012

The Depressed Person, a short-story by David Foster Wallace, describes in true DFW-complication a very... unsuccessful?... therapy. It's one of my favorite stories of his.
posted by Keter at 11:25 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides.
posted by thinkpiece at 11:43 AM on August 1, 2012

Diary of a Mad Housewife. If you want to see what all this stuff was about in the sixties.

In an ancillary way, since I think the institution is at the end of the book, Play it as it Lays, by Joan Didion (these two books are a nihilistic double feature.)

Both have women protagonists. It's a very definite view point, from a very specific point in time. But I studied them both in Modern Lit, so they must be good, no?

(In that same class we read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. I think our professor was crying out for help, now I think of it.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:01 PM on August 1, 2012

Other Women by Lisa Alther
posted by tuesdayschild at 12:36 PM on August 1, 2012

Probably on your already-read list, but I would include Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison. She is psychiatrist studying bipolar, and she has bipolar disorder. A memoir, and a good one.
posted by Kitty Cornered at 12:40 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Asylum Piece by Anna Kavan and maybe Briefing for a Descent into Hell by Doris Lessing.
posted by honeyacid at 2:12 PM on August 1, 2012

The Snake Pit and The Lost Weekend were originallly novels.
posted by brujita at 3:25 PM on August 1, 2012

The Words to Say It - Marie Cardinal; a memoir of her analysis.
posted by amileighs at 4:24 PM on August 1, 2012

Kissing Doorknobs by Terry Spence Hesser. YA book about OCD. It's been almost ten years since I read it, but I enjoyed it as a teen.
posted by missriss89 at 4:30 PM on August 1, 2012

Cory Doctorow's Eastern Standard Tribe takes place half in a mental institution (the other half is how he got into the institution). There's a lot of poking at that particular medical system from the perspective of a usability wonk. Some people (most of metafilter, I think...) seem to hate Doctorow, but give his writing style a shot and see if you like it. Since it's Creative Commons, you can read it online, or give the first chapters a shot and see if you're interested.
posted by NoraReed at 5:23 PM on August 1, 2012

I know you specified fiction (I was all fired up to put in Girl, Interrupted) so it sounds like A Million Little Pieces is a qualifier.
posted by tilde at 7:32 AM on August 2, 2012

Lisa, Bright and Dark, by John Neufeld. If you want to read about a mentally ill teenage girl in the 60s. It was a book that meant a lot to me when I was a depressed teenager, despite that it's pretty out-of-date.
posted by Coatlicue at 8:21 AM on August 2, 2012

The Quiet Room by Lori Schiller, another excellent memoir. Seconding Center Cannot Hold. It is brilliant.
posted by namesarehard at 6:13 PM on August 2, 2012

Poppy Shakespeare if you don't mind satire (it's a very depressing read if you're at all worried about broken mental health systems, and not recommended if you want reassurance about treatment. I saw the TV adaptation).

It is vindicating, heartful, fun, and sad, though. Worth it for me.
posted by lokta at 4:05 AM on August 3, 2012

One of the main characters in Murakami's Norwegian Wood spends time in a sort of therapeutic community.
posted by BibiRose at 3:01 PM on August 3, 2012

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