The best novels featuring good and bad psychiatrists

Monica Starkman Author Of The End of Miracles: A Novel
By Monica Starkman

Who am I?

There are very few novels written by psychiatrists, and even fewer that accurately show psychiatrists at work. That is one of the major reasons that I wrote The End of Miracles. I’ve been a professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, seen many patients, and taught many psychiatry residents, so I know a good deal about people with mental illness and its treatment. As a novelist, I also wanted to write a book that is exciting and gives pleasure to readers. I think I succeeded. Here are some comments from reader reviews online: “gripping”… ”thought-provoking”… ”spell-binding”… ”illuminating”… “a page-turner”… ”a rich and satisfying read”.

I wrote...

The End of Miracles: A Novel

By Monica Starkman,

Book cover of The End of Miracles: A Novel

What is my book about?

Written by a psychiatrist, The End of Miracles is a twisting novel of psychological suspense about the drastic consequences of a frustrated obsession. 

Margo, a woman with a complex past and a promising career, has a deep need to become a mother but struggles with infertility and then a late miscarriage. She is temporarily comforted by a wish-fulfilling false pregnancy. When ultrasound reality inevitably dashes that fantasy, Margo unravels and must be hospitalized. Psychiatrists work to diagnose and treat her, but Margo flees. Outside, she impulsively commits a startling act with harrowing consequences for herself and others. 

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The books I picked & why

The Silence of the Lambs

By Thomas Harris,

Book cover of The Silence of the Lambs

Why did I love this book?

A young woman in training at the FBI's behavioral sciences unit is assigned to interview a brilliant forensic scientist at a high-security mental asylum. Dr. Hannibal Lecter agrees to help by using facts she tells him about the case to help construct a psychological profile of a vicious serial killer now on the loose.

However, his condition for doing this is her agreement to tell him about her unhappy childhood. Dr. Lecter is skillful at understanding the hidden motivations and vulnerabilities of the killer, and also of Clarice. There is a complication, though: he himself is an incarcerated cannibalistic serial killer.

I admire this novel because it is so well-written and exciting. At this same time, I hope Dr. Lecter is seen as so uniquely abnormal that he bears no possible similarity to other psychiatrists, a group sometimes disparagingly stereotyped as being disturbed individuals themselves.

By Thomas Harris,

Why should I read it?

16 authors picked The Silence of the Lambs as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As part of the search for a serial murderer nicknames "Buffalo Bill," FBI trainee Clarice Starling is given an assignment. She must visit a man confined to a high-security facility for the criminally insane and interview him.

That man, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, is a former psychiatrist with unusual tastes and an intense curiosity about the darker corners of the mind. His intimate understanding of the killer and of Clarice herself form the core of Thomas Harris' The Silence of the Lambs--an unforgettable classic of suspense fiction.

Book cover of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Why did I love this book?

This novel is about a criminal who is sent to a mental institution because he pretended to be insane in order to avoid going to prison.

The book, beautifully written and loved by many, aims to show the conditions at some state hospitals at the time it was written. The malignant Nurse Ratched personifies these conditions. The psychiatrist, in contrast, is caring and empathic and actually tries to help his patients.

An excellent movie by the same name is based on this novel. I like the fact that the psychiatrist in the film is played by the real-life psychiatrist who was the head of the state hospital where the movie was filmed. When working on my book, I did sometimes ‘act’ by pretending to be in a scene with Margo sitting in my own office and writing the dialog of a treatment session with her. Those chapters were the easiest for me to write.

By Ken Kesey,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Boisterous, ribald, and ultimately shattering, Ken Kesey's 1962 novel has left an indelible mark on the literature of our time. Now in a new deluxe edition with a foreword by Chuck Palahniuk and cover by Joe Sacco, here is the unforgettable story of a mental ward and its inhabitants, especially the tyrannical Big Nurse Ratched and Randle Patrick McMurphy, the brawling, fun-loving new inmate who resolves to oppose her. We see the struggle through the eyes of Chief Bromden, the seemingly mute half-Indian patient who witnesses and understands McMurphy's heroic attempt to do battle with the powers that keep them…

The Bell Jar

By Sylvia Plath,

Book cover of The Bell Jar

Why did I love this book?

Esther Greenwood, a bright and talented young woman, struggles with mental illness and thoughts of suicide.

The first psychiatrist she sees is unempathetic and prescribes a course of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) without explaining it well beforehand, which frightens her and proves unhelpful. A serious suicide attempt sends her to several psychiatric hospitals. Finally, Esther comes under the care of Dr. Nolan, a caring, compassionate psychiatrist.

I like the way Dr. Nolan works effectively, explaining and then supervising another course of ECT and also providing psychotherapy. With such appropriate and skilled treatment, the results are good.

By Sylvia Plath,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked The Bell Jar as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

I was supposed to be having the time of my life.

When Esther Greenwood wins an internship on a New York fashion magazine in 1953, she is elated, believing she will finally realise her dream to become a writer. But in between the cocktail parties and piles of manuscripts, Esther's life begins to slide out of control. She finds herself spiralling into depression and eventually a suicide attempt, as she grapples with difficult relationships and a society which refuses to take women's aspirations seriously.

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath's only novel, was originally published in 1963 under the pseudonym Victoria…

Ordinary People

By Judith Guest,

Book cover of Ordinary People

Why did I love this book?

In Ordinary People, the boating-accident death of the older teenage son shatters the family.

Conrad, the younger son who was also on the boat, is tormented by self-blame for his brother’s death. After a suicide attempt and a psychiatric hospitalization, Conrad is released. He is still beset with guilt and depression and begins outpatient treatment with Dr. Berger, a blunt yet also an empathetic psychiatrist.

I like the way he helps Conrad reconsider his unrealistic guilt and helps him look at the limitations of his mother, a parent unable to provide him the warmth and support he needs. I like the way Dr. Berger is portrayed as caring and skilled, an example of how psychiatrists effectively treat their patients.

By Judith Guest,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Ordinary People as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the great bestseller of our time: the novel that inspired Robert Redford's Oscar-winning film starring Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore

In Ordinary People, Judith Guest's remarkable first novel, the Jarrets are a typical American family. Calvin is a determined, successful provider and Beth an organized, efficient wife. They had two sons, Conrad and Buck, but now they have one. In this memorable, moving novel, Judith Guest takes the reader into their lives to share their misunderstandings, pain, and ultimate healing. Ordinary People is an extraordinary novel about an "ordinary" family divided by pain, yet bound by their…

Book cover of The Girl Who Played with Fire

Why did I love this book?

The heroine of the engrossing series, Lisbeth Salander, is a very fine computer hacker but has difficulty relating to others. Together with the journalist Mikael Blomkvist, she investigates crimes and corruption in the government.

I like the fast pace and interesting themes of these books. Lisbeth, who seeks justice for herself and others, is a very original and psychologically flawed heroine. What I don’t like is that in this series a major villain is the very bad child psychiatrist whose ‘treatment’ of Lisbeth was not to talk with her but simply put her in isolation and restraints.

In contrast, in my own novel I tried to demystify the work of psychiatrists by showing, in a realistic way, the process of making a diagnosis and a treatment plan that has the best interests of the patient in mind.

By Stieg Larsson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Girl Who Played with Fire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


Listbeth Salander returns in the second novel in the bestselling series - 100 million copies of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series sold worldwide.

"Even more gripping and astonishing than the first . . . This novel will leave readers on the edge of their seats" Joan Smith, Sunday Times

Lisbeth Salander is a wanted woman. Two Millennium journalists about to expose the truth about sex trafficking in Sweden are murdered, and Salander's prints are on the weapon. Her history of unpredictable and vengeful behaviour makes her an official danger to society - but no-one can find her.…

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