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Sample Assessment

Character Intake Form for Susan Goodman

Character Name:
Susan Goodman

Age:
10

In a paragraph, how would you describe yourself in your own words?
I’m the youngest sibling of three. I like playing with dolls and getting into my mom’s makeup when she’s not looking. I don’t like my sister Debby’s boyfriend…he’s yucky. I have a really good friend named Brenda. I’d rather read than play games, and I love having my kitty Snowball sleep with me at night. She’s the only person I talk to.

What were the family dynamics in your home growing up? What are they now?
Daddy is a lawyer, and he spends most of his time building his practice partnership with Brenda’s daddy. Mama usually plays bridge or holds teas in the parlor with these really snooty women. It’s when she does this that I play in her makeup. She never tucks me in at night. I have a governess who usually does that, but I don’t like her much. She thinks that I don’t talk on purpose.

What was the most important childhood event that still affects you today and why?
I was upstairs, dabbling in Mom’s makeup, when I heard Debby give a muffled scream from her room. I went to check it out and saw Debby’s boyfriend doing stuff to her…really bad stuff. She doesn’t know that I saw, and neither does he. I hid behind the curtain next to the door until he left. It was so awful that I haven’t said a word since.

Do you or your immediate family have a history of mental illness? If yes, explain.
Um, I’m not sure. I think Mama might be an alcoholic. At least that’s what Daddy calls her some nights. Mama calls him a workaholic. I think I have an aunt in the insane asylum, but nobody ever talks about her.

What is your biggest accomplishment? Why?
I’ve read all of Jane Austen’s books. I didn’t understand every word, of course, but I got the general idea and really loved them! My mama couldn’t believe that I had finished the entire book in segments by taking it off her nightstand. She caught me replacing it when I was done, but she wasn’t really mad. I think she was proud. Either that, or she didn’t believe me. I could tell she really wanted me to talk to her then, but I just couldn’t.

What is your biggest regret? Why?
I wish I could talk to someone about Debby’s boyfriend. She’s obviously not saying a word to anyone, and I should at least tell Mama so she could protect Debby. But Debby’s boyfriend is the son of a very wealthy woman who Mama socializes with. I heard her say that Debby was going to be the next first lady of South Carolina…because her boyfriend is probably going to be governor or something.

What is your soft spot or biggest vulnerability? Why? Do others know this about you or is it a secret?
Snowball. Debby. Brenda, even. They all seem to need me to take care of them. I don’t suppose they know how much I keep an eye on them. Snowball is getting older, Debby is so scared of disappointing Mama that she doesn’t see that her boyfriend is a jerk, and Brenda is partially blind. They need my help, even if I can’t talk.

What is your greatest fear?
I’m afraid Debby’s boyfriend is going to kill her. He almost did that day when I saw him and Debby in her bedroom. What’s to stop him from doing more? This was in our house! If they get married like Mama wants, wouldn’t he do a lot more?

What would your best friend say is your fatal flaw (personality weakness)? Why?
Brenda would say that I need to talk. I’m not sure this is a fatal flaw, but it’s what everyone yells at me the most for.

What would the same friend say is your one redeeming quality (personality strength)? Why?
She knows I’m loyal. Daddy says I follow people around like a Labrador, and I know that’s a dog and that dogs are loyal. So yeah…that’s me.

What is your external goal in the book? Why do you want that goal and who/what stands in the way?
To protect Debby and expose her boyfriend. Mama stands in the way big time, because she wants them to get married, but has no idea what kind of person he truly is.

What is your internal goal in the book? Why do you want that goal and who/what stands in the way?
To go to college and be a teacher. I make really good grades and can read very well. I think I’d make a great teacher, but Mama doesn’t think women should do anything like this. I’m not sure, but I think Daddy feels the same way. I know they will eventually want me to just get married and have babies, like they want for Debby.

What is the primary reason you think your author insisted you get a therapeutic assessment?
Because I don’t talk, and haven’t talked in over six months. I think I have to stay mute for most of the book, and she’s got concerns about how I might talk again, why that would happen, and what would make it happen.

Anything else that you think would be helpful for me to know?
Hmm. I had no problem talking before this all happened. I don’t like it when people tell me that I could talk if I wanted to. It’s just not that easy….so please don’t say that to me.

Genre in which you reside:
Southern Historical – 1914

Author, as this character’s guardian, are there any burning questions you want answered?
Is witnessing something like this enough to cause Susan to go mute? And if I want condition to be temporary, how long does something like this generally last? Would it be realistic for her to talk to her cat and not to people?

Select Additional Questions for Susan Goodman
(sent to the author via email)

Are you scared or shy being around other people in public?
Yeah, I am. I don’t like to make eye contact with people when I’m walking around my neighborhood, and even when I could speak, I didn’t like doing so in front of others. As much as I love to read, I really didn’t want to read in front of the kids at school.

What are you most scared of happening if you were to talk about what happened between Debby and her boyfriend? Do you fear for your own life?
I’m not scared about him hurting me. He thinks I’m just this slow kid, a nuisance. But I am scared that it would cause a scandal, one that would make it to the society pages for sure. No one would want to come to the house and visit with Mama anymore and Daddy’s law practice would likely suffer. Debby would probably grow up to be an unhappy “old maid.” (Mama is afraid that’s going to happen to me because I don’t talk.)

Do you ever have tantrums at home?
How did you know about that? I do…usually when Mama catches me in her makeup and makes me wash my face with this really yucky stuff. I also get mad when I’m sent to bed early when Debby’s boyfriend is over. Mama wants them to be in the parlor alone as much as possible. It just makes me so mad! He could hurt her when no one is around.

Run-Down of Detailed Assessment Consultation for Susan Goodman

* It’s not that Susan can’t talk—after all, she knows the words and the language. But something holds her back.

* In that time period, people didn’t understand mutism at all. They thought it to be deliberate, willful stubbornness.

* History of Elective Mutism – 1980 is when it first surfaced in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual; predisposing factors listed were maternal over-protection, abuse, trauma, or family dysfunction.

* Susan currently doesn’t fit Selective Mutism (SM) because of her age. SM is found in the Disorders Usually First Diagnosed in Infancy, Childhood, or Adolescence, not in Communication Disorders (because people who have SM know the language and had no prior problems expressing it).

* Susan would probably qualify for a diagnosis of Social Phobia, which is an Anxiety Disorder. Over 90% of people with SM get this additional diagnosis because a person’s social anxiety can heavily influence mutism. Susan is shy in public and doesn’t want to make eye contact with others or read aloud at school, even though she would have to be a very good reader to have read all of Jane Austen’s books!

* Provided ideas on what social phobia looks like for the author to add in some additional details to Susan’s character and directed the author to well-known and respected websites.

* Suggested for realism’s sake that if a first-degree relative of Susan’s could be made to have a history of social phobia—like her dad, who prefers to work all the time instead of socialize—then it would be even more probable for Susan to develop it as well. 70% of children with SM have a first-degree relative with a history of a social phobia and 30% have a first-degree relative with a history of SM.

* Explained that in today’s culture, the disorder is called Selective Mutism. This name carries with it the idea that the person isn’t refusing to speak so much as they are failing to speak in social situations.

* Provided information about the course of the disorder, that it can last anywhere from a few months to a few years, although there is a caveat that it can be “chronic” if severe social phobia is also present (meaning Susan is so shy or afraid of social embarrassment that could happen as a result of speaking, a criteria she fits). Susan wants to speak, but simply cannot force herself to do so.

* Don’t fall prey to the cliché in fiction that a child has to have extreme trauma to not speak. A child can exhibit SM simply by experiencing the change of going to school for the first time. That’s not to say that children can’t develop SM after a trauma such as you experienced (because they can, it’s called traumatic mutism), but that’s become overused in fiction.

* Encouraged that it would not be outside the realm of feasibility that Susan would speak to her cat and no one else. (This would give the author the chance to have Susan’s perspective overheard by another character, etc.) It’s possible that children with SM might not speak at all in one context, like school, but feel comfortable talking at home. Interestingly, some children are known to talk to a sibling at home, but not talk to the same sibling at school. Generally, a child with SM does speak in certain situations, but fails to in other situations when speech is expected.

* Susan might speak during one of her tantrums, but it might be screams. Children with SM usually feel more comfortable talking at home than anywhere else, so if the author did consider allowing Susan to talk somewhere, it should be at her home (i.e., talk to Snowball only at home, in her room, with no one else around).

* Provided insight about the high correlation of children with SM having an overprotective mother. Susan’s mother currently doesn’t fit this picture and is, in fact, the opposite. But if she were prone to depression—which would account for the obvious alcohol abuse—then this also would fit in with the overall familial picture of SM.

* Explained that most children with SM do reach full speech recovery. Symptoms can usually resolve on their own without treatment in a few weeks or months. There are medications that can help in the present day, in particular fluoxetine (Prozac), but nothing was on the market for it back then.

Hope this example helps you see what it would be like
for YOUR character to be on the couch.