In my novel, the protagonist is divorced and moves from London to another city in Britain. The setting is 2013. The protagonist is depressed and stressed out; in real life, such a person would see a psychiatrist. This will be a realistic scenario.

But, if I introduce a doctor, I will have to create a realistic dialogue exchange which will fill a few pages. This is fine, but not related to the central plot of the story. Dr. Williams, as I am calling him, is not even a supporting character. It's just something I am thinking she will do to get help until the time the next part of the story begins. My protagonist comes out of her depression due to some other things she goes through.

Is it a good practice to introduce such a side story just to make sure the reader thinks the story is realistic?

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    In the UK you'd almost never see a psychiatrist. You might see a therapist or a psychologist, but actual psychiatrists are few and far between.
    – Separatrix
    Jan 2, 2019 at 15:40
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    In my experience most people don't go to a therapist, even people who possibly really should. This can be for all sorts of reasons, some good and some bad.
    – Tim B
    Jan 2, 2019 at 16:05
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    In fact I know several people on anti-depressants and similar medications who were just prescribed them by their GP without ever seeing a mental health specialist.
    – Tim B
    Jan 2, 2019 at 16:07
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    Answering as a comment as your question is about adding unnecessary scenes and not about psychotherapists. I think that if you want to put such a scene in, it could be a very useful tool for developing some aspects of the character you can't include otherwise.
    – Andrey
    Jan 2, 2019 at 17:02
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    I realise this is something of an aside to the actual question but as per Serparatrix's comment above it would be extremely unusual for anyone living in Britain to see a psychiatrist for depression unless there were significant co-morbid clinical conditions (e.g. Psychosis, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder etc) so your "Dr" Williams would likely be a counselor called "Mr Williams" Jan 3, 2019 at 13:15

6 Answers 6


You have a realistic effect that follows from the situation that you've put your character in, but that effect isn't interesting, nor does it affect the story in any significant way. The solution is have it happen off screen.

You have the MC eat, realistically they'd have to use the toilet. But you don't necessarily write about them using the toilet, right? Same here. If you feel it is necessary for the character to go to a psychologist, and for the reader to be aware of the fact, you can mention it in passing - something might happen while she's on the way to/from a meeting with him. This "something" should be plot-relevant, of course.

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    The answer I was going to write is very similar to this one, so have an upvote instead. :-) A simple "my therapist said that..." can go a long way.
    – Cyn
    Jan 2, 2019 at 20:51

Leave them out

You don't seem to want to write about or develop the doctor and they don't seem to have much value to you. If that is the case then you should probably leave them out. The simplest way to do that is simply have the MC think/talk about their sessions with their psychiatrist without ever writing about the sessions directly.

However two other things to consider:

  • I reject the idea that everyone in 2013 with mental health issues goes to see a psychiatrist. Treating mental health is not at all ubiquitous and it is certainly not a matter of course. Plenty of people live with depression without seeking professional help. If you are having your MC go to a doctor because you think it implausible that someone wouldn't or because you just want to fill some space then reconsider it entirely. (Note: I am not suggesting that people shouldn't seek mental health services, simply that they often don't.)
  • Conversely, I also challenge you to consider using the doctor if you think you can do something with them. Developing a character that the MC interacts with in a way that is compartmentalized from their other interactions could prove valuable. It provides you with a vehicle for exposition as the MC discusses their life. It provides a way of presenting the MC with altering viewpoints. The obvious downside is as you noted: You need to develop the character.

I think in real life the vast majority of people that are depressed, or even suicidal, will not go to a doctor at all.

I don't know what the situation in Britain may be, but here in the USA that would be expensive, time consuming, and it carries a stigma in both employment and society to have been treated for a "mental illness", even depression. The vast majority of people will self-medicate with drugs (legal or not).

If you are intending to sell to American readers, they will not wonder why your character did not visit a psychiatrist; those are for people with money and time that don't have to worry about their jobs.

Even if psychiatry is free in Britain, I'd expect very few depressed people would take advantage of it. Because depression doesn't make one hopeful about being cured from depression, and most depressed people are not even sure their depression IS depression, or if it can be cured or addressed.

In general, forgetting this particular topic, YES, if anything is realistic enough that many readers would wonder why it isn't mentioned, then you need to address that concern. But as Galastel notes; that can be sentence or two of "tell, don't show" off-screen, to save pages and not interrupt your story line. (One of the few instances in which telling is superior to showing).

  • Like in Britain, Australia has a national health care scheme than covers mental health. There are multiple organisations that advertise extensively to encourage people to use these services, precisely because so few people seek help when battling chronic depression. And in Australia you don't just "see" a psychiatrist: you typically need a referral from a treating doctor first. PS "cure" is the wrong term - the modern approach is to treat the illness and, long-term, manage the condition. Jan 9, 2019 at 22:31

So when in the story does this occur? Close to the beginning? The Climax? The Middle? This can be used to show rather than tell that your character is depressed by having her talk out the issues with the therapist listening and providing some clinical talk of very little importance that does little to help the actual situation... sometimes this is all therapy is as you have to figure it out yourself. There are some ways to run this so that it's not his advice that is important but something he says that re-frames the central issue. Perhaps he offers advice that is on it's face stupid, but when applied deeper can show something she is missing from her own estimation of the situation. Another thing is to allow her to monolog the situation as it currently stands and allow her to ask the important question she needs to consider, only to run into the one response every therapist in fiction always has ("I'm sorry, we're out of time.") allowing her to guide herself to the crux of the issue.


I would leave it out. There are two kinds of depression; clinical depression for which people ought seek help and depression that is a natural and normal response to bad things happening.

My mother died and I did not seek therapy since a therapist could not help with the problem - death. I have a cousin who suffers from clinical depression, my brother did also and therapy helped them.

I have financial difficulties and they are very stressful, but I understand that stress so know that talking to a therapist would not help. Petting a cat or dog helps, watching a movie or otherwise giving myself a break helps.

If your MC is the kind of person who believes that therapy is both important (I do believe this) and relevant, then create your doctor, but have that character mean something. They can be the trusted mirror into the soul of your MC, or the listening ear that lets you explore your MC.


Realism is just another style in art. So the general answer for doing anything for the sake of realism depends on three questions:

  • Is realism the style of this book, to the extent that including events and characters that aren't significant in the larger narrative is an important stylistic choice? (this is unusual)
  • If not, is it significantly likely to damage readers' enjoyment of the book and/or suspension of disbelief to not do this? (@Galastel has provided an excellent practical answer to this difficulty)
  • If not, does this (character/event/setting) serve the book? (a question you should always ask, regardless of other considerations)

Most realist books are only superficially realistic, and the audience understands and expects that minor (and sometimes major) differences from real life will be made in order to make a better and more enjoyable story. That's an foundational part of the storyteller's art.

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