2 Times a Good Ghostwriter Was a Therapist


“I’m not a licensed therapist, but sometimes we must all act that way.”

—Jodi Lipper, six-time New York Times bestselling ghostwriter

I find these words, spoken during January 2024’s Gathering of the Ghosts conference in New York City, to be so true. Writing a book—with or without a ghostwriter—is a monumental undertaking. People who hire a ghostwriter aren’t writers, so they’re automatically going to be more insecure and unsure of the process, and whether their story is good, compelling, and worth telling. They’ll have a ton of questions as they move through the ghostwriter’s outline and writing processes. A ghostwriter has to do a lot of hand-holding, listening, reassuring, and demonstrating complete trust in the client and the client’s story.

As ghostwriter Emma Murray wrote on LinkedIn in 2018, “(W)hile ghosts may not all be qualified therapists, we tend to share similar traits: patience, excellent listening skills, empathy, good communication, and good social skills; all of which encourages the client to confide in us. At the very heart of the ghostwriting process is building an environment of trust-–to ensure that the client feels comfortable enough to confide in us, even outside the boundaries of the book itself.”

Ghostwriters worth their weight can do all these things, and every ghostwriter should try to reach those heights with every client. Sometimes, we succeed; sometimes, as I recently wrote, we fall short, and when we do, we had better learn from the experience.

Here are two times I’ve felt like a therapist, despite possessing only a journalism degree:

A psychopath and PTSD

For being married to a psychopath for five years, Cindy White suffered tremendous post traumatic stress disorder, stemming from discovering her husband wasn’t who he claimed he was, then exacerbated by the state coming after her for the money he stole. Anyone who thinks PTSD doesn’t mess with a person mentally doesn’t understand PTSD. She had tried to write her story many times over ten years but only got as far as stream-of-conscious journal entries. 

When I met her, it was clear she had suffered severe trauma, and I knew that she would have to relive the experience over and over again as she worked with me. So, we agreed that if any session proved too traumatic, we’d stop immediately. If she couldn’t meet because she was triggered, we rescheduled. 

When we met, I had to tread carefully. I had to summon all the tact I had. I had to say things like “I understand this is tough” and then ask the question that would force her to get into the events that would inevitably trigger emotions. 

I can’t count the number of times she would cry. At first, it was because she had to relive everything. Then it was tears of joy because she had found somebody who could tell her story. Finally, it was tears of relief and joy because after a decade of trying, she had the story completely out of her head and onto the pages—259 pages, in fact.

Married to a narcissist

My working with Cindy has prepared me to work with  an Austin woman. She is in the process of divorcing her husband of four years, who she called “a narcissist.” She, too, said she has been diagnosed with PTSD.

I reminded her that writing her book will mean traveling back through very uncomfortable times, including looking at herself critically for the red flags she either willfully ignored or completely missed. That is extremely uncomfortable, and I need to be there emotionally and let her feel what she’s going to feel, I need to encourage her to feel whatever comes out, acknowledge and credit her for being so brave (because she is). I need to be the sympathetic ear she needs. I need to be there when she revisits the pain and when she feels exultation at leaving him and putting her nightmare behind her.

So far, so good. She already has cried tears of happiness that someone wants to tell her story.

As a ghostwriter in Austin, Texas, telling these kinds of emotional stories are the most rewarding for me. I look forward to continuing with her as an unofficial therapist.

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