The Next Chapter

Charles Demers tackles the stigma of mental health issues in his mystery series

Primary Obsessions is the first in a series featuring Dr. Annick Boudreau, a 35-year-old Vancouver-based psychologist who specializes in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Primary Obsessions is a novel by Charles Demers. (Douglas & McIntyre)

Charles Demers is a Juno Award-nominated comedian and author from Vancouver. He is also the author of the crime novel Property Values.

Demers has been seeing a therapist for more than 17 years. He has managed a obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, since childhood and it was only when he turned 23 that he decided to see someone about it. It is this type of doctor-patient partnership, and also the issue of mental health, that Demers explores in his mystery novel Primary Obsessions

Primary Obsessions is the first in a series featuring Dr. Annick Boudreau, a 35-year-old Vancouver-based psychologist who specializes in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder. When one of her patients, a man with OCD, is charged with the murder of his roommate, Dr. Boudreau sets out to prove his innocence. 

Demers spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing Primary Obsessions.

Dedicated to my therapist

"People who have seen therapists for a very long time, know that it is a very intimate and particular kind of relationship. You have this person in your life who you know and who knows you as intimately as anyone in your life — and in some ways and from some angles more intimately. 

People who have seen therapists for a very long time, know that it is a very intimate and particular kind of relationship.

"And yet, you don't even know what their birthday is, or what the partners' name is. You don't get them Christmas presents. It's an uncanny relationship in some ways.

"This book is a bit of a tribute to that person who's meant so much to me."

Emotional intelligence

"The premise of the series is there is a certain investigative quality to what a psychologist is doing on any given day. And so the hope is that any character in Annick's position is going to have a certain innate intelligence. 

"Not only a kind of analytical intelligence, but a certain emotional intelligence — a certain way of reading people that's going to serve Annick well in a kind of investigative capacity. 

The premise of the series is there is a certain investigative quality to what a psychologist is doing on any given day.

"The idea of someone who is out on a stakeout for the very first time — or trying to follow someone for the very first time — I imagined how I would try and do that and have Annick go through the paces."

Taking mental health head on

"As a society, we've gotten fairly good about being able to speak about the stigma around mental health. For me, it was a secret that I kept from everyone in my life — up until the point when I was about 23 and was able to get the help that I needed. 

OCD and primary obsessions OCD, from which the book takes its title, is treatable with cognitive behavioural therapy.

"Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and primary obsessions OCD, from which the book takes its title, is treatable with cognitive behavioural therapy. The problem is that cognitive behavioural therapy is not cheap. 

"I was lucky — I got into a study at the UBC Psychology Clinic in Vancouver. It is treatment that I certainly would not have been able to afford.

"My hope is, as we continue to work through the destigmatizing of mental health issues, that we move into universalizing the treatments."

Charles Demers's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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