Monsters on the Couch

Monsters on the Couch
Monsters on the Couch

Monsters on the Couch

The Real Psychological Disorders Behind Your Favorite Horror Movies
By Brian Sharpless


286 Pages, 6 x 9

Formats: Trade Paper, PDF, EPUB

Trade Paper, $19.99 (US $19.99) (CA $26.99)

ISBN 9781641607919

Rights: WOR

Chicago Review Press (Oct 2023)


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Horror movies can reveal much more than we realize about psychological disorders—and clinical psychology has a lot to teach us about horror.
Our fears—mortality, failure, loneliness—can be just as motivating as our wishes or desires. Horror movie characters uniquely reveal all of these to a wide audience. If explored in an honest and serious manner, our fears have the potential to teach us a great deal about ourselves, our culture, and certainly other people.
From psychologist, researcher, and horror film enthusiast Brian A. Sharpless comes Monsters on the Couch, an exploration into the real-life psychological disorders behind famous horror movies. Accounts of clinical syndromes every bit as dramatic as those on the silver screen are juxtaposed with fascinating forays into the science and folklore behind our favorite movie monsters.
Horror fans may be obsessed with vampires, werewolves, zombies, and the human replacements from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but even many medical professions may not know about the corresponding conditions of Renfield's syndrome, clinical lycanthropy, Cotard's syndrome, and the misidentification delusions.
Some of these disorders are surprisingly common in the general population. For instance, a number of people experience isolated sleep paralysis, a disorder implicated in ghost and alien abduction beliefs.
As these tales unfold, readers not only learn state-of-the-art psychological science but also gain a better understanding of history, folklore, and how Hollywood often—but not always—gets it wrong when tackling these complex topics.


Brian Sharpless’s love of horror movies shines through every page of this book. His knowledge and expertise as an experienced clinical psychologist offers the reader unique insights into the genuine psychological disorders behind Hollywood monsters. Although the topics covered are often pretty macabre, Sharpless’s mischievous sense of humor ensures that readers will be entertained—as well as educated—by every chapter. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.” —Dr. Chris French, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London

A fascinating and compelling journey into the world of film monsters and the psychological disorders that lurk within them. With its blend of wit, film analysis and clinical insights, Monsters on the Couch will change how you view these terrifying creatures.” —Antonio Zadra, PhD, Professor of Psychology, University of Montreal and coauthor of When Brains Dream: Understanding the Science and Mystery of Our Dreaming Minds

“Sharpless holds our hand in the dark as he illuminates countless true-life inspirations for classic pieces of horror fiction, making even the films we’ve seen hundreds of time new again.” —Rodney Ascher, director of Room 237The Nightmare, and A Glitch in the Matrix

“The unique, fascinating and darkly humorous Monsters on the Couch deftly analyses the psychological disorders that have inspired or been featured in many of the best horror films ever made. It’s a must-read for any genre enthusiast wanting to know why these movies chill us to the bone.” —Glenn Kay, author of Zombie Movies

In this highly engaging book exploring psychological aspects of werewolves, vampires, zombies, and other horror beings in contemporary culture, Sharpless examines the relevance of some serious clinical experiences with professional sensitivity. Yet the lightness of tone in places is also welcome and carefully calibrated. The reader will finish the book with new insights on the meaning of familiar horror themes and simply enjoy it as an intelligent good read.” —Owen Davies, editor of The Oxford History of Witchcraft and Magic and author of Art of Grimoire

"[Monsters on the Couch] is a great book, as entertaining as it is informative." — Booklist

Author Biography

Brian A. Sharpless is a licensed psychologist and author. He received his PhD in clinical psychology and MA in philosophy from Pennsylvania State University and completed post-doctoral fellowships at the University of Pennsylvania. He has authored more than fifty professional publications including three books for Oxford University Press. His research interests include common and unusual psychological disorders, psychotherapy, professional issues, and the history of mental illness. He lives in the Washington, DC, area.