Category: Psychopathy

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Police Need Training to Deal With Mentally Ill Offenders

00Featured news, Health, Law and Crime, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Psychiatry, Psychopathy, Stress October, 17

Source: Free Images at Pixabay

On March 4, 2016, Devon LaFleur, a 30-year-old struggling with bipolar disorder, went missing. His father contacted law enforcement to notify police of his son’s mental illness and tendency towards violence. After learning that LaFleur had allegedly robbed a bank and was on the run, Toronto police tracked down and fatally shot the young man during a confrontation.

In many instances where mental illness is concerned, police officers respond too quickly with force. In an analysis conducted by The Washington Post, American officers shot 124 people who showed some sign of mental or emotional distress in 2015.

The Post explains that, for the majority of these crimes, the police were not called for reports of criminal activity. As in LaFleur’s case, police were contacted by “relatives, neighbors or other bystanders worried that a mentally fragile person was behaving erratically.”

An article by psychiatry professor Richard Lamb and colleagues at the University of Southern California reports that police officers are authorized to transport individuals with mental illness for psychiatric evaluation when there is reason to believe that they pose a danger or threat. But the researchers also state that this responsibility turns officers into ‘street-corner psychiatrists’ without giving them the training they need to make on-the-spot decisions about mentally ill offenders.

An article published in Criminal Justice Review by Teresa LaGrange shows that “higher educated police officers recognize a broader range of disorders” and they are more likely to “view the situation as requiring a professional intervention.”

However, LaGrange also recognizes that instead of teaching practical skills like learning how to identify individuals with mental-health conditions, many educational workshops only consist of general descriptions about psychological terms and concepts.

Police officers need to know how to handle individuals who display different types of mental illnesses. The Washington Post analysis states that the most extreme cases of mentally ill people causing a disturbance were schizophrenic individuals and those who displayed suicidal tendencies or had some form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In some states, crisis intervention team training (CIT) is being implemented to help officers identify mental illness and determine the best course of action.

CIT consists of a 40-hour training program for police forces that educates officers on mental-health issues and medications and teaches about mental-health services in the local community. CIT also teaches methods that help de-escalate heated situations by encouraging officers to allow vulnerable individuals to vent their frustrations—methods that could have been useful in LaFleur’s case to reduce the risk of violence from both the police and offender.

So far, this program has been considered effective by the police departments using it.

Major Sam Cochran of the Memphis police department, a retired officer and a coordinator of the CIT program, emphasizes that law enforcement should partner with local mental-health agencies: “If communities give attention only to law enforcement, you will fail as a training program. You cannot separate the two.”

Although the task of identifying mentally ill individuals can be daunting, these training programs are a step toward preventing injustices for individuals like LaFleur. Providing officers with appropriate training not only improves the ability to handle job stress but may also provide mentally ill offenders with a chance to receive treatment.

–Afifa Mahboob, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report.

–Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report.

Copyright Robert T. Muller.

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Barriers Prevent Soldiers From Seeking Psychological Help

00Featured news, Health, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Psychopathy, Therapy, Trauma August, 17

After two tours of duty in Iraq, Sergeant Eric James of the United States Army returned home to Colorado where he began experiencing symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

James sought out a military psychiatrist for his declining mental health. In over 20 hours of recorded audio, therapists and officers at Fort Carson in Colorado can be heard berating James for suggesting he may be suffering from serious mental illness and ignoring his repeated requests for help. James was told that he was not emotionally crippled because he was “not in a corner rocking back and forth and drooling.”

James’ experience in seeking mental-health treatment may be indicative of a wider, systemic issue within the military. As pleas for help go unanswered, soldiers have begun to actively avoid mental health treatment, fearing consequences like forced retirement or reduced pay.

An article in the The Globe and Mail addressed one of these issues directly:

“Because Canadian Forces members do not earn a pension until they have served 10 years, this encourages some to wait until they’ve reached that milestone before asking the military for mental health counseling and other aid.”

Mental-health programs become inaccessible as soldiers are caught between a desire to seek out support and a fear of losing financial security, potentially losing their livelihood or living with declining mental health.

Worse, a 2012 Harvard Gazette report on the US Military stated that:

“Estimates of PTSD are higher when surveys are anonymous than when they are not anonymous.”

There may be consequences for soldiers who speak up about their mental health issues, and these consequences act as a barrier to seeking help.

It’s also possible that James’ case may be an example of the old “patch ’em up and send ’em back” approach to treating members of the military, whereby doctors and therapists devise a quick fix for physical and mental problems in an effort to get soldiers back into active duty.

Donald (name changed for anonymity), a current member of the Canadian Armed Forces, told the Trauma and Mental Health Report in an interview that painkillers and antidepressants are often prescribed in place of a more comprehensive approach to health concerns. These treatments address symptoms, but not the underlying causes.

Using medications to help sufferers of PTSD manage symptoms is an important aspect of treatment. But if supportive psychotherapy is provided either on its own or alongside drug therapy, the need for medications can be significantly decreased.

A study published with the American Psychiatric Association noted that:

“While treating PTSD with drug therapy has accumulated some empirical support, the Institute of Medicine rates trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy as the only first-level treatment for PTSD.”

And while proper treatment for PTSD is necessary, it can be expensive. An article from the LA Times reported a military estimate of treating PTSD to be $1.5 million over a soldier’s lifetime.

For James, after an internal investigation, he was ultimately sent for treatment and received a medical retirement with benefits. Many of our military personnel receive no treatment at all, leaving them to struggle with PTSD on their own.

–Andrei Nistor, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report.
–Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report.

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Prisoners Gain Understanding of Others Through Literature

00Emotional Intelligence, Empathy, Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Psychopathy, Social Life December, 16

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Does reading have the ability to increase empathy? Writer and activist Alaa Al Aswany thinks so. He believes that the role of literature has been captured by the single word ‘also’ from the Dostoyevsky novel The House of the Dead, in which a prisoner, witnessing the death of another, comments “He, also, had a mother.” Aswany says that in this context, the word ‘also’ is an attempt to understand what is common to all humans, and that this understanding is the essence of literature.

Literature as a tool for human understanding and empathy… The idea has been a powerful socializing influence in a very unlikely setting: prison.

The organization Book Clubs for Inmates facilitates 22 book clubs across Canada to allow inmates in federal penitentiaries to read and discuss novels. Their slogan is‘Literacy, Self-Awareness and Empathy’. They reason that most inmates will re-enter society at some point and, by encouraging reading while in prison, the organization believes that prisoners can improve vital social skills.

Volunteers guide conversations through themes that range from self-sacrifice to overcoming adversity, and how these topics relate to inmates’ lives. Through these discussions, prisoners develop pro-social skills, such as taking turns speaking and listening, which may enable easier reintegration later on.

The Book Clubs for Inmates website claims that 85% of prisoners report improved reading skills; 90% realize improved communications skills; 93% report reduced recidivism; and 86% see the book clubs as an opportunity to engage in meaningful discussion.

One inmate expressed:

“The Book Club is an enormous source of intellectual and social—sometimes even spiritual—inspiration to both myself and the many others who attend. I have watched men in that group realize their potential to analyze and reflect that I don’t know if they even realized they had.”

Research conducted by David Kidd and Emanuele Castano at The New School for Social Research in New York provides evidence to support idea that literary fiction can enhance the capacity to understand the thoughts and feelings of others.

In their study, participants read randomly assigned texts, either non-fiction, thrillers, romance, or literary fiction. After reading, they perform a series of tasks to measure empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence by examining how accurately the participants could identify emotions in others. For example, one task involves inferring emotion simply from a picture of someone’s eyes. Scores of empathy were significantly higher for those who had read the literary fiction.

Kidd and Castano explain this phenomenon as literary fiction’s ability to leave more to the imagination by not explaining characters’ behaviour explicitly. Readers then have the freedom to make inferences about characters’ thoughts and motivations. This kind of interpretation requires sensitivity to emotional nuance.

Kidd explains:

“In literary fiction, the incompleteness of the characters turns your mind to trying to understand the minds of others.”

Readers can then carry this awareness into the real world to understand others who are different and think differently. Kidd argues that this transference is to be expected:

“The same psychological processes are used to navigate fiction and real relationships. Fiction is not just a simulator of a social experience, it is a social experience.”

Current research in the neurosciences supports the idea that reading allows people to experience life from a character’s perspective. A study at Carnegie Mellon University found that reading a Harry Potter excerpt, in which Harry rides a broom, activates the same brain regions that would be responsible if one were to actually fly a broom. That is, readers live vicariously through the characters they read about in literary works.

Raymond Mar, a social psychologist at York University, stresses the role of fiction in teaching empathy to children as well, saying that “Even though fiction is fabricated, it can communicate truths about human psychology and relationships,” which can be very important lessons for the developing child.

Exposure to fiction can improve children’s social functioning, as well. Not only does it allow them to step into another’s shoes, improving empathy, but it helps to develop vocabulary for their feelings, allowing them to communicate more effectively. Mar viewsreading as developing their theory of mind, their ability to understand others’ thoughts, desires and motivations.

As one inmate said:

“When you’re reading books, you realize that the world’s not all about you. You’re not the only one going through these trials and tribulations. You get to have a little empathy for other people.”

–Caitlin McNair, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

–Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Killing the American Hero, Killing the Fair Trial

00Attention, Featured news, Health, Law and Crime, Media, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Psychiatry, Psychopathy April, 16

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Was he “insane” or not? That is the question jury members in Erath County, Texas addressed, on February 25th, 2015, during three hours of deliberation in the Eddie Ray Routh case.

Routh, a veteran of the Iraq war, was convicted of murder after he shot two fellow veterans, Chad Littlefield and Chris Kyle, who was famously known as the most prolific sniper in American history and whose memoir inspired the blockbuster film, American Sniper. Kyle, who worked to help veterans cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), was asked by Routh’s mother to see if there was anything he could do for her son. When Routh, Littlefield, and Kyle went to a shooting range—a routine practice used by Kyle to help veterans ‘blow off steam’—Routh opened fire, killing both men.

Routh’s defence lawyers pursued an insanity plea, citing a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia as the reason for his actions.

According to section 8.01a of the Penal Code of Texas, an individual may successfully plea not guilty by reason of insanity if evidence proves that at the time of the incident, the accused, as a result of “severe mental disease, did not know that his conduct was wrong.” Citing a police interrogation that took place after the incident—not before, as outlined by law—where Routh answered that he knew what he did was wrong, prosecutors argued that the defense was invalid. The jury agreed, and Eddie Ray Routh was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole.

Decisions in so-called insanity cases are often controversial. Routh’s case calls into question the legal system’s impartiality and treatment of mental health issues, in particular.

The case was widely publicized for its duration, which coincided with the release of American Sniper. The film was highly acclaimed and portrayed Chris Kyle as a hero, especially for the townspeople in Erath County. Typically, when a jury from a particular area is likely to be biased, it is common practice for defense lawyers to move the trial outside the district in which the crime was committed. In Routh’s case, this motion was denied, despite some jurors even admitting to having seen American Sniper before making their decision.

In addition to lacking impartiality, the Texas court also failed to properly account for Routh’s mental health.

Routh was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia by a psychiatrist prior to the incident at the shooting range. His medication was found when police raided his home. According to Routh’s family and friends, he had also experienced episodes of aggression, irritability, suicidal thoughts and attempts, and psychotic episodes. These episodes consisted of extremely erratic delusions ranging from vampires and werewolves, to him believing he was God and Satan.

But the insanity exclusion in Texas does not take a holistic view of an individual, instead using narrow and limiting language to define insanity. While Routh may have agreed that his actions were wrong after the event, there is no way to know what he was experiencing throughout. And if his previous psychotic episodes are representative, he may have been psychologically removed from reality at the time of his actions, possibly believing he was acting to save his own life.

Some argue that Routh and others like him should still be held responsible for their actions, despite their mental health problems. But, what many do not understand, is that being found not guilty by reason of insanity does not mean the individual walks free. In many cases, such a verdict could lead to extremely long detention in a psychiatric institution, where individuals are kept under close watch as they undergo treatment for their disorder.

In refusing to accept Eddie Ray Routh’s insanity plea, the Texas legal system is doing more than just punishing an individual who may not have been aware of his own actions, they are also denying treatment to a seriously ill person. At this rate, many mentally ill individuals will continue to be punished for actions they did not intend or understand, never receiving treatment and never having a chance to recover.

For more details about the Not Criminally Responsible Defense (as it is known in Canada), see our article entitled Myth Busting the Not Criminally Responsible Defence.

– Alessandro Perri, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

Listening to voices

Can Some Lead A Better Life Listening to their Voices?

10Cognition, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Featured news, Psychopathy, Therapy, Trauma February, 16

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Hearing voices is usually considered a sure sign of mental illness, but recent studies suggest that hearing voices is more common in the general population than previously thought. Though inconclusive, research estimates are that between 2 and 10% of people hear voices, with only 45% actually qualifying for a psychiatric diagnosis.

The notion that hearing voices can be non-pathological is still controversial.  Contemporary psychiatry views hallucinations (auditory or otherwise) as the result of abnormal brain function, representative of a more pervasive psychotic disorder.  Coming from a disordered brain, the content of voices are said to have no inherent meaning.  Treatments minimize or eliminate symptoms (usually through the use of medication) and provide coping strategies through cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

The ‘Hearing Voices Movement’ challenges the medical model.  Started in the early 1990s, the movement provides an alternative, non-pathological framework, claiming that hearing voices is fairly common in the general population and can exist outside of psychotic disorders.  They view voices as resulting from life events, (e.g., traumatic experiences), and that better coping comes from gaining insight into how the voices relate to unresolved trauma.

In a Dutch study published in 1989, Marius Romme, at the University of Limburg in Maastricht, and science journalist Sandra Escher found that out of 450 participants, about one third reported being able to cope well with their voices.  Of this group, people were more likely to have a positive interpretation of the voices, accepting them as part of their life instead of trying to fight or ignore them.   Although many of these participants still found some voices distressing, they were able to draw firmer boundaries and felt less powerless than the group that did not cope as well.

Building on the fundamentals revealed by their research, Romme and Escher were able to translate their findings into a therapeutic approach.  Known as the Maastricht approach, the aim is to foster curiosity about the content of the voices in order to gain insight, resolve underlying emotional problems due to past traumas, and eventually accept the voices as a part of the client’s life and self.

Voices can be positive, negative or banal –many voice hearers have some combination of the three.   In treatment, the client is asked to set aside a time to listen to the voices nonjudgmentally, as if they were talking to an actual person.  Along with the therapist, they try to unravel when the voices began and why.

In contrast, treatments like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and similar methods aim to reduce the frequency, intensity and believability of hallucinations.  People receiving this type of therapy are encouraged to directly challenge the content of the voices, and cope by focusing on other things in their environment and use distraction to redirect their attention.

But when techniques like distraction and redirecting attention are used incorrectly, they result in people suppressing and fighting their symptoms, rather than learning to live with them.

Several studies show that individuals who try to suppress thoughts and hallucinations may increase their frequency and intensity, and exacerbate distress   (described in the work of Social Psychologist, Daniel Wegner of Trinity College).  Alternatively, the Maastricht approach encourages the client to eventually accept their voices without challenging their content or trying to fight them.

Some claim success for this kind of acceptance-based treatment, even in cases of psychosis.  In a study by clinical psychologists, Patricia Bach and Steven Hayes at the University of Nevada, Reno, 80 inpatients with schizophrenia were assigned to either continue their treatment as usual or engage in four sessions of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) in addition to usual treatment.

At the end, patients who attended the ACT sessions were three times less likely to be hospitalized again, and were more likely to question the voices’ control over them and evaluate the reality of the voices’ claims.  Bach and Hayes think the acceptance component allows people to be less distressed overall and view the voices as ‘just thoughts’ that don’t necessarily have meaning or power over them.

While ACT is a widely validated therapy, the Maastricht approach has less research to back up its claims.

The Maastricht approach is still considered peripheral in many circles, especially the idea of voices as an extension of human experience.   And critics of the treatment take issue with the implication that almost all auditory hallucinations are caused by traumatic experiences, overlooking or down-playing evidence regarding genetic and biological influences.  While it is true that many people who hear voices have experienced traumas in their lifetime, there is little evidence that trauma alone can directly cause auditory hallucinations.

And, some claim the Hearing Voices Movement ignores the needs of people with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, which involves a host of other symptoms in addition to hearing voices.  Using the ‘hearing voices therapy’ only addresses one aspect of a multifaceted syndrome and may be harmful if the other symptoms worsen.

Still, when we look at the idea of hearing voices in a way that is not exclusively pathology-based, we open new possibilities, and we engage in what psychologist Andrew Moskowitz (University of Aarhus, Denmark) claims to be a necessary paradigm shift.  Indeed, it may be time for one.

– Jennifer Parlee, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T Muller 

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

The Sex Offender Next Door: Why Reintegration Helps

The Sex Offender Next Door: Why Reintegration Helps

00Emotion Regulation, Featured news, Free Will, Law and Crime, Loneliness, Psychopathy, Sex September, 15

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The release of a sex offender back into a community can be a deeply unnerving experience. Many of us are fearful for our comfort and safety, but attitudes like these may play a role in leading many sex offenders to re-offend.

Sex offenders are faced with multiple challenges upon release. Apart from self-regulation and learning how to control their thoughts and actions, they need to find housing, employment, and most important, a community that will accept and support their continuous rehabilitation.

Sex offenders are not typically strangers lurking in dark alleyways. The perpetrator is often someone the victim knows and trusts.  Robin Wilson, professor and program coordinator at the Humber Institute of Technology and Applied Learning, states that relatively few sex crimes, around 23%, involve a stranger previously unknown to the victim. The public has a misguided notion of who the typical sex offender is, and while sexual offender registries are valuable law enforcement tools, there is a growing need for community support.

Wilson considers a best practice approach as involving collaboration between respective operational, professional, and jurisdictional domains.  For real rehabilitation to take place, the community must be involved in the process.

In 1994, the Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) model of reintegration began after a Canadian Mennonite pastor started a voluntary support group for a repeat sex offender. After almost 20 years in Canada and now functioning internationally, the COSA outlines a restorative approach to the risk management of high-risk ex-offenders, using professionally facilitated volunteerism.

Each ‘Circle’ is made up of a core member (the ex-offender) and four to six community members, individuals who volunteer their time to assist the core member in the community.  The program aims to create supportive relationships based on friendship and accountability for behavior –the development of openness among members being a crucial part of the process.

Simply put, ex-offenders are least likely to reoffend when they have ‘friends’ who believe in them.

Wilson found that offenders in COSA had an 83% reduction in sexual recidivism (repeating undesirable and/or criminal behaviours), a 73% reduction in violent recidivism and an overall reduction of 71% in all types of recidivism when compared to the matched non-COSA offenders. His 2012 study shows that community volunteers have an immense impact on improving offenders’ chances for leading normal and productive lives.

Sex offenders are a heterogeneous group, motivated by different factors says Michael Seto, the director of Forensic Rehabilitation Research at the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group. Seto considers that successful reintegration is not simply the absence of further offending.  “Successful integration would also mean that the person could live a pro-social, productive life within their circumstances.  This might include intimate relationships, stable employment, and positive community ties.”

The success of programs like COSA that work in conjunction with professional treatment programs can be attributed to the continuous re-humanization and the re-moralization of the offender.

Offenders are treated as members of the community and their network of support approaches them without apprehension about the past. Most important, they are given the confidence that they are in control of themselves and that they can choose to behave differently than before.

Seto says that a major obstacle for sex offender treatment is the stigma associated with being labeled a sex offender and being seen forever as high-risk, and that positive social support has a tremendous impact on treatment outcome.

Perhaps most encouraging is the story of a small community in Florida called ‘Miracle Village’, home to over 100 registered sex offenders – none of whom have reoffended. Its residents actively support each other in their attempts to build new lives and work to establish themselves as functioning members of their community.

Of note, the village does not accept those who have been diagnosed with pedophilia or convicted of violent sex crimes against strangers. Some say it is made up of lower risk ex-offenders who are easier to rehabilitate.

Wilson says that offenders targeted for COSA are usually those who have long histories of re-offending, have typically failed in treatment and have displayed intractable antisocial values and attitudes. Stable housing, as well as social support, has shown a relationship to reduced sexual recidivism and criminality among both child molesters and rapists.

The results are compelling: A supportive social network makes a difference.  Addressing an offender’s humanity, loneliness, and need for positive relationships has a strong impact.

Still, some sex offenders really are too high-risk to allow back into their communities. Seto says that while “successful reintegration is the aspiration for most sex offenders, some individuals pose such a high risk of re-offending that incapacitation is the only viable option. This can come in the form of long sentences, long term hospitalization, or indefinite sentencing according to (in Canada) Canada’s Dangerous Offender designation.”

Does it all seem too easy? One can’t help but wonder.  Then again, shouldn’t it be evident that an approach that shuns and ostracizes is doomed from the start?  Cananyone “re-integrate” when viewed as a pariah?

Perhaps the take-home message is about compassion and humanity. And our ability to overcome our insecurities when in the company of those who frighten us.

When Seto was asked whether he truly believes sex offenders can change, he responded “Yes…some of them.”

– Jana Vigor, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright: Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Wisdom From a Psychopath?

00Behavioral Economics, Ethics and Morality, Evolutionary Psychology, Featured news, Narcissism, Psychopathy, Wisdom April, 15

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The word psychopath conjures images of skulking figures and dark alleys.  The media equate psychopaths with infamous serial killers like Ted Bundy and Robert Picton.

But psychopaths and psychopathy are much more complex. In 1980, Robert Hare, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, published the most widely used measure of psychopathy to date, the Psychopathy Check List (PCL), including symptoms like callousness, parasitic existence, and criminal versatility. With later studies finding the prevalence of psychopathy to range between 1 and 2 percent in the general population, it is hard not to feel a twinge of fear.

Are psychopaths really the hollow killers the media make them out to be? Kevin Dutton, a research psychologist at the University of Oxford and author of the controversial book, The Wisdom of Psychopaths, doesn’t think so.  Dutton argues that not only are the majority of psychopaths far from monsters, but that psychopathy itself is a potentially useful trait that we can benefit from.

Evolutionary psychologists have conducted studies that suggest the existence of psychopathy as a fundamental part of human development, predating homo sapiens.

Dutton claims that when it comes to getting ahead, from a financial or social perspective, psychopaths often come out on top.  He points out that the majority of psychopaths are, in fact, affluent members of the community.  The all-important distinction, in his view, lies in how high their “psychopathy dial” is turned.

Dutton’s research has yielded eight aspects of psychopathy, seven of which are seen as potentially beneficial for everyday life, and one that is harmful.

The harmful characteristic consists of symptoms typically associated with Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD), like difficulties with impulse control and irresponsibility.  In Dutton’s view, when these traits are present, psychopaths often turn their minds to crime and violence, seeking immediate gratification of lust, greed, and vanity. Since psychopaths lack morality, the only check on their disregard for rules is conscientiousness and the ability to plan long-term. This ability helps them predict negative consequences like getting caught and being punished, and reins in their wilder, more criminal tendencies.

While the impulsivity of psychopaths is unlikely to benefit most people, Dutton argues that the other seven traits may. These characteristics vary in intensity among individuals.

The first two of the seven traits are persuasiveness and a self-serving attitude. These traits make up the core image of the smooth-talking, egocentric individual who has no trouble lying to get ahead. For most, the wish to lie is thwarted by conscience, but psychopaths have developed two complementary traits to aid their machinations:  emotional detachment and alienation from others.  These two traits ensure that psychopaths are unable to feel pity or empathy for victims, contributing to their reputation as cold-hearted manipulators that walk over others without remorse. But it is also these traits that contribute to success in business and some professions.

Apart from morality, another characteristic that stops most of us from trying to fly under the legal or moral radar is fear. But two traits that psychopaths exhibit are rebelliousness and fearlessness, making them not only unafraid of getting caught, but actually excited by the prospect of subverting authority.

Even the greatest manipulators are sometimes found out, but even here psychopaths have a trait they benefit from, calmness under pressure, which ensures that if they do get caught, they are able to talk their way out of an otherwise career-ending situation.

So why aren’t these traits seen more widely?

Dutton explains that while certain levels of psychopathy are likely to net gains for an individual, they do nothing for a community.  As humans are largely dependent on social structure for survival, psychopaths essentially pit themselves against the world.  Too many of them in the group, and they outwit themselves into extinction.

And perhaps this is where the real lesson lies.  In a world where unbridled self-interest rules, Dutton’s psychopath may be viewed as effective…at most.  But wise?  This seems like a stretch.

This seems like a stretch.

On a small scale, radical self interest may be enticing.  Imagine being wholly unencumbered by morality, conscience, or altruism. You certainly could go far.

In aggregate though, not only does this prospect seem rather unwise, but it represents a world far more terrifying than that of Ted Bundy or Robert Picton.

– Contributing Writer: Nick Zabara, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Myth Busting the Not Criminally Responsible Defense

00Altruism, Empathy, Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Guilt, Health, Law and Crime, Psychiatry, Psychopathy, Psychopharmacology, Therapy, Trauma December, 14

“I thought he must die. He had no future, nothing good. I thought I was saving the child.”

Nerlin Sarmiento had expressed disturbing thoughts about her children long before tragedy struck her small family of four. On many occasions the 32-year-old Edmonton mother had confessed to doctors and family members that she had thoughts of harming herself and her children.

Precautions were taken: Sarmiento was admitted to hospital several times, prescribed psychiatric medication, discharged, and had her mother move in to help care for the children. 

On the morning of February 12th 2013 in Edmonton, Alberta, Sarmiento sent her ten-year-old daughter to school, then forced her seven-year-old son into the bathroom where she held him under water until he stopped breathing.

Sarmiento did not deny murdering her son. She called the police herself to report the crime. Her lawyers, however, argued that she should not be held responsible on account of her mental illness that prevented her from appreciating the moral wrongfulness of her actions.

Two psychiatrists testified at Sarmiento’s trial. They explained that she was experiencing a severe depressive episode as part of her previously diagnosed bipolar disorder. She felt despair so extreme she became convinced she was committing an altruistic act, saving her son from a life of predestined poverty and hardship. 

On September 12th, 2013, Justice Sterling Sanderman agreed. Nerlin Sarmiento was found not criminally responsible (NCR) on a charge of first-degree murder. 

The public outcry against the ruling was reminiscent of the aftermath of the Vincent Li and Guy Turcotte trials; they were found NCR on charges of second-degree murder and first-degree murder respectively.

NCR has been a hot topic featured prominently in the press following several high profile cases, but is often misunderstood.

In Canada, if the court decides that an individual has committed a criminal act (i.e., they are guilty), but lacked the capacity to know that their actions were not only criminally wrong, but also morally wrong at the time, a verdict of not criminally responsible may be given.

Psychiatrist Robert Dickey with Correctional Service Canada and the University of Toronto helped the Trauma & Mental Health Report gain a better understanding of NCR and bust some of the myths surrounding the defense. 

Myth 1: Almost anyone can claim they have a mental disorder and use the NCR defense.

Technically, this is true. But whether or not they would be successful is another story, says Dickey, explaining that if you don’t have a severe mental illness, it is very hard to malinger your way through an NCR assessment and defense.

He further explains that the finding of NCR is based on the exact mental state of the accused at the time of the crime. By the time someone is referred for assessment by the courts, their state of mind may be quite different than it was when the offense was committed. 

A good clinician will seek clear corroborating information that the individual was suffering from a psychotic illness at the time they were arrested. The police, jail and institutional records should give information as to the individual’s mental state at the time.

This is not a matter of being a little depressed, states Dickey. The individual must be so ill that they would not have been able to tell right from wrong, appreciate the wrongfulness of their actions or engage in rational choice when the crime occurred.

Myth 2: The NCR defense is a tactic for offenders to skirt the justice system.

Mostly false, says Dickey. If an individual does not suffer from a psychotic illness, pure psychopathy or criminality alone is not considered – by the law – to be a disease of the mind severe enough to qualify for a finding of NCR.

If the NCR defense is successful, the individual is remanded to the custody of the Provincial Review Board, where the offender is encouraged to receive treatment. Interestingly, the board itself has no power to order the accused to engage in treatment. 

But if an accused does refuse, they are often detained in a secure facility. Dickey explains that with cases of major mental illness and the refusal of treatment, the physician can refer the offender to the Consent and Capacity Review Board. And the individual may be declared incapable to refuse psychiatric treatment and treated against their will.

Myth 3: When a person is found NCR for a crime, they essentially walk free. 

False. The vast majority of offenders found NCR spend a lot more time detained in a secure facility than if they had been found guilty and served a regular prison sentence, Dickey explains. Because the consequences of NCR are more restrictive and more ensuring of treatment, the issue is now more readily raised by the crown (prosecution) than the defense.

After the individual has been remanded to the Provincial Review Board, the forensic psychiatrist will testify as to the necessary level of security needed to manage the offender and their psychiatric care, while still ensuring the safety of the community.

So what’s in store for Nerlin Sarmiento?

When her trial concluded, she was remanded to the custody of the Alberta Review Board (ARB). At a hearing within 45 days from the end of her trial, the ARB determined whether she would receive an absolute discharge, a conditional discharge or be detained in custody. The results of Sarmiento’s hearing have yet to be made public.

 – Contributing Writer: Jennifer Parlee, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

 – Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

 Copyright Robert T. Muller

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

This article was originally published on Psychology Today