Psychiatry and Psychology are considered to be among the healing arts and, as such, the patients, those who are the professional concern of practitioners of those two fields, are supposed to be the objects of their caring. But they don’t always feel an inclination to care for everyone. Case in Point: Many of these professionals have long had a problem understanding how to deal with the folks they call psychopaths. Too often, we are seen as the bad guys and don’t always seem to fit the mold of psychiatric patients. Hervey Cleckley was one of the first to define us in a way that modern man understands with his book The Mask of Sanity. He was nonplussed by the way his psychopathic patients seemed … well … normal. He made a checklist of psychopathic traits which Robert Hare followed with an updated checklist that is used today. Both Cleckley and Hare found us rather baffling. Cleckley was confounded by people who came under his care as patients in whom he could find “no nervous or mental illness” but whose behavior was problematic enough for him to label psychopathic. Hare studied psychopaths in Canadian prisons and found himself victim of con jobs by these very people.
Much of the discussion about psychopaths is centered on advocacy not of the psychopaths but of our “victims.” That must create some cognitive dissonance for professionals who seem more concerned for people around us than of us, whom they have defined as the sickies. That dissonance is enhanced by the fact that most psychopaths don’t see ourselves as sick or having a problem. Yet, in a world where medicine has replaced morality, they can’t call us evil. Or can they?
Some psychologists/psychiatrists do exactly that. M. Scott Peck, M.D. wrote a book called People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil. Martha Stout wrote The Sociopath Next Door, a book that makes no pretentions of concern for the sociopath but only our “victims.” A child named Beth Thomas has been much documented on the internet as a “child of rage.” This girl wanted to kill her entire family and tried to do it. A psychologist called Connell Watkins took over Beth’s life and applied a technique called Reparenting. Watkins had already killed a patient with an even more radical technique called Rebirthing (see Tough Love Success). Beth was treated with Reparenting and pronounced cured. The picture of the adult Beth raises a red flag for me. The woman’s face looks anxious, not healthy.
George K. Simon Jr., Ph.D. has his own take on psychopathy and what he calls character disorders. His book, Character Disturbance, hardly mentions the word psychopathy at all but describes people with a “character disorder” in a way that makes it clear that’s what he’s talking about. The use of the term, character disorder, raises a red flag as a departure from personality disorder. By calling it character disorder, Simon is injecting a moral judgement that has long been considered anathema for psychologists. He is quite upfront in saying that the old method of psychoanalysis doesn’t apply to people with character disorders. Psychoanalysis is suitable for people suffering from neurosis, a condition more prevalent in Freud’s time. Neurosis and character disorders are on opposite sides of a spectrum, he says. The only alternative to neurosis and character disorder is something called “self-actualization altruism.” Those who are “self-actualized” are very rare, perhaps don’t even exist. So most people are either neurotic or “character disturbed” to varying degrees. He even admits to having some character flaws of his own.
Simon calls his method of treating people with character disorders cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT). Neurotics are treated by helping them gain insights. “Disordered character” as he calls us, already know why we behave as we do and, instead of insight, need confrontation of our conscious efforts to manipulate. If neurotics are suffering from an over-abundance of conscience, we have an under-abundance of same. Psychopaths, of course, have no conscience at all. Simon advises therapists not to concern themselves with out feelings. It is our behavior that has to be curbed. And our thinking needs to be corrected. He admits, “almost every therapist I know has at least a mild aversion to behavior therapy. Most seem to regard it as ‘cold’ and mechanical.” Surely, most psychopaths have no desire to change. It’s a wonder he has patients who aren’t compelled to be there by court order. But many “character disorders” are mild, falling short of psychopathy. Remember, it’s on a spectrum. I guess confrontation works on them. Simon sees them as not having developed character, something they can do with his therapy.
There is another approach to treating psychopaths, especially those in prison. It doesn’t attempt to dismantle the psychopathy. It is a pragmatic realization that more pro-social behavior can bring about better rewards. We are very reward-driven, after all. Why not use that. Society bases a lot of its structure on reward and punishment to get people to support it.
Since everyone who isn’t “self-actualized” is somewhere on the spectrum of neurosis-character disorder, we are all either pathetic or bad. Short of becoming self-actualized, we must always be moving up and down the spectrum, picking our poison. Even the therapist is on the spectrum. Hmmm…………………..