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A Psychologist's Thoughts on Clinical Practice, Behavior, and Life

The Change From Valued Employee to Crazed Killer: Cause and Prevention

The flood of shocking employee killings, most recently in Virginia of two TV reporters, raised the usual question: How can the seriously distressed worker be distinguished from those few that become violent? Unfortunately, they often can’t.
Behavior and environment play their roles. Excessive alcohol and drug use increase the likelihood of impulsive, unwise behavior while financial stability and the presence of a social support network decrease it.
The basic psychological abilities, those that govern behavior and thinking and mood and sense of self, develop early in life. While any weakness of these capacities influence functioning, this is a continuum. Mild limitations may not limit success but severe weaknesses will impede normal functioning.
These psychological flaws are termed, theoretically, Elements of a Borderline Psychotic Psychostructural Organization. This does not mean "psychotic" or "borderline psychotic" but, rather, the presence of poorly developed psychological capacities because of faulty early experiences. Children, adolescents, and adults can suffer this but very few behave violently.
This condition has been recognized for the past fifty years and its treatment is well known: individual psychotherapy to replace the deficient ego capacities with more mature ones. But this improvement is not simple or gained quickly. Though not curative, psychotropic medication may alleviate suffering but the benefits of drugs are often exaggerated while their side-effects are downplayed.
Newspaper reports about the Virginia killer stated that his previous employers had recognized his emotional problems and suggested that he seek counseling. But this is often not enough. Thoughtful treatment referral and persistent follow-up by the manager are needed. While these actions do not describe traditional business practices they can save lives
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