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

Explaining Apparently Incomprehensible Murders

This week's "murder most foul" was done by a Los Angeles mother who killed three of her children. Being apparently psychotic, she was unlike romantically fanciful Vicky White, the Alabama prison official who ran off with her imprisoned murderer-lover. Psychotic behavior, no matter how horrible, is easier to understand than the self-defeating act of a clearly sane person. While inmates are manipulative, what could have motivated a woman with a stable, established life to run away with a six-foot nine-inch prisoner for whom disguise is impossible. Instead of the suicide-by-cop which a lawman predicted, Vicky shot herself to avoid arrest.
The same week, in my area, Sean Armstead, a ten-year veteran of New York City's Police Department, tracked his wife to a meeting with her lover, then killed him and himself. Why, for if a marriage goes bust isn't divorce the smarter option?
Yet Vicky's and Sean's behavior have (possible) ready explanations: a hunger for love, and the hurt and wounding of self-esteem when it is denied.
Through evolution, humans have become increasingly conscious and deliberative. But the unconscious is powerful and one should not risk ignoring its power.

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Crime: Murder, Mayhem, and Evil

During my first job, as a psychologist at a psychiatric hospital, I told my psychoanalyst/supervisor my adolescent patient's statement. "That's psychotic," the doctor replied. Though able to define "psychotic," until that moment I hadn't grasped the power of this condition.

 

Similarly, when the latest horrors become public, the perpetrators are usually viewed with surprise since they look so normal, lacking the twisted features of horror film characters and speaking coherently though of bogus beliefs. Columnists then ask the usual question of "why," and provide their usual answer that "no one knows" but this is not true. While predicting violence cannot be certain, it correlates highly with several factors: failure in life; substance abuse; the psychological (ego) capacities governing thinking and behavior being inadequately developed; and having a fragmented "sense of self" (sense of who they are).

 

The killer's frequent decision, to suicide in "glory," is considered preferable to their continued painful existence.Though their act is horrendous, these individuals are not often considered "insane" which is a legal term determined by state statute. Most usually whether a person can distinguish "right" from "wrong" and, contrary to popular belief, rarely succeeds as a defense.

 

But to describe these individuals as sane does not imply that they possessed normal control over their behavior. Still, except for those possessing extreme psychological limitations, this should not influence their punishment. There is evil in the world and some succumb to its temptation. Yet even for others, the unconscious is very powerful and one must respect its power.

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Is Barnard College Responsible For Their Student's Murder?

The recent murder of eighteen-year-old Barnard College student, Tessa Majors, during an armed robbery in a nearby park at nightfall was shocking but unsurprising. Common sense is that one should not walk alone (or even with someone) at that time in that place. My statement is not meant to place blame on the unfortunate victim but rather to assert that Barnard should have educated its students, many of whom are new to New York City, about City ways. Or, in other words, given them "street smarts." Would doing this have saved Tessa's life? Perhaps not since teenagers can be impulsive. But, having done so, Barnard's administrators might now sleep more easily.

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The Murdered California Psychologists

These killings reminded me of the past killing of the New York City psychologist (Fahey) by a colleague's patient. The psychiatrist had seen him briefly, seventeen years before. Now, the patient brought a hatchet, intending to kidnap the psychiatrist, hold him for ransom, and get his mother out of a nursing home. Fahey heard  Read More 
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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  Read More 
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Murder, Mayhem, and Evil: The continued media ignorance of the etiology of mass murders

During my first job, as a psychologist at a psychiatric hospital, I told my psychoanalyst/supervisor my adolescent patient’s statement. “That’s psychotic,” the doctor replied. Though able to define “psychotic,” until that moment I hadn’t grasped the power of this condition.
Similarly, when the latest horrors became public–the mass murders  Read More 
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