Our way into the antisocial mind

Our way into the antisocial mind

With help of psychological theory we will try to understand the psychopathic mind. We will use the serial killer, David Berkowitz, as a case study. With the case study in mind, we will discuss what the consequences for antisocial behavior and serial killings are, and how the consequences potentially could be viewed differently.

This work will have two main parts, where the first part will be aimed at understanding the behavior and mind of serial killers. This part begins with an introduction, where an outline of the appearance of serial killing will be given. The remaining text in part one, will be related to a serial killer who named himself “Son of Sam” and killed 6 and wounded 7 others in New York in the year between 1976 and 1977. His real name is David Berkowitz, and he will in this work be refereed to as D.B. This case is used to give insight into a serial killer’s life and history. D.B.’s serial killings will first be introduced, then, interpretations of his mind and behavior will be made, based on Heinz Kohut’s self psychology. Self psychology is chosen because a complete understanding requires a theory consisting of developmental, personality and psychopathological aspects, and because the problems in D.B’s life can be seen to consist of losses of empathic self objects, fragmentations in self and narcissism, which is some of the main concepts in self psychology. Other theories might also have contributed to an understanding, but the use of one main theory in this thesis, is due to the substantial insight that yields, compared to using several theories in a more superficial manner.

One analysis of D.B. has previously been made and published. That has been done by David Abrahamsen, who uses a traditional Freudian approach in his understanding. Abrahamsen is a forensic psychiatrist who made a mental observation of D.B. after he was caught for the murders, and later wrote a biography of him: “Confessions of Son of Sam”. The main aspects with his interpretation and understanding will be included in this work. This will be done within a comparing discussion between the understanding of Abrahamsen and the Kohutian based self psychological interpretation. This is to show that there is not only one way to understand a serial killer like D.B., and also to shed light on the differences there are between Kohut’s self psychology and the theory it derived from. An aim with discussing them side by side will also cause the ability to find out which theory seems to make the greatest frame of explanation, in relation to the case of D.B. The last paragraph in this part will consider potential critical aspects with the method that has been used and also take a critical look on Kohut’s theory.

With the self psychological understanding of the case in mind, part two of this work, will be aimed at giving an insight to what the consequences for serial killings are, and how the consequences for serial killing potentially could be viewed differently. The actual legal consequences for serial killers will be presented, based on laws in Denmark, Norway and in the USA. Then there will be some philosophical and psychological reflections concerning whether people committing multiple murders do have (full) responsibility for their actions and whether they ought to be referred to as evil or ill, as this probably will have implications for deciding whether treatment or/and punishment is the suitable consequence for their behavior. In relation to this, psychological treatment of serial killers will be the focus in the last and main section in part two. What will be done to investigate this issue, is to present the views there are on treatment with patients with criminal antisocial tendencies in general, and also to reflect upon what it is that seems to make them so difficult to treat. There are generally negative attitudes regarding treatment of this clientele, which might cause withdrawal of effort to develop new strategies for treatment and a request for new ways of approximation (Hare 1998, p. 206; Reid & Gacano, 2000). Based on that, it seems necessary first to dig deeper into the understanding of, in this case a serial killer, to be able to make a therapeutic strategy that can lead to a successful outcome. Such a strategy is not to be found in literature. Whether this absence is due to serial killers incurability cannot be stated until it is actually tried. This is the motivation for working out a suggestion for what seems likely to be essential if treatment was given. In the end, there will also be some critical reflections concerning whether it seems possible to use the indicated therapeutic strategies and. A final concluding remark to the treatment aspects will also be given. The contribution in this work, will such consist of a self psychological based theoretical understanding and a planned strategy for what can seem like a constructive intervention method. However, it to be noted that even though a serial killer is used as the case in this, this does not necessarily mean that the understanding and implications for treatment are applicable only for a serial killer, but also for related cases and issues.