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Psychology background?

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message 1: by MAP (new) - rated it 4 stars

MAP Has anyone with a background in psychology read this book? I'm working on my PhD in clinical psychology, and I've found in many (not all, of course!) books of this nature the whys and wherefores make a ton of sense if you skim the surface, but for people with a background in psychological theory, often times the arguments fall apart, are outdated (say, based on some mutated form of psychoanalysis), or just plain don't make sense.

So my question is: Is this a book worth reading if you're going to be approaching it with the mind of a psychology student, or will I just be frustrated at botched pseudo-psychology?


message 2: by M (new) - rated it 4 stars

M I'm not a psychology student, but Cullen goes into the science behind the psycho/sociopathic mind, and it's really fascinating stuff. I'd say it's worth a read from that angle alone.


Jennifer W I don't have an advanced degree in psychology, but I work in the mental health field. I read this book and found it to be amazing. I felt his research was thorough. The only thing I read that really stuck out for me as an error was he mentioned a medication that he claimed was no longer being made and distributed. One of my clients currently takes this medication and has for years, so it definitely is still in circulation. Other than that, I did not find anything glaring. I hope you'll give this book a try!


Jenny I have a Bachelor of Social Work, and I found the chapter on psychopathy offensive. It is not impossible to talk about mental illness, even something like psychopathy or sociopathy, without making snide comments suggesting that individuals with these disorders are inherently evil. That said, I love the rest of the book - but the (one) chapter on psychopathy left me with a bad taste. He backs up everything with current research, but his personal opinions of the background of the term "sociopathy" and of people with psychopathy are tactless.


Jamie Schoffman Jenny wrote: "I have a Bachelor of Social Work, and I found the chapter on psychopathy offensive. It is not impossible to talk about mental illness, even something like psychopathy or sociopathy, without making ..."

Very well said, and I agree completely. The author did a pretty good job of keeping his personal opinion out of the work. But that one chapter did feel a little like he was attacking people with mental illness.

This is off topic, but I believe that the cover for this book is the greatest book cover I've ever seen. It might even be better than the Bantam Press edition of Catcher in the Rye.


Vicki G Well, the guy who did that WAS inherently evil. He had no other reason for doing what he did, except that he enjoyed seeing people in pain.
How is that NOT evil to enjoy the crap out of someone else's terror, just b/c you think YOU'RE the reason they're afraid, even when you're not and never will be.

I was held hostage by a guy who thought it was hysterical and was always laughing fit to die whenever he thought that HE was the one scaring me. When HE never WAS the reason, it was his gun and he's NOT his gun.
It got on my nerves to no end to have to put up with that, and I think it's just plain evil and has nothing to DO with mental illness. I work with all kinds of psychiatrists, and most of them have told me that "rudeness is not a symptom of mental illness." Or that "bad behavior is not a symptom of mental illness."
And if by some chance it WERE a symptom then the patient would need to be kept away from society "not coddled by professionals who should know better than to shorten the patient's hospital term and risk sending the patient out into the world unready and end up doing the same thing to someone else."
This doctor didn't believe John Hinckley, the guy who shot Ronald Reagan and almost killed James Brady, should have been sent back into the community after 20 years in an institution.

OTOH I thought it was eternal BS that, after the Aurora killer did his little dirty, they asked Dave Cullen to write an article about what makes mass murderers tick.
He's not a psychiatrist. If they wanted an expert's opinion, why didn't they ask a professional of mental health care?
I don't know, but I refused to read the article, b/c you're not going to ask a layperson to do a professional opinion about what makes a person into a mass murderer. Not that I care what does, but if I did I certainly wouldn't look for the information from a news person.

But I work in allied health care, and I'm sick of the attitude that laypersons can give as much information about something when, sometimes, even professionals of the same vocation but in a different area can't do it. For example an MRI Technician who didn't know about the modified jaw thrust maneuver when doing CPR on a patient with known neck injuries.
That happened just last week. I'm a Paramedic, that's why I know about it, but I was awfully surprised that they don't teach the modified jaw thrust maneuver in any other part of health care.
In fact I was more than surprised I was downright alarmed, since not doing that on a neck-injured patient can actually kill them.


Jenny Vicki wrote: "Well, the guy who did that WAS inherently evil. He had no other reason for doing what he did, except that he enjoyed seeing people in pain.
How is that NOT evil to enjoy the crap out of someone el..."


But not ALL people with mental illnesses are evil. If every single person diagnosed with psychopathy out there were murderers, they would all be institutionalized. Cullen's characterizations were broad, which is why I objected to them.


Reilly This book is unreal for any background. My background is in Criminology, so parts of it I was a little unimpressed with, but there are so many different perspectives involved and so many avenues of research Cullen did for this. It's one of my favorite reads.


Lois I have a doctorate in Psychology and found it very well done, passing it onto my son who is studying clinical psychology and works with troubled youth. Highly recommend.


message 10: by Joanne (last edited Feb 15, 2013 12:42AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joanne Vicki wrote: "Well, the guy who did that WAS inherently evil. He had no other reason for doing what he did, except that he enjoyed seeing people in pain.
How is that NOT evil to enjoy the crap out of someone el..."


I was stalked by a woman who thought she was my husband for four years. She was a huge butch girl and was convinced I was cheating on her, left me thousands of abusive voicemails (I was too terrified to pick up my work phone) and would come to my workplace lobby to wait for me (which meant I didn't go out for lunch for four years and waited for the building to be closed to the public before I went home every night).

She was mentally-ill - delusional schizophrenic - and didn't hold a gun to my head, but I was terrified and it changed my personality for four years until I finally decided to quit that job and escape from her influence. And that was after charging her in court too.

It took me three months to get off all the anti-anxiety meds and - get this - EIGHT sleeping pills a night (2 Ambiens & 2 Dormicums knocked me out for four hours to the minute, so I had to take 4 pills followed by another 4 pills to get a good 8-hour sleep which wasn't even restful). To this day, a year and a half after quitting that job, I'm still on a mood stabiliser because my stress trigger is very high and I'm on a low-dose Valium every night. It took me a long time to admit it, but I was (and in some ways, still am) a victim of a mentally-ill person, so excuse me if it changes my view of mentally-ill people a bit.

This has nothing to do with Columbine, but I just wanted to say I totally feel for the terror you must have gone through, Vicki. And as sorry as I felt for my stalker, that she was mentally-ill and even held off filing police reports in case she committed suicide or something, I still think people who are not VICTIMS of the mentally-ill don't understand that dismissing their behaviour just because of their diagnosis is not being "tactful". It's being blind to the terror and fear they cause their victims and/or people around them. It's one thing to show empathy to the mentally-ill, but to overlook their odd behaviour is not being "understanding", it's deliberately ignoring the potential that they could suddenly do something that hurts others. And that's precisely the problem with the mentally-ill, they are unpredictable and you never know when they will flip. Social workers, of all people, should understand that. And while, of course not ALL mentally-ill people are evil, the unpredictable element understandably gives cause for worry.

Psychopaths, in particular, *are* inherently evil. They lack the faculty that allows them to be aware when they cross the line from good to bad. And when they cross that line and take pleasure in it, I'm sorry but that's not disability. That's evil to me.

PS. And yes, I enjoyed the book very much. I've been reading every book on Columbine that I can get my hands on, in the wake of the Newtown massacre, and this is definitely one of the better ones.


Tallburt It's a decent read and from a professional point of view it is probably superficial as regards the psychology but then it's not supposed to be a text book.

The author seems to have undertaken a good deal of research and there are plenty of references in the appendices to follow up in more depth should you wish to.

All in, give it a read as an introduction to these events and to perhaps guide any future research.


Jenny Joanne wrote: "Vicki wrote: "Well, the guy who did that WAS inherently evil. He had no other reason for doing what he did, except that he enjoyed seeing people in pain.
How is that NOT evil to enjoy the crap out..."


Joanne, I'm terribly sorry for the horrific ordeal you went through. I apologize that you felt I was minimizing or erasing the reality of victims' experiences.

Your experience with a mentally ill person obviously colors your view of them, and I can respect that. You made several claims about mental illness in your comment that simply aren't true. No one here is advocating "ignoring" signs of mental illness, least of all me. My intention was to point out that his chapter on sociopathy is pretty much pure opinion and pretty offensive to ANYONE with a mental illness, from sociopathy to depression. I do agree that there are "evil" people out there, but I don't agree that everyone with sociopathy are "evil." Evil is a supernatural concept and I'm not comfortable using it as a clinical term. But, please understand that I am extremely sorry that anyone has to go through such an awful situation. I truly am.

I am not a proponent of coddling or ignoring the mentally ill. There is a serious lack of mental health services in this country, and those that do exist are severely limited to the point of being ineffective. And that's dangerous, because the illness gets worse and worse and worse until something terrible happens. But it's not inherent. Mentally ill folks are much more likely to be victimized than to victimize others.


message 13: by Paula (last edited Jan 17, 2014 11:58AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paula I have to say I thought the author's chapter on sociopathy and psychopathy was even handed. He went out of his way to explain the definitions, history, how they differs from other forms of mental disease, prognosis, the history of attempting to describe it, identify it, treat it, to highlight that most sociopath's are non-violent, and only certain rarely occurring sub-classes might conceive of this type of tragedy. Even insisting only one the murderers in this case seemed to be a sociopath, not both, and the mental defect of the other was a different animal entirely.

Mental disease is a very sensitive subject for me and I am easily offended when people jump to conclusions or vilify a diseased mind. I thought it was handled delicately and objectively.


message 14: by Paula (last edited Jan 17, 2014 12:51PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paula The idea that metal disease = evil is offensive.

On the other hand, we must all accept there must be a point where the level of mental disease requires the public's protection when violence is ongoing and predictable. The only way to live in a vacuum and consider only the wellbeing of the person with a sickness is to isolate that person, first stop the harm it will inflict on others- because that's the only thing we can do for immediate benefit.

If someone showed up with bird flu we would certainly have an obligation to contain them, right? Mental disease is no different. If a person has a meth addiction that is the underlying cause of their grossly antisocial behavior, it doesn't make it more acceptable or diminish the need to protect people from them and their mental disease.

There is a clear indication in this case, and in hindsight- these boys were dangerous and there was an opportunity to head this off earlier- but its also very clear why it wasn't and how the signs were mistaken for normal teenage rebellion/emotional growing pains. The insight after the fact is staggering.

There is clear evidence of mental disease, and I don't need a shrink to tell me you gotta be nuts on some level- that there is some defect in emotional response and reasoning ability- to spend years planning and committing mass murder. No where does the author make the reverse assumption, that all nuts have the potential for mass murder.

I never got the impression the author suggest all mental illness = evil. I think he goes to lengths to clarify the differences in an understandable way, even to suggest that one gunman's unmistakably evil actions doesn't make him an evil person- only that his own suffering made him susceptible to another's- which I would have never believed had this book not been so well explained.

That being said society does have every right to protect themselves from the results of his internal suffering; from the overflow, contagion, and consequence of disease- mental or otherwise.

Using the religious and inflammatory word "evil" is too broad and subjective. I think the author did a great job describing the inner workings in a much more quantitative and calculable way.

I thought he used just the perfect amount of clarification to educate a layperson so they CANT chalk it up to a simple zero sum two way equation where evil = crazy and vice versa.

Its also ridiculous to suggest we are getting the author's own psychoanalysis. He goes to length to research and consult with broadly accepted guidelines from recognized medical authority, and a mental health expert present for the disaster, who reviewed the extensive background, with years of study in criminal behavior, personal interaction and first hand experience in the midst of disasters. The author does a fantastic job of turning this information into an understandable and compelling narrative.


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