CAN PSYCHOPATHS BE TREATED?
There’s no cure, but research suggests psychopathy can be made more manageable – if caught early enough
The traditional consensus among psychiatrists and psychologists has been that psychopathy is an untreatable condition. Even respected mental health professionals have bandied around terms like ‘just evil’ to describe psychopathic criminals. But while there’s certainly no sign of a cure on the horizon, in recent years some evidence has emerged to suggest that young psychopaths, in particular, can at least be taught to manage their condition.
In 2001, a study carried out by Michael Caldwell and Gregory Van Rybroek at the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center in Wisconsin, USA, found that young offenders diagnosed with psychopathic traits were far less likely to reoffend if given ‘decompression therapy’. This involves moving slowly from a punitive model of care to one of positive reinforcement, in which youths were rewarded for more ‘normal’ behaviour. Since then, this treatment is said to have reduced rates of reoffending by a third.
More recently in 2012, David Bernstein, a professor of forensic psychotherapy at the University of Maastricht, began using an approach that he calls ‘schema therapy’, which focuses on encouraging patients to reaccess the emotional and empathetic responses he believes have often, in psychopaths, become ‘locked away’ due to trauma or abuse during childhood. It’s still early days for a treatment of this kind, but the initial results are promising, suggesting that offenders with psychopathic tendencies are less likely to reoffend if they’ve undergone schema therapy. And unlike decompression therapy, schema therapy seems to work for adults as well as for young offenders.