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August 03, 2004
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Dr. Dorothy McCoy Maintaining Your Mental Edge
with Dr. Dorothy McCoy

Was Count Dracula a psychopath? (Part 3)

First, "Psychopath" is no longer listed as a diagnosis in the bible of the mental health profession (DSM IV). However, I will use that term, because most of us are familiar with it. One writer described psychopaths as "soulless beings." This description conjures up images of long white fangs, a deathly pale complexion and a black opera cape. Unfortunately, psychopaths look just like the rest of us, in fact, they are often considered quite attractive.

Dr. Hervey Cleckley wrote a book ("The Mask of Sanity") describing them in 1941; it was later updated, but is no longer in print. Dr. Cleckley uses adjectives and terms such as, likeable, charming, intelligent, great success with the ladies, and on the other side, he says they are irresponsible and self-destructive. Dr. Cleckley is a master of understatement.

It is unlikely that you will ever suspect or arrest a "successful psychopath." They are extremely intelligent and often highly educated. You will encounter their less gifted brothers and sisters (many more men are represented in the prison population).

What makes them different than the usual run of the mill criminal? They have no conscience. Their emotions are shallow and egocentric. Other human beings are simply props for their performance. They find it impossible to understand how someone feels, to empathize. You are apt to find a psychopath in a boardroom, pool hall, classroom teaching college, prison, operating room or Sunday school class. They adapt well, considering their emotional limitations, and can be found in all socio-economic and educational levels.

No matter where you might find one you can be certain he will be leaving misery, bewilderment and heartbreak in his wake. Dr. Robert Hare ("Without Conscience") says of them, "We often think of psychopaths as the disturbed criminals who capture headlines and crowd the nation's prisons. But not all psychopaths are killers.

Psychopaths are more likely to be men and women you know who move through life with supreme self-confidence -- but without a conscience." Dr. Hare continues to paint the psychopath's picture, ""He will choose you, disarm you with his words, and control you with this presence. He will delight you with his wit. He will smile and deceive you, and he will scare you with his eyes." If eyes are windows to the soul, look into their eyes and you will see only darkness where the soul should reside.

I recently encountered a psychopath, which is why I became interested in the subject. After I witnessed the devastation one individual can create, I felt compelled to understand them. I did not have the advantage of knowing with what I was dealing. When I complete this series of articles, you will be more prepared. Next time, I will give you a checklist of characteristics common to the psychopath. In addition, I will include some hints for more successfully interrogating one. If he or she happens to be of the brilliant and highly educated type -- God help you. Until next time***


About the author

PoliceOne columnist Dr. Dorothy McCoy has been in private practice as a clinical counselor for 10 years. She is a diplomate with the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress and a law enforcement consultant. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor (in North and South Carolina).





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