Friday, 15 May 2015

An insight into the work of a forensic clinical psychologist

As a dramatisation of interviews with a convicted Nazi war criminal, Into That Darkness looks into the very heart of evil and asks how, 70 years after the end of the Second World War, we can prevent atrocities of this scale from happening again.

Director Gareth Nicholls will be joined by forensic clinical psychologist, Anne Carpenter McKechnie, for a Curtain Raiser event on Thursday 21st May to discuss how individuals become capable of horrific crimes.

Here, Anne introduces her work and illuminates what we can learn from the study of criminals.

I trained first as a clinical psychologist and our role is in working with mental illness and abnormality, largely in health settings, treating problems such as depression, anxiety, psychotic illnesses, phobias etc. We are trained in the assessment and treatment of such conditions across all ages and abilities, including learning disability. I later qualified for recognition as a forensic psychologist and in this capacity am trained in the assessment and treatment of offending behaviour. A core part of the work of a forensic clinical psychologist is therefore explaining the link between mental illness or mental disorder and offending behaviour.

Society often becomes confused about the reasons why people commit extreme offences such as violent or sexual offences; we often want to label such people as "mad" because it reassures us that this was out of the ordinary and is therefore unlikely to happen on a regular basis. While some people may be "mad" i.e. suffering from a severe and enduring mental illness such as schizophrenia, others do not have illnesses that respond to medication or hospital treatment. Such people often have personality difficulties to such an extent that they are assessed as having a personality disorder; this means that they way they think, feel and behave is at odds with how the rest of their culture or society behave. A personality disorder diagnosis, be it Anti social, Psychopathic or Borderline is a way of describing someone who persistently and across all aspects of their life behaves in a way that sets them apart from others. Research on the assessment of risk of serious and sexual violence has identified that the presence of a personality disorder, particularly psychopathy, is the biggest indicator of potential future risk of repeat offending. It is therefore a core part of my work in the assessment of violent offenders to determine whether or not a personality disorder exists and to identity treatment and management plans for such individuals.

Director Gareth Nicholls in rehearsal with cast members Cliff Burnett, Blythe Duff and Ali Craig. Photo by Tim Morozzo.


When I was approached to work with Gareth and the cast I was delighted to be able to have the opportunity to share my 25 years of experience of working with offenders and individuals with severe personality difficulties. I was particularly struck that Gitta Sereny, not a trained psychologist but clearly a woman with a keen interest in the human condition, managed to successfully engage Stangl in the discussion of his life and offending. While I have never met anyone with the scale of offending which Stangl perpetrated, I have met many violent people (men and women) with personality disorders and have been able to engage them in work looking at the factors involved in their offending. I was able to discuss this with Blythe and Cliff and hope it helped them further their understanding and therefore portrayal of these interesting characters.

Anne will be speaking at our Into That Darkness: Curtain Raiser on Thursday 21 May at 6.00pm. Book via Box Office (0141 429 0022). £4/£3 concessions. For more information on Into That Darkness starring Blythe Duff and Cliff Burnett, head to citz.co.uk

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