Can therapy help sociopaths?

panorama : Does therapy fail?

He had sat for seven years. He was finally released on July 8th. It was only a week before he struck again, the investigators say.

In 1997 Maik S. raped a young driver who took him along as a hitchhiker. Now everything indicates that he murdered the 16-year-old Carolin - despite punishment and therapy. There was no evidence of a risk of recurrence, say the responsible psychologists. How could this misjudgment come about? Can't ticking time bombs like Maik S. not be recognized? Are they fooling their therapists? Are you even receiving therapy?

"I am surprised that there should have been no warning signs when someone commits such an act so soon after being released," said the criminal psychologist Klaus-Peter Dahle from the Institute for Forensic Psychiatry at the Berlin Charité to the Tagesspiegel. On the other hand, it is typical for sex offenders in particular that they behave “inconspicuously and appropriately” while in custody. They don't freak out, don't get violent - they serve their years, and if they're not released early, no further appraisals are usually made. You just get free. Usually it works fine.

But not always - like now again, and then the consequences can be devastating. There is still no reliable method of examining the soul of extreme violent criminals, "although great progress has been made in recent years," as Dahle says. Sex offenders with sadistic features and especially the "sociopaths" are considered high-risk candidates. Sociopaths (known as “psychopaths” in professional circles) are cold-blooded killers who can appear charming to the outside world and lull not only their victims, but also their therapists. They are intelligent and are absolutely unscrupulous and calculating. That is what makes them so dangerous. Numerous studies have revealed how profound the emotional disorder of this type of criminal is. Example: If you play emotional terms like “mutilate” or “fun”, you can use brain wave measurements to show that our brain reacts more strongly to these expressions than to neutral terms like “butter” or “table”. This is also the case with common criminals. Only sociopaths are all the same: whether "table" or "mutilate" - their brain processes both words in exactly the same way. The sociopath is blind to the emotional level as well as other people's feelings and suffering.

For a long time, the criminal psychologists were of the opinion that sociopaths in particular cannot be treated. An older study at the Canadian maximum security prison Oak Ridge even suggested that some therapies make sociopaths even more dangerous because the insights they gain help them to be more skillful, more manipulative. “However, recent findings indicate that psychopaths can also benefit from modern therapies,” says Dahle.

It is unclear whether Maik S. is also a sociopath. As before, criminals in Germany are not systematically tapped for sociopathy. The now 29-year-old is said to have been noticed by several crimes before he was raped in 1997. He does not comment on the allegations. He does not want to make a confession. Maik S. is silent.

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