Murder: A Psychotherapeutic Investigation

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'This book... shines a bright light on a murky world. The contributors attempt to understand the origins of murder, but they also deal with the detail of treatment and show us how professionals are affected by powerful psychological forces. The impartial detachment of the observer/supervisor is an artificial construct, and once we realise that, we will be in a better position to do the job properly. The approach is psychodynamic, but there is plenty here to stimulate non-believers. In fact, the book is a challenge to the world of cognitive behavioural therapy; there is more to murder than relapse prevention. It made me think, and what more can you ask?' - Professor Tony Maden, from the Foreword

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CHAPTER ONE: Life after death: a group for people who have killed

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Gwen Adshead, Sarita Bose and Julia Cartwright

“No one interrupts when the murderers talk.”

Paul Celan, Wolfsbuhne (1959)

Introduction

Asignificant proportion of patients in forensic psychiatric hospitals are admitted because they have killed someone. Homicide is a rare event in the UK, with only 600 on average recorded each year in England and Wales. This figure has remained relatively constant over the last 30 years, since the abolition of capital punishment, implying that of the 60 million people who live together in the UK, fewer than 1000 will die each year as a result of murder by another.

Such rare events are inevitably complex and multi-determined. If we accept the psychoanalytic position that all of us (consciously and unconsciously) have murderous impulses that we can sometimes struggle to contain, then the question becomes: why is homicide so rare? Most of us will never kill anyone even though we have these murderous thoughts, so what made these people cross the line from fantasy to reality? There is an urgent need to find an answer to this question: for the therapist, the public, the perpetrator, and the victim's family.

 

CHAPTER TWO: Murder: persecuted by jealousy

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Peter Aylward and Gerald Wooster

“Full fathom five thy father lies;

Of his bones are coral made:

Those are pearls that were his eyes:

Nothing of him that doth fade

But doth suffer a sea-change

Into something rich and strange.

Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:

Burthen Ding-Dong

Hark! Now I hear them,—ding-dong, bell.”

Shakespeare, The Tempest

Our aim in this chapter, which is a development from a paper entitled “Perverse Triangulation”, presented at the International Association of Forensic Psychotherapy (IAFP) Conference at Arnhem in April 2003, is to explore the dynamics surrounding the crime of murder. We believe that murder represents the “solution” to feeling persecuted (feeling impotent while under attack through being harassed, tormented and pursued) by a threesome experience, i.e. in a three-person jealousy, in the delusional belief that the resulting twosome will eliminate any further feelings of persecution. The persecution is an intrinsic part of an internal configuration, so that any external act of murder only represents a momentary, perverse and ultimately ineffective solution. It is our view that three-person jealousy is a critical feature in all murder, in that it represents externally the internal experience of being killed off in a relationship that the perpetrator had with another by the arrival of the third. By extension we postulate that the persistent persecution resulting from having to accommodate the third into a two-person relationship, particularly when the subject has not yet digested the dynamics involved in the two-person relationship, creates the environment for murderousness to be triggered when external circumstances mirror or approximate to such an internal configuration.

 

CHAPTER THREE: Women who kill: when fantasy becomes reality

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Anna Motz

We are all guilty of the wish to murder, all subject to thoughts of killing, and all capable of extreme violence in fantasy. But to translate such feelings into action requires some other, qualitative shift from ordinary fantasy to extraordinary behaviour. What happens when murderous wishes, either unconscious or indeed conscious, are actualised? Why can't thoughts be kept in the mind rather than acted out? In this chapter I will address the specific dynamics of mothers who kill, at moments of disastrous identification both with their infants and with their own depriving/killing mothers.

The question I pose in this paper is how best to understand, from an analytic perspective, women who move from murderous thoughts to murderous behaviour. I will illustrate the discussion with the clinical case of a woman who killed her four-year-old daughter. In this case reason is clouded by the fact of psychosis. Nonetheless, the murderous rage which underpins the act is neither rational nor irrational; it is more primitive, an expression of unconscious phantasy.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: Killing off the shadow: the role of projective identification in murderous acts

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Maggie McAlister

“You have to get close to stab. You can't be stand-offish when you stab.”

Helen Zahavi, Dirty Weekend

“When they entered they found, hanging on the wall, a splendid portrait of their master as they had last seen him, in all the wonder of his exquisite youth and beauty. Lying on the floor was a dead man, in evening dress, with a knife in his heart. He was withered, wrinkled and loathsome of visage. It was not till they had examined the rings that they recognised who it was.”

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Ihave chosen the above two quotes from fictional writing to introduce the theme that is to be the subject of this chapter: the use of projective identification in acts of murder. In Oscar Wilde's novel, the protagonist, Dorian Gray, is engaged in a supernatural, symbiotic relationship with a painted portrait of himself, which records all of his crimes and misdemeanours, including murder, while he remains in a state of perpetual youth and beauty, free from any physical signs of his split off secret life. In Jungian terms, this story could be seen to illustrate an attempt to deal with the “shadow”: those parts of one's personality which are unacceptable to the ego and projected externally. As Dorian degenerates deeper into dark and corrupt behaviour, his portrait, secretly hidden away in the attic, becomes more and more hideous, until Dorian, finally filled with horror and repulsion, decides to “destroy” it by stabbing a knife through its heart. It is only on “killing” the image that the true identities of the subject and portrait are reversed, and in the act of killing his shadow, Dorian kills himself.

 

CHAPTER FIVE: The history of murder

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Ronald Doctor

The story of the crime of murder is nearly always a cover-up, an attack on history and its meaning. Hyatt-Williams (1998) gives us the concept of the “death constellation”—the many-faceted situation from which murder is generated. This is like an iceberg—only a small portion is visible.

In most cases murder occurs concretely only after it has been committed many times previously in daydreams, nightmares, and sometimes in unconscious fantasy that has never become conscious. Before the deed, conscious efforts—sometimes unconscious ones too, both sado-masochistic and psychotic—are designed and devoted to keeping the impulse to murder encapsulated in order to prevent action. Then a sudden reversal takes place internally which breaks the murderousness loose from its cordoned-off status, and the energies of the individual become devoted to enacting the murderous deed. The death constellation always includes a psychically traumatic and indigestible experience to do with loss and death.

 

CHAPTER SIX: The dog that didn't bark: a mild man's murderousness

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Philip Lucas

Introduction

It still strikes me myself as strange that the case histories I write should read like short stories and that, as one might say, they lack the serious stamp of science.” So wrote Freud (1895, p. 160) in his discussion of the case of Fräulein Elisabeth von R in “Studies in Hysteria,” and the case I am writing about suffers from a similar stamp of fiction. Freud then consoles himself for being scientifically unconvincing by pointing to the fact that his case histories drew out “an intimate connection between the story of the patient's sufferings and the symptoms of his illness”, something unknown in the work of his psychiatric contemporaries. I hope to demonstrate a similar close link between “the story of the patient's sufferings” and the serious offences he committed.

I shall be focusing on the personality structure which sustained an individual uneventfully into middle age but which then came apart with dire and unexpected homicidal consequences. As I shall discuss, his personality structure has much in common with the “narcissistic exoskeleton” described by Cartwright (2002) in a series of perpetrators of “rage-type” murders.

 

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