Can therapy help a psychopath? 3 key factors

Socipathic eyesThe behavior of some people in your life leaves you shocked and mystified. They tell stories that don’t add up, in fact, they flat out lie. They are charming one minute and hateful the next. They hurt you, seemingly on purpose, and then act like nothing happened.

You come to the conclusion that something is wrong with them. They need help. They should go to therapy.

The behavior I described above is typical of psychopathy and other personality disorders. So can therapy help a psychopath?

A few days ago, I posted a link to an extensive article published by The Atlantic called, When Your Child Is a Psychopath, by Barbara Bradley HagertyI invite you to read this article, to provide context for the rest of my post.

When Your Child Is a Psychopath, on

Hagerty tells the story of parents who realize that their adopted daughter is seriously disordered, and the steps they are taking to help her. The article reports all of the current thinking on how personality disorders develop and how they may be treated.

Mendota Center

The story also highlights the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center in Madison, Wisconsin. This program treats boys between the ages of 12 and 17. They are “the most menacing and recalcitrant” young offenders in the state.

Many of the boys grew up on the streets and resorted to violence in self-defense. The staff at the Mendota Center works very hard to create supportive connections with the boys, so that the boys can become less reactive. They are reasonably successful. Hagerty writes:

What they have done, by trial and error, is achieve something most people thought was impossible: If they haven’t cured psychopathy, they’ve at least tamed it.

Hagerty highlights the case of “Carl,” whom she described as “a boy from a good home who seemed wired for violence.” On the Psychopathy Checklist – Youth Version, he scored 38 out of 40. That’s way high on the scale.

But the Mendota program was able to get him to calm down. After he left, he was pretty much able to stay out of trouble for 10 years. He opened his own business — a funeral home. He seemed to prove that the therapy worked, so the author wanted to meet him in person.

But right before Hagerty was supposed to interview Carl, he was arrested for spousal battery, abandonment and neglect of a child, and witness intimidation.

Then Hagerty describes the experience of Carl’s wife — and it’s exactly the same story that everyone on Lovefraud tells.

Here’s what the Mendota staff says about Carl’s case:

This counts as a good outcome for a Mendota guy. He’s not going to have a fully healthy adjustment to life, but he’s been able to stay mostly within the law. Even this misdemeanor — he’s not committing armed robberies or shooting people.

Three key factors

This article in The Atlantic does a good job of describing the problem of juvenile psychopaths and some current attempts to help these children.

Going a step further, can therapy actually help psychopaths? Here are three factors that influence whether therapy is successful in any particular case.

  1. What is the individual’s level of disorder?

Psychopathy and other personality disorders are highly genetic. That means a person can be born with a predisposition to the disorder. Whether the disorder actually develops is related to the person’s environment, including parenting, siblings and life circumstances.

Some kids have a very strong inborn disposition to disorder, called a strong “genetic insult.” In these cases, even the best parenting and therapy may have limited results.

  1. What is the individual’s age when therapy starts?

When it comes to helping these kids, the sooner therapy starts, the better. In fact, the best time is when they are infants. Anyone who realizes they’ve had a child with a psychopath should hold the child a lot, to teach the child how to enjoy human contact. It’s the first step in making a difference.

The older a child gets, the more antisocial behavior patterns become ingrained. By the time an individual is an adult, therapy probably won’t do any good at all.

In fact, there is research indicating that therapy makes adult psychopaths worse, because they learn new ways to manipulate people.

  1. What is the definition of success?

Typically, in any program that is affiliated with a court system, the standard of success is whether or not an individual can stay out of jail. What this means is that the individual has gotten better at impulse control.  It does not mean that the person has developed empathy or a conscience.

So here’s the bottom line:

If you’re hoping that therapy will help a disordered adult learn to care about others and connect on a human level, well, it’s unlikely to happen. So if you learn that someone has been diagnosed with psychopathy or antisocial personality disorder, do not hold out hope that with love and therapy, this person will grow into a loving, caring partner.

Can therapy help children who are at risk of growing up to be disordered adults? Probably, and many people are hopeful, but so far it’s not known for sure.


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12 Comments on "Can therapy help a psychopath? 3 key factors"

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going no contact with an adult child who is abusive is very painful but sometimes necessary for your own survival. Here is a link to my book on P’s and their institutions: FREE this week on Kindle.

From reading on this site for so many years, what I’ve learned about sociopaths is that they know they are different and some actually strive to be “normal”. In those cases, they can learn how to behave to stay “under the radar” and learn a range of acceptable behaviors. But it is not something that comes natural to them, nor do they ever seem to develop the empathy and conscience to go along with the acceptable behaviors. They just don’t want to go to prison or destroy their lives. I think it’s still very unpleasant for them to keep their masks on all the time but they know they need to do it to survive. I think it probably also depends on where they are on the scale. At the very extreme of the spectrum of the disorder, they take no responsibility for anything they do. I recently heard a story of a man who admitted to stabbing 3 people and hiding the bodies. In his account of one woman’s murder, he said, “She was stabbed by my knife.” He didn’t even take responsibility for being the one doing the stabbing. The more disordered, obviously the more dangerous. This is why I beware of people who don’t seem to take much responsibility for their lives.

I have had no contact with my sociopath for over 4 years. But here’s the shocker, he is a therapist and he uses his therapy knowledge and profession to target vulnerable women. I went into domestic abuse therapy after the relationship and very willingly gave my new counsellor(s) his name but they won’t do anything, despite what I have told them. This made me very angry at the time because I felt disbelieved, even though they assured me that they believed me and I feel like they are supporting him to continue to prey on vulnerable women and use all of his psychology knowledge to do that. I know for a fact that his latest victim was a client of his in a ’round about way’ and he met her and seduced her through his professional role. I don’t think she was a one to one client of his as that would not be allowed but I know he managed several group therapy projects for a while and she was targeted through those. I have no respect for the counselling services in the area I live because of their inability to act on the information I have given them. He continues to earn a living whilst being a predator and I see the other counsellors as ‘flying monkeys’ or ‘apaths’ in their inability to prevent this. Therapy clearly doesn’t work with him, he had to have therapy in order to be a therapist, he knows exactly how to con a therapist and keep his anti social personality disorder under the radar. I talk openly and honestly about my relationship/sham marriage with this man in the hope that my experience will travel around through conversations locally and other women will then be able to connect his name with predatory behaviour. I am very open with the fact that he is a fully qualified and practicing counsellor. It is the only way I can do anything to help stop this narcissistic sociopath because of the inability of my local counselling service to stop him professionally practicing. Of course, he will deny everything and say that I am the one that is unhinged, but I have done enough research now and have a clear understanding of these behaviour traits to know how he will behave if he hears this and how he will lie, manipulate and convince others that he is a ‘good guy’ and a fantastic therapist. I cringe whenever I hear his name but am over the pain of it and will stand up for myself should he ever approach me. He lives in the next town with his new woman that looks just very much like me (interesting that) and I often catch a glimpse of them and him in supermarkets or across the street. Seeing him with her and knowing that he openly used his profession to prey on her, just sends shivers right through me but I do now accept that sociopaths are everywhere and will go to any lengths to secure their prey and their parasitic sense of entitlement. Thanks for all the info here as this was my starting point 4 years ago where I was able to make sense of what had happened to me, how to change MY behaviour to prevent it happening again, and how to put my feelings into a language to then convey that to others. I very much appreciated love when I first found it and now I recommend it to any woman (or man) thats starts to tell me things about their partner/relationship when I hear those alarm bells ringing and recognise those character traits. Surprisingly there are many sociopaths around my geographical area, which is very rural and coastal, and the more I hear about them, the less surprised I am. This stuff needs to be taught to young girls (and boys) in schools so they are equipped to deal with the liars and the manipulators that may attempt to groom them in the future.
Thanks, Seraphina x

Seraphina It’s disturbing that a licensed therapist can get away with this but good you are free of him.

Seraphina, if he is a licensed therapist, then you can report him to DORA (Department of Regulatory Agencies). They will investigate, and he could lose his license. Others will also be able to see the complaints against him when they look him up on DORA. Therapists are required to follow certain rules of ethical behavior.

Stargazer I know someone who could use this information. I will pass it on.

I’m afraid DORA has no jurisdiction over Seraphina’s ex, though there’s almost certainly an equivalent where Seraphina lives. As far as I can gather, DORA is specifically a Colorado agency, though of course there are equivalents in other states (and countries) that just have different names.

My daughter for instance is an occupational therapist, and although that’s a different kind of therapist from Seraphina’s ex, she’s likewise subject to a licensing agency here in Arizona: ABOTE, the Arizona Board of Occupational Therapy Examiners. I’m not sure if Seraphina is British, or possibly Aussie or Kiwi (I assume her spelling “practicing” was just a slip), but I’m sure they have their regulatory agencies there too, for psychotherapists among others.

[Edited to add: It struck me that I’m probably being unfair to Seraphina by suggesting her spelling “practicing” was a “slip.” It may in fact be an example of what I gather many people in Britain are complaining about today: the contamination of British English with Americanisms—a trend that has accelerated in these days of the Internet. I hear for instance of British people criticizing others for referring to a “cellphone” when they’ve always called it a “mobile.” And somewhere the other day (possibly in the online Daily Mail) I was surprised to read of someone who was said to live “on” Station Road, rather than “in” Station Road. I realize that Freddy in My Fair Lady sang about being “On the Street Where You Live,” but that song, despite its London setting, was written by a couple of Americans anyway. In former times I imagined no self-respecting Briton would ever admit to living “on” a street (which sounds as if he’s homeless), only “in” it. In view of this trend, I shouldn’t be surprised to read that British therapists these days are “practicing” rather than “practising,” and it wouldn’t surprise me either to read that they now need a “license” (as opposed to a “licence”) in order to do so!]

To get back to the subject…

The real question is what did this guy actually DO that contravened the rules, from the viewpoint of a licensing board or other regulatory agency? I’m not even clear from Seraphina’s post in what way he’s supposedly “targeting vulnerable women”? Does this mean having sex with them, or what? How many of these women are there? Does Seraphina know who any of them are, apart from the one woman she’s discussed? Has she spoken with any of them? Do any of these women regard themselves as “victims” of anything? That’s always a key question.

If anyone is going to be accused of anything, we need evidence, and witnesses who are willing to testify. If they don’t, we’ve got no case. It’s not about anyone “disbelieving” what Seraphina has to say. It’s only about having nobody willing to relate a similar personal experience that’s also actionable at law.

If this is about targeting women for sex, of course it’s always been a big professional no-no for a doctor or other kind of therapist to have a sexual relationship with any of his or her patients (or “clients”). However, if the woman that Seraphina’s ex is currently in a relationship with was never an actual client of his, then he’s done nothing wrong in the eyes of a licensing board. Furthermore, if this woman doesn’t see herself as a “victim” of anything at present, she’s not going to be lodging any complaints against the guy.

That also raises the question of how matters like this come to the attention of licensing boards in the first place. If a doctor and patient (or a therapist and client) choose to have sex together, who’s going to know? If the client later comes to see herself (or himself) as being “victimized,” and also goes so far as to make a complaint, that’s one thing; but how often does that happen?

It seems to me (subjectively, I admit) that a great many cases I’ve read about where male doctors lost their medical license for having sex with female patients happened way back in the “OLD DAYS” when most adults were MARRIED! Those who weren’t were either gay, or starchy old spinsters who never liked sex (or men) anyway! So if a doctor got “naughty” and had sex with a female patient, ten to one she was MARRIED and there was a HUSBAND in the picture! And the reason any of this came to light in the first place—and got splashed all over the tabloid newspapers, naturally!—was often because the HUSBAND sued the doctor as co-respondent in a nasty divorce case, seeking damages for seducing his wife.

These days it’s different. There are far too many divorced and unattached women floating around in any age group, many of them frustrated and actively looking for sex, and anybody (whether he’s a doctor or not) who’s also looking for sex can take his pick—and if he does, who’s going to complain? So I dare say this ex of Seraphina’s is doing exactly what she said, and it’s not that anyone disbelieves her. But if they’re not clients of his, or if no other woman is willing to publicly class herself as a “victim” of anything—or admit to having done anything at all with him!—then the guy has done nothing wrong in the eyes of the law.

I know a woman who dated a guy who is the director of a drug and alcohol rehab and HE IS DOING DRUGS. That is clearly a violation of his license. I would think if a therapist has a domestic violence conviction, that would disqualify him or it should. That is Seraphina’s situation as I understand it.

Seraphina – my ex-therapist is “my” psychopath. He is exactly what you have described and it’s how I came to find this site. He uses drugs, has many others he has “groomed” and is involved with sexually – patients as well as other therapists.
I’m taking the steps to report him, but it is so difficult to sort through all the manipulations and lies.
Therapy clearly didn’t help him, or rather couldn’t help him. Being a mental-health professional with a doctorate title seems to give sociopaths the exact recipe for mind control, seduction and the ability to gaslight freely, because after all, they are the “experts” in the field so who would dare question them.
I can only hope yours eventually screws up enough to get caught. And – this happens ALOT ALOT more than the general population has a clue about. In my state it’s considered rape.
There are a few victims networks out there and multiple ways to press charges civil and/or criminal depending on where you are.
For REDWALD below – depending on where you live – none of the things you mentioned are issues for pressing charges where I am. And from my research over the past 6 months, most places see this act as rape. You seem pretty passionate about it. So, I’m assuring you that none of that is needed to charge him. Period. No witnesses. Just a complaining victim. That is essential, on that you are correct. — Further, it’s a grotesque use of the inherent imbalance of power in a professional relationship that utilizes insurance money and creates a fiduciary responsibility by the so called “caregiver”; in such it becomes a multi-tiered offense.

RunsWithScissors (I love your name, by the way; it sounds a lot safer than dancing with wolves! 🙂 ), unfortunately the question is what legal grounds does Seraphina herself have to complain about this therapist?

Part of what I was saying in my previous post was that it won’t do any good for Seraphina or any other third party to report to authorities that this therapist is “targeting vulnerable women” (in some unspecified fashion, though I assumed this is about sex) unless one of those women themselves is willing to make a complaint. So far, I gather, none of these women has done so.

A further point is while targeting clients for sex (or exploiting them in other ways) is clearly punishable as unprofessional conduct, what if these women are not actual clients of this therapist? I’m reading Seraphina’s wording very carefully, and she says this man ”uses his therapy knowledge and profession” to target these women. But she doesn’t say any of them are actual clients of his. In fact, she says his latest female partner was only ”a client of his in a ‘round about way’” and probably not a ”one to one client of his as that would not be allowed.”

Well, for one thing if his latest woman is happy enough living with the guy for the moment, she’s not going to be filing any complaints against him. Then too, if this guy’s role at the time was only as an administrator overseeing the therapy groups in question, not acting as a personal counselor to this woman, all he’s doing is using his profession to meet women who are “vulnerable” because they come to a mental health or crisis center, where he happens to work, for counseling.

That’s a very gray area. Quite a few people (including women) pick a job or profession because it gives them opportunities to meet people of a certain type—especially of course members of the opposite sex! If the women this guy “targets” are not personal clients of his, can he be accused of doing anything wrong just because he happened to meet them at the center where he works?

I don’t know, but if I (as a mere amateur) can pick the legal flaws in all of this, I’ll bet my boots that this professional predator has got it all honed to a fine art and knows exactly when, where and how he can “fly under the radar” and when he can’t.

On second thoughts, I won’t “bet my boots” on it after all, because I know some of these psychopathic types just love taking risks and getting away with it! But the point remains.

And that’s not all. I can’t be sure of everything Seraphina meant when she said he ”uses his therapy knowledge and profession” to target women. Part of the problem there is that it’s not illegal simply to use “knowledge” or “skills” anyone has acquired to manipulate or seduce anyone.

We only have to look at some of the crap on the Web to see that—like “R. Don Steele’s SPEE-EED SEDUCTION” for instance: techniques for “getting women into bed in ten minutes flat” or whatever. What a scumbag that guy Don Steele must be! He says about himself right there on his Web site (, and I QUOTE: ”Married three times, ten years each. During every marriage I had torrid affairs with many young women.” That’s something he’s PROUD of??? In some men’s minds I know it is, though in my mind what’s to be “proud” of is not “scoring” the way Steele does, but picking the RIGHT partner and being with her for forty years! However, my point here is that there is no law against purely psychological manipulation and seduction techniques, however acquired, through “therapeutic” training or any other method.

In summary then, I don’t see much hope of success for any woman complaining about this ex of Seraphina’s unless some client or ex-client of his will stand up and make such a complaint.

But how about Seraphina herself, as you suggested? Well, I’m not sure if I’ve missed any previous posts of hers, or if you have. One shortcoming of this site of Donna’s is that I’ve never yet found a way of digging up all the previous posts a member has made to see what he or she told us about themselves. All I can tell from this post of Seraphina’s, and her other post under “disordered parents,” is that she was apparently married to this guy for ”several years,” during which she was stepmother to his equally disordered children. She left him four years ago. There’s no indication that Seraphina herself was ever a client of his, and even if she was, the fact that they (apparently) married would have muddied up the waters on that score. Not to mention that this all happened “several years” ago—plus four!

Seraphina did say that she ”went into domestic abuse therapy after the relationship,” but what are we entitled to infer from that? No more than what she says!—that she felt (with justification, I’m sure!) that she had been manipulated, not to mention “abused,” emotionally at the very least and possibly in other ways she hasn’t told us about—by this man she had the misfortune to be married to for a time.

We can all feel every sympathy with her, but unfortunately this is entirely about this man’s private life in his marriage, and is totally separate from his professional life as a therapist. As sad as it is, lots of marriages break up, with partners who are understandably sore at each other for one reason or another. If all their complaints (justified or not) resulted in their ex-partners being fired from their jobs, we’d have a world of unemployed people—and a lot of jobs that badly needed filling! If Seraphina never was a client of her ex’s, and can only say what a crummy husband he was, I’m afraid that doesn’t count against his professional standing.

I’m afraid some people read too much into a situation that just doesn’t hold water in legal terms. Sunnygal for instance thinks that if a therapist has a domestic violence conviction, that should disqualify him (or her) from practicing. But whether it “should,” and more to the point, whether it does, and in what jurisdictions, are both separate questions. Quite apart from that, I haven’t seen anything to suggest that Seraphina’s ex even has a domestic violence conviction. “Abuse” does not necessarily imply “violence,” not physically at least. The fact that Seraphina sought counseling for “domestic abuse” does not imply that any actual violence took place. Even if it did, whether her ex was ever charged, let alone convicted of it, is another matter again. We need to be careful of what words really mean.

Good luck with your own case, anyway!

Seraphina I read at that doctors, nurses, health aides, dentists, attorneys, real estate brokers, beauticians and massage therapists if charged and convicted of certain sexual or DV offenses and you have a professional license, you could lose your license. You might research this where you are.

Not mine; by the time I had met him, he was in his early 20s, had been hospitalized more than once with bi-polar issues, probably lots and lots of talk therapy with groups/or pyschiatrists/psychologists

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