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Q & A With Forensic Psychiatrist Dr. Park Dietz

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Park Dietz, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D

This week I had the privilege of tapping into the vast knowledge of Dr. Park Dietz, one of the world’s foremost authorities on criminal behavior. He has consulted and testified for the prosecution in many high-profile criminal cases such as Jeffrey Dahmer, John Hinckley, Jr., the O.J. Simpson civil suit, Andrea Yates, the Unabomber, the Menendez brothers, Jared Lee Loughner, and Susan Smith. Dr. Dietz was also brought on as a consultant after the Columbine shooting to investigate the motivation behind the attack.

He received his degree in psychology at Cornell University and completed his residency in psychiatry at John Hopkins University. In 1978, Dr. Dietz became Harvard University’s youngest assistant professor. Today he owns two companies: Park Dietz and Associates and Threat Assessment Group, Inc. (T.A.G.), which specializes in detecting and managing threatening behavior in schools and corporations.

I decided this week to reach out to Dr. Dietz for advice on safeguarding ourselves and our families from criminals.  Many of the visitors to Lovefraud have had their lives negatively impacted by sociopaths – we often don’t realize we’ve been snagged by one until it is too late. How can we better protect ourselves and our kids?  I  asked the leading expert:

Wendy: Online dating services have become quite popular. What advice do you have for those getting to know people via online dating? Are there certain warning signs to watch out for?

Dr. Dietz: The only outcomes I ever see from online dating are unsatisfactory, but perhaps that’s just the nature of my work. I’ve heard of some pleasurable hookups by people with reciprocal perversions on unseemly sites, but that’s not useful for most people. It’s difficult enough to judge the character of someone to whom you’re introduced and whose family you know, and it’s impossible to do this with the many liars and posers on dating sites. At a minimum, one should do a criminal background check and avoid anyone who sounds too good to be true. I’d also be suspicious of anyone who seems charming or charismatic. Before being alone with the person, ask to meet a family member or friend. The first time you catch someone in a lie, see a frightening temper flare, or feel pressured to do something you think is wrong, end the relationship.

Wendy: You’ve mentioned in interviews that restraining orders can do more harm than good, often escalating an aggressor’s anger. What advice do you have for someone dealing with a psychopath who is relentlessly tormenting (say, an ex-spouse or a relative)?

Dr. Dietz: The only complete relief requires not being found, and the Internet has made this more difficult than it was in decades past. Short of disappearing, the best resolution most people find is to create safe zones for themselves at home and at work (with pre-planned routes of escape or defensive strategies), safe habits of travel, and avoidance of predictable and vulnerable locations, such as favorite restaurants or shops. Moving across state lines can help, because the federal stalking law has more teeth than any of the state laws.

Wendy: With all the red-tape in school systems as well as the concern for “political correctness” over safety what do you recommend to parents who feel the safety of their children is being compromised? For example, if worrisome behavior is observed in classmates, but nothing is being done about it?

Dr. Dietz: This is all too common. Remember that the schools and the teachers unions are not in business to protect your child. If reasonable requests to the principal and district officials don’t result in your child being separated from danger, you either need to hire a lawyer to make it happen or remove your child from the danger.

Wendy: In my experience, as well as that of many others, attorneys and judges don’t seem to take psychopathy seriously. This seems especially true if the psychopath doesn’t appear intimidating (or is a really good “actor”). If there is a diagnosis of psychopathy on file (or even clinical notes that someone is a threat), why do courts often ignore these warnings?

Dr. Dietz: Neither criminal nor civil law provides tools for protecting anyone from psychopaths until after a felony has been committed. The police, prosecutors, and criminal courts are made up of mostly hard-working and dedicated people trying to do the right thing, but they have no duty to protect people from future harm. Preventive detention is unconstitutional (except in federal court where a showing of dangerousness can be grounds for pretrial detention). The civil law is quite good at recovering money from wealthy bad actors after they rape, maim, or kill you, but it offers only paper-thin preventive measures, such as restraining orders, cease and desist letters, or threats of lawsuits. The two times that a solid diagnosis of psychopathy can actually help protect future victims is in criminal sentencing and in parole hearings, but there, too, it is only effective after at least one felony conviction.

Wendy: You mentioned that psychopathic behavior can be detected as early as age 6. What can parents do who suspect their child may be a psychopath? Are there early preventative measures that can be taken, or is biology stronger than behavior modification?

Dr. Dietz: It would be a lucky and unusual little psychopath who had a parent good enough to care what became of him. Such a parent would probably make the right moves, like providing love, setting limits, and not abusing the child. The goal is to channel his fearlessness and need for excitement into pro-social activities like sports, and to keep him away from alcohol, drugs, and delinquent peers. Fearless children can grow up to be risk-taking good guys, but they need lots of direction. If the child has ADHD, treatment is all the more important, as boys with ADHD are much more likely than other boys to grow up antisocial.

Wendy: You have vast experience in dealing with notorious criminals. You once spent three days analyzing Jeffrey Dahmer (in a room alone with him) and didn’t feel apprehensive at all! But what advice do you have for a layperson who encounters a violent offender? What are some “dos” and “dont’s”?

Dr. Dietz: I was safe with Dahmer, as I wasn’t his type. My only brief advice is this: Avoid such people if you can. Be respectful and get out of the way if you can’t avoid them and they aren’t attacking you. Once you’re under attack, make noise, cause pain, disable, and run. Every school of self-defense emphasizes different approaches and tactics, but what they all have in common is keeping sufficient awareness at all times to avoid being in this situation in the first place. That means not letting anyone into your home that you don’t already know is safe.

Wendy: It seems like psychopathic behavior is becoming more prevalent. Would you say the number of psychopaths in the world is increasing, or does it just seem that way due to extensive media coverage?

Dr. Dietz: There is no scientific evidence of an increased prevalence of psychopaths. I think awareness is increasing and the media, as always, are quick to give them headlines.

Wendy: Speaking of the media, you’ve expressed concern over how the media sensationalizes criminal activity. Do you think psychopaths generally don’t care about violence (and are thus not swayed one way or the other), or do you think these reports are pushing non-violent psychopaths into violence?

Dr. Dietz: My concerns about media coverage aren’t entirely about psychopaths. Coverage of mass murders prompts copycats among depressed, paranoid people, but they aren’t usually or necessarily psychopaths. Media pairing of sex and violence, I fear, makes it more likely that young viewers will learn to find violence against women sexy, and if I’m right about this, the psychopaths among them take this out on unconsenting partners once they reach their teens and early 20s. Media hype about a “new” form of crime teaches even the dumbest of psychopaths a new way to get a thrill, leading to such media-driven fads as product tampering threats (1982-1986), carjacking, and most recently, the “knock-out game.”

Wendy: I am very interested in your TAG program. Can you tell readers more about TAG? What TAG sources are available for individuals who want to learn more about personal safety (particularly for those who are currently in threatening situations, such as domestic violence)?

Dr. Dietz: Threat Assessment Group (TAG) was the first company to specialize in violence prevention. For nearly 30 years, we’ve served the Fortune 500 and occasional universities, schools, celebrities, and families. We’ve just filmed new on-line training materials for corporations, educational institutions, and government agencies and departments. If these are successful when we launch them later this year, we’ll look at creating affordable on-line training for individuals. Our next project is child sexual abuse prevention for large organizations.

 



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19 Comments on "Q & A With Forensic Psychiatrist Dr. Park Dietz"

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Wendy – this is a fascinating interview. Thank you so much.

Dr. Dietz points out that civil and criminal law does not protect people from what could happen – the law only reacts after something has happened. This is a really scary concept.

I think that one place where this needs to change is in family court. When there is evidence that a psychopathic parent will harm a child, it should be acted upon.

Wendy,

Thank you for bringing this interview to LF! Even if many of the things Dr. Deitz has to report are not uplifting or how I would want them to be, it is still heartening to see someone who has concrete knowledge, is well respected, and is willing to share his findings and advice with other’s.

I especially appreciated your question about whether there are more psychopaths in the world. I am of the same mind as the Dr. I don’t think there are. I think that any of us who have been targeted and abused now SEE the psychopaths (like buying a brand of car, and then you notice everyone else who drives that car. It could make you think there are more of them. But, likely, it is more a matter of ‘attention’). I also believe that the media has greatly increased their coverage of psychopaths, and their crimes- creating more interest in the general public, and more debate over the nature of psychopaths, etc….And there is the simple math of the thing. The more the population of the world increases, the greater the actual # of disordered individuals there will be percentage wise. We live in a closed system, and the more we procreate, the more of them there will be. But it is unlikely that the total percentage of pp’s is increasing.

Someone from another site has said time and again that pp’s have always existed and probably always will. It seems, for humans, that this is one of our ‘diseases’ to bear. Perhaps there is some spiritual aspect to this that evades me, and we are potentially going to evolve past the point of producing these types, but for now the reality is humans suffer from the production of disordered personalities, and as you read literature it appears we always have. All great works make reference to them.

The vast majority of human tragedies can most certainly be laid at the feet of individual psychopaths and the people they coerce to carry out their plans. Sigh….

Slimone, I rspectfully disagree with your conclusion that psychotics are not increasing in numbers. Our current society rewards and applauds an increasingly mercenary goal as opposed to the moral code we were raised with. We venerate politicians, “stars”, CEO’s, lawyers, financial gurus…anyone having unrealistic power. This was never true in my parent’s age when certain professions were held in high regard simply because these people were “honorable”. Our present day society values the traits inherrent in psychopaths, I sadly believe.

Flika,

You might be right. Neither of us actually has any real idea, huh? The statistics still point to a %, based on total population.

I have no idea if cultural influence increases the # of psychopaths (psychotics being a completely different diagnosis, as far as I understand it).

But it certainly could.

I agree it is sad that we value psychopaths more, I just don’t know if that increases their #’s, or just brings them into our awareness, and onto our TV screens.

Hi Hoping,

After my 13 year relationship ended (mutually, and with respect) I did online dating. Ooops! Didn’t know what a pit of vipers and posers I would eventually date.

All 4 men I met online were flat out disordered. Two covert, and 2 overt.

The first I ended up calling ‘angry man’. He was gone in a few months. Easy call as he was a totally angry, abusive, grandiose, loud mouthed weener. He left me exhausted, but ‘determined’ to find a date (sigh…I needed to heal, but was in ‘find a new man’ mode since seperating from 13 year partner).

The second was a quiet/covert buddhist, who when I told him I wasn’t going to see or have sex him called the police and told them I was a prostitute, and that was why he was stalking me, to get his $ back, because I didn’t ‘deliver’. This guy was gone after our second date.

The third was the one that ‘did me in’, and started my head spinning. He was also pretty overt. Loud, bragging, charismatic, fearless, handsome as all get out, free-wheeling, rebellious, life of the party, sexually deviant, obnoxious narcissist. But, he was the smartest and best at his con job. He lasted about 9 months. Left me financially tight, severly depressed, underweight, and isolated.

The fourth was a caregiver for handicapped adults, and a volunteer for the elderly. He was educated, kind, intelligent, quiet, and ‘humble’. I saw him for about 3-4 months. He called ME a sociopath after I told him I didn’t think we were compatible, and that I could be only friends. He then proceeded to stalk me for nearly two years.

But wait! Here’s the good news….in every single case I knew something was wrong. By the 4th guy (in about 2 years) I was able, even though he was so ‘hidden’ and covert, to listen to my own reactions and gut feelings about him and IGNORE his exterior presentation. I KNEW he was off and I didn’t give him one more second of my attention, or let it drag on. I did learn to listen to my own warning system, and strip away the ‘props’ he had around him.

I said this in another post, if we feel anxious, insecure, conflicted, by turns hopeful and then confused or desperate, or have niggling feelings of doubt, then we should disengage.

In every one of the situations I had these feelings. But it was only after I knew about personality disorders (after the 3rd guy) that I had the courage to apply my knowledge and trust my GUT. I quit listening, and looking at the external stage props, and started paying attention to my discomfort.

Slimone,

First, how scary is it that there are so many psychos out there? It sure makes me apprehensive of dating once the time comes.

I’m taking in so much info here. I feel like I double my knowledge with each story I read. I knew little about Covert and Overt behavior as it applies to Spath but your examples are very helpful. So basically, these guys/gals are coming at you full force or are sly and appear soft and kind. How does anyone ever know who is genuine. Looking back over my life, I’m a sucker for the charmer. I must take your advise and look at actions, compare them to words and LISTEN TO MY INTERNAL VOICE. I always doubt myself. I can see how I was taught to do this to play his game. Thanks for sharing your stories so I can have a real life example of what the wolves look like.

I had a gut reaction but I didn’t know what it meant.

One of the lessons I learned from therapy is that I am so quick to condemn myself (typical of abused children). Instead of twisting myself into a pretzel wondering what I did wrong whenever there was a disconnect, I try to remember there is likely something wrong with THEM, and to give myself grace. Decent people don’t play guessing games.

Hoping(and is already)ToHeal and Not(the slightest bit!)WhatHeSaid..,

There are a ton (IMO) of disordered folks on the internet. Especially these dating sites. I was on PlentyofFish, Craig’s List, and Match. Met them on every one of these sites. Doesn’t matter.

I mean what better place to hide? What better place to fabricate, use words as bait, and to conceal your true intentions?

And, I can SO relate to always thinking ‘It must be me’. I was conditioned through a difficult childhood to read adults and adjust my every behavior to make them happy, and ‘maybe’ get my needs met, or avoid abuse. So I was ripe for these take-charge types. I saw them as I did my early primary caretakers, and that ‘little’ part of me responded, they felt so familiar to me.

And even if they are quiet and ‘kind’, you’ll notice they are still in charge, and don’t allow for too much input from other’s. Control and power are shared desires, no matter what their outward presentation.

Even when you thought you were making mutual decisions, they were manipulating information and logisitics to push any situation in their favor.

It is absolutely imperative, and also seems like THE most impossible thing in the world to do when you’ve been so self doubting, to trust your gift to ‘sense’ when something or someone is off.

De Becker talks about intuition as not being some New Age idea, but rather a kind of logic that happens with such speed that you cannot (upon first inspection) understand why you have felt, or come to a conclusion about someone/something. But, he says, if he interviews people who have been targeted, or victims of a crime, they can eventually piece together bits and pieces of rapid fire information they ‘took in’, before they got that gut feeling that they needed to run.

It isn’t self-esteem, I don’t think. It is a willingness to USE our gut feelings, and see how WELL they work that builds our confidence, and allows us to pay more and more attention. We have to practice something that may not feel natural, especially if we had it knocked out of us as kids.

Slimone, what a great post(s)!
I love this:
“It isn’t self-esteem, I don’t think. It is a willingness to USE our gut feelings, and see how WELL they work that builds our confidence, and allows us to pay more and more attention. We have to practice something that may not feel natural, especially if we had it knocked out of us as kids.”

🙂

Platinum,

For some reason my work PC will not open the ‘Remorse’ blog article. Must be some words or something are tripping my firewall. I don’t know. So, I cannot see your post, but I am glad to ‘see’ you. I can see you say you have been reading a pondering. Good.

If you want to repost….I can open this blog article.

Take care, Slim

The worst are the ‘religious’ ones, I think anyway. I worked with Little Miss Born-Again who gave me a very hard time. She acknowledged (indirectly) that she had been a thieve…
I brought her down from her tree. I coaxed her and asked her to do things with me. It worked like a charm!
She helped me move into my new home…we went to cat shows…we frequented ‘tea rooms’…we went swimming and cooked together.

Sometimes it can be! She just needed more confidence and a true friend, which apparently she never had.

Divorced from Gaslighter

IMO, lots of decent people try to use eHarmony, etc., but the normal people are likely to find another normal person and make a lasting relationship with that person, while the disordered people are dating multiple people at the same time, and having serial relationships as well. Many of the the disordered people can’t keep a relationship going for more than a few years and a lot of them go through a number of very short term relationships in between their longer relationships.

On an internet dating site, there will be lots of “normals” as well as lots of “abnormals”. The difference is that the abnormals are looking for somebody most of their adult life, while the normals pair up and drop out of the dating market. Even when my ex husband was married to each of his three wives, or engaged to a fiancee, he was still “looking.”

You have to be very careful no matter how you are meeting people.

Regarding Dating Sites: Yes, there are a lot of people there that have ‘issues’, some of them because it is inherent in their personalities, and some because they’ve been USED by a Spath at some point. Learning to ‘spot’ someone with them is a real problem, but it can be done.

If you begin chatting with someone, pay attention to how they answer your questions. LISTEN with your intuition, your ‘gut’ to what they say. If you don’t understand – ASK them to clarify – use the tried and true communication skills of ‘repeat the statement/question as YOU understand it’ and look for the clues in their response. If you continuously hear “I don’t know” or “I don’t know how to explain” that”, then make a mental note that there is something not ‘right’ about it. If the person is overly intent on having your attention, gets jealous of you on the site, makes blanket statements about the nature of their “intended spouse”, spends an inordinate amount of time describing all the horrible things that have been “done” to them by others, makes statements that contradict things they’ve told you before, expects you to ‘do for them’ but rarely shows the same things in return, denies things they’ve said (even if you have it recorded!) or done when it’s obvious they did it/said it; can’t remember ‘where’ or ‘when’ or from ‘whom’ they acquired properties…..

LISTENING is very important – and that means in written word as well as spoken words – from them or from your own mind. Your subconscious mind will pick up on things your consciousness mind does not. When you feel those nagging feelings inside you, they are telling you something you need to be aware of, PAY ATTENTION!

Many Spath’s have the ability to test your convictions in ways that may not be obvious, be aware of how well you can stick to your own beliefs and where you are vulnerable to having your ideas ‘warped’ by them. Remember that you have survived this world by yourself – without them – and you can do so again without their ‘help’. Count on your own abilities, and do not trust that they have your best interest in mind, unless you see consistent behaviors that they have both your interests in mind (not just what they want).

When you realize that you’re dealing with a Spath, look for ways to extricate yourself that won’t set off their ‘alarms’ that you’re ‘getting away.’ If you can’t get away immediately, then you can enlist friends and family to give you ‘excuses’ not to see them – family things that you MUST do. If you find that they are persistent in their endeavors to invade your life while on the site, you can report them, and block them. Be VERY CAREFUL ABOUT GIVING OUT PERSONAL INFORMATION THAT MAY IDENTIFY WHERE YOU LIVE, WHO LIVES WITH YOU, PRIVATE EMAILS OR TELEPHONE NUMBERS! The more you give them to find you – the easier it will be for them to stalk you or cause other issues in your life.

Try to find out as much about them as possible. There are plenty of sites to do a “people search” and get the lowdown on their background. You don’t need SSN’s to find out, just their name and the area they live in. You can learn about criminal behaviors, court cases, restraining orders, financial status, etc. Before you commit to giving out your own personal data, get theirs!

It is horrible that we have to be so conscientious about learning about someone before we even give them a chance, but I’ve learned that it is much better to be ‘safe’ than ‘sorry’ as so many of us are.

Knowledge is power – use it wisely!

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