Three Thinking Errors in the Criminal Mind and How They Can Be Changed
The two volume book entitled The Criminal Personality was based on the study conducted by Samuel Yochelson, Ph.D, M.D. and Stanton E. Samenow Ph.D.. D. and explores how to change the thinking of the criminal and how to teach him to critique his own behavior. The criminal probably possess the most malicious personality disorder of those described in the DSM-IV--the antisocial personality disorder. Generally an antisocial personality is selfish and self-centered showing little interest in the welfare of others. There are several thinking errors that cause an antisocial personality to become a criminal personality. He believes he is a good person and outside factors have made him a victim. Three of these errors are lack of sensitization to injuring others, a sense of obligation, and a sense of ownership.
1. Lack of sensitization to injuring others—It is common to hear a criminal say “I didn’t hurt anybody.” By this he means he didn’t kill anyone or leave anyone bleeding or in the hospital. In extreme cases he may even believe that if the victim recovered from the injury, there was no damage done. He will consider that emotional harm or financial cost doesn’t count as damage, and everyone should overlook or forgive them.
2. Sense of Obligation—People who are responsible and not characterized as antisocial or criminal recognize an obligation to behave lawfully and contribute to family and social order. People who exhibit a criminal personality will accept an obligation when they see a benefit to themselves or in the preparation for some kind of scam. In the mind of the criminal or the severe antisocial personality the good they do obligates others to them. They never see or accept the claim of family or society on them to behave responsibly.
3. Sense of Ownership—To most of us ownership is the result of struggle and we take pride because of our work or effort. A car, a house, a degree, or a friend represents an investment of time and labor. To the criminal personality these represent what he should have. Working for a reward is not his idea of justice. He wants the reward without extreme effort just because he believes it should be his.
It is easy to understand how a combination of these and other thinking errors create in the criminal mind the justification for his behavior. Yokelson and Samenow’s work uses a group counseling setting and a phenomenological approach in which the criminal keeps a diary and is tutored to analyze his thinking and behavior daily to reshape his thought patterns. The participants must be challenged by the therapist and other group members until he adopts voluntarily the socially acceptable and responsible criteria for behavior. It is a long, tedious process and requires a motivated participant. Without the constant reminders from the group counseling and personal diary, the criminal reverts to his natural thinking patterns. This approach appears to be the most successful of the psychological approaches that have been tried.
For further information see Three Thinking Errors and the Phenominalogical Approach