Having been blessed to provide supervision to a multitude of provisional and intern psychologists over the course of my career it came to me recently the degree of impact that this can have on an individual’s life over the course of their career. I had an intern come to me a while ago and ask, “What do I do with this”? “This” was a significant disclosure from a clinical assessment in relation to a patient’s behavior and what clearly amounted to an extremely inappropriate activity. After processing this for a few moments, I informed my intern that she would need to find a dark recessed corner within her mind where she would be able to place this and all the future incidences that would come to her over the course of her career. Of course, in part I was joking about the need to place this incident in the dark recesses of her mind. She will need to find competent and trusted colleagues to be able to have these kinds of discussions. Additionally she may benefit from finding someone who she can appropriately express dark humor with; some clinicians find this a useful means of dealing with these travesties. The key is to ensure that all of these events do not negatively influence our ability to practice a professional and competent unbiased skill. We also need to be diligent not to become victims to PTSD ourselves. In the end, we accumulate a vast number of negative pieces of information that we are unable to disclose at a general level and we must find a way to separate these from the “normal” human condition.
As psychologists, we are in the trenches of emotional and mental warfare at times; an occupational hazard of sorts. Over the course of a 20 or 30-year career in this field an individual can accumulate a fairly significant number of these kinds of disclosed difficulties. Many of these were instances that did not meet the requirements for confidentiality breaches and yet these were horrendous behaviours. Examples of these over my career have included things done to children (the worst in my experience), the horrors of suicide, relational indiscretions and abuses, instances of physical and sexual abuses, and finally what I would class as general psychopathic activities acted out upon others.
It is believed that a portion of our population experiences psychopathy; some research estimates place this at 1 out of every 25 people. After close to 30yrs in this field I believe this number to be increasing based upon the sheer number of “events” that are disclosed to me on a regular basis. You see, psychopaths have no conscience, so no ability to experience typical emotions of guilt or accountability like the rest of us. This characterlogical flaw leaves them impermeable to “feeling badly” for others that they hurt or damage. These people simply go through the world with a wake of devastation left behind. For more information on this topic see previous newsletters within our site. Beyond psychopathy there additionally appears to be a deeper level of destruction that exists in our world; for lack of a better word, I would call this “evil”. Having assessed psychopaths and even worked with a few over the course of my lifetime, this is different. This is the kind of information that can make even a seasoned psychologist take note and feel uneasy with what they are hearing or seeing. Unfortunately, as a society this also appears to be on the rise based upon the frequency of this kind of reported trauma.
In the end, all psychologists need to find healthy and appropriate means to address the darker side of human behaviour to remain effective.