The Devil You Know

A middle aged man chooses to lure out young boys, abuse them and murder them.

An immigrant man stabs another person and is jailed for murder.

A woman attempted to murder her man, and is jailed for premeditated murder.

A man with no previous history of violence strangulates another woman and kills her.

A 19 year old young woman kills another man and is jailed for life.

A woman commits arson in an attempt to end the lives of the ones she hates.

A father commits sexual abuse to his own two sons.

A woman who attempts to stalk her own therapist with an intent to kill him.

A man who killed his own father.

A man who is addicted to child pornography is in jail.

All of the above mentioned people are real life people who have commited the horrible crimes. They are in jail, or have been in jail for years before being let out. They are all being treated by a forensic psychotherapist Dr. Gwen Adshead.

One of the reason why I picked up this book was the fact that in July, we had a horrible murder incident happening in Islamabad, Pakistan. The man, Zahir Jaffer, murdered his female Noor Mukaddam, by torturing her for hours, killing her and ultimately beaheading her. What I couldn’t get my head around was how could such a privileged man, who had access to the world’s best treatments, could end up murdering and beheading another woman!? At the tiem of his arrest, he was deemed perfectly sane and mentally stable. How could such a man behead another woman is something I still cannot understand?

What goes on in their minds? Where do they get the strength to murder someone? Are they in their senses when they behead someone? Or for that matter, what goes in the mind of a father who sexually abuses his own sons? What is going in the mind of a man who kills his own father?

All these concerns and questions that arise out of curiosity are answered in this book, and a whole lot more.

Dr. Gwen chronicles her own career progress as she moves from one client to next. She talks about her own training experiences, and in the more interesting parts of the book, her experience as a therapist sitting in front of these who are murderers. It’s a daunting situation to be in, but thankfully, Dr. Gwen through her eyes of compassion and unconditional positive regard for these people, allows us to see them for the human beings they are.

She does it make clear that she cannnot justify the act of murder itself, which should be punishable, but she does challenge us to look at these people with compassion for they are entitled to a life like any other person once they are released from prison after serving their sentence.

The major highlights for me in the book was how Dr. Gwen was able to dive deep into the minds of these people. There is almost always some explanation why these people act out this way: childhood neglect, abandonment, social isolation, being misunderstood, no sense of belonging, narcissism, insecure attachment among a myriad of other conditions. Each of the case studies delves into the factors that lead these men and women to kill. It shines an important light on how important it is to give our children that safe space to be themselves, to not neglect them, and to lead by example the kind of people who are upstanding citizens.

As a psychotherapist myself, I really picked up a lot on the skills Dr. Gwen employs in her work: attunement, silent moments, attachments, eye contact, questioning and so on. The importance of body language, the words therapists say, the presences, the rupture are all talked about here. She does make mistakes as well but is quick to learn on the job. Dr. Gwen has the additional advantage of being a psychiatrist and so she is the ideal person to work with such men and women.

At the end of it all, while there is no way we can justify murderers or let them off the hook, we can always look at them for the human beings they are; they too have a heart. It’s a very complexed and complicated thought process but certainly my mind has been changed in trying to get past the outer surface of the angry murderer to see that scared little child who acted out. There is hope that even the hardest of hard violent offenders can change their lives, with lots of patience and love and if they are given the proper kind of support.

I may not completely understand the mind of a murderer. There is a lot that is happening in their minds and bodies. Their past experiences is what brings them to this point. My therapist has told me that no one just flips one day and decide to murder; it is often something that has been harbouring in them that leads them to this point.

So while I may not understand the mindset of a murderer, I still want to have hope; hope that if given timely support, we can prevent such acts and hope that people can change their lives for the better.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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