Don’t Jump The Gun On Diagnosing The Arizona Shooter

Maybe that was an infelicitous expression, in light of the shooting in Arizona, but less infelicitous than some of the off-the-cuff, armchair diagnoses from my colleague psychologists.

And I’ll throw myself about the mercy of the court of public opinion by pointing towards the attention-getting quality of “Don’t jump the gun.” In the end, the primary point of our media would be to grab attention, and depend on psychologists to be helpful and willing fools.

After i looked at the alleged shooter’s You Tube postings, I predicted to myself that somebody is going to publicly diagnoses Jared Loughner as a paranoid schizophrenic, and, certain enough, only hours following the shooting, I read this in Andrew Sullivan’s blog, “The Daily Dish,” from the Atlantic:

“I’m a licensed psychologist with 20 years experience. I’ve watched the Jared Loughner Youtube videos. They reveal evidence of delusions of persecution. Loughner’s less than coherent language also suggests a proper thought disorder. While Loughner can not be diagnosed without a full exam conducted personally, you can find substantial indications within the videos that he suffers from a psychotic disorder.

“I would not rule out drugs as a factor, but he is within the age range that psychotic patients typically suffer their very first psychotic break. If I had to guess, I’d go with paranoid schizophrenia. If that’s the case, his politics are irrelevant. He might not even be fit to stand trial unless and until his psychotic thinking is brought in check with medication.”

Sure, she or he pays lip service to the concept that an in-person exam is required for any diagnosis, but this does not prevent a full-blown diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. As an aside, this leaves the reality that schizophrenics in general, as well as paranoid schizophrenics in particular are too disorganized to organize premeditated, multi-step acts of violence. Actually, paranoid schizophrenics tend to isolate themselves and more likely grow to be violent when they feel their personal space has been violated. They don’t go out looking for trouble.

Sullivan’s psychologist is not alone. Google “Loughner and schizophrenia,” or “Loughner and diagnosis, and you’ll see the ubiquity of this sort of armchair exercise.

But many studies conclude that substance abuse, which Sullivan’s psychologist does mention, is more likely to be associated with violence, whether or not there’s schizophrenia or not.

Paranoia is much more likely to lead to violence as a personality trait of a extra organized individual–what we call a personality disorder. Stalin, for example, was really paranoid, especially violent. Unfortunately, he’d the means to eliminate any perceived or actual enemy. Throughout the period while he purged and liquidated millions, he would obsessively doodle pictures of wolves in aggressive poses. But no examination of his life and writings could conclude that he had schizophrenia. Someone with schizophrenia would not be organized sufficient to plot and outmaneuver Trotsky, consolidate power, and defeat the Germans in World War II.

What does the American Psychologist Association’s Code of Ethics say?

“When psychologists provide public guidance or comment via print, Web, or other electronic transmission, they take precautions to ensure statements are based on their professional understanding, training, or experience in accord with suitable psychological literature and exercise; are otherwise consistent with this Ethics Code; and do not indicate that the professional relationship has been established using the recipient.”

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