Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mike Nova: Breivik Trial and The Crisis Of Psychiatry As A Science

Mike Nova

Breivik Trial and The Crisis Of Psychiatry As A Science

Breivik is not the only one who is on this trial. Psychiatry as a science is on this trial also, just like on many other trials where forensic psychiatric involvement is sought. This is highlighted by the two contradictory psychiatric assessments of the accused, with their directly opposing diagnostic impressions and directly conflicting main general conclusions. The first forensic psychiatric evaluation, completed on November 29, 2011 by the psychiatrists Torgeir Husby and Synne Sørheim found Breivik to be "paranoid schizophrenic" and "psychotic" at the time of the alleged crime and presently and therefore legally "insane". A leaked copy of the initial psychiatric examination described his crusader fantasy as a product of the "bizarre, grandiose delusions" of a sick mind.
The second evaluation, about 300 pages long, made by the psychiatrists Terje Toerrissen and Agnar Aspaas on a request from the court after widespread criticism of the first one, was completed on April 10, 2012, just six days before the trial, but was not released, and according to the leaked information, found him afflicted with "narcissistic personality disorder" with "grandiose self" and not psychotic at the time of the alleged crime and presently and therefore legally "sane". 
The latest psychiatric report was confidential, but national broadcaster NRK and other Norwegian media who claimed to have seen its conclusions said it described Breivik as narcissistic but not psychotic.
Torgensen gets the impression that Breivik found an ideal place to nourish his delusions of grandeur in the anti-Islamic scene full of crusader fantasies. “This was coupled with an extremely sadistic disorder,” Torgensen says. “This disastrous combination could explain the scale of his violence.”
The new report from forensic psychiatrists Terje Tørrissen and Agnar Aspaas concludes that he did not have “significantly weakened capacity for realistic evaluation of his relations with the outside world, and did not act under severely impaired consciousness”.
"Our conclusion is that he (was) not psychotic at the time of the actions of terrorism and he is not psychotic now," Terje Toerrissen, one of the psychiatrists who examined Breivik in prison, told The Associated Press.
Thus, as it almost always happens in complex forensic psychiatric cases, it was left for the infinite wisdom and common sense of the court, unburdened by the "sophisticated" and empty psychiatric jargon, to decide by itself, and rightly so, the "main questions" of the accused's mental illness or mental health and his "sanity" or "insanity" and to make its own, judicial decision regarding the issue of legal responsibility. Both mutually conflicting (but not mutually exclusive) forensic psychiatric evaluations, which, no doubt, were performed in good faith and with utmost professional diligence, will be taken into account by the court, but were rendered almost irrelevant by their contradictions. Once again, psychiatry, pretending to be a medical discipline and a science, was humiliated and reduced to the position of a laughing stock for the public and the media.
Mr. Breivik's skillful and astute lead defense lawyer, Mr. Geri Lippestad, treating his client with respect and at the same time with appropriate professional distance and apparently convinced of his client's mental illness and "insanity", chose a strategy of presenting Mr. Breivik to the court and to the public "as is", letting him to reveal himself and his presumed mental illness fully as the engine of alleged criminal behavior, apparently counting that it will be convincing enough for both the judges and for the court of public opinion.
“This whole case indicated that he is insane,” Geir Lippestad told reporters. “He looks upon himself as a warrior. He starts this war and takes some kind of pride in that,” Lippestad said. Lippestad said Breivik had used “some kind of drugs” before the crime to keep strong and awake, and was surprised he had not been killed during the attacks or en route to Monday’s court hearing.
Lippestad, a member of the Labour party whose youth wing had been the target of Friday’s shooting rampage, said he would quit if Breivik did not agree to psychological tests.
Geir Lippestad said the new report means Breivik's testimony will be crucial "when the judges decide whether he is insane or not." The trial started on April 16 and is scheduled to last 10 weeks.
Mr. Breivik declared himself undoubtedly and completely "sane" and consistently, if somewhat eerily out of place and time, painted a self-portrait as a model and self-sacrificing ideological warrior, taking as an insult any, albeit "professional" opinions otherwise and dismissed them with anger and indignation.
“On this day,” he said, “I was waging a one-man war against all the regimes of Western Europe. I felt traumatized every second that blood and brains were spurting out. War is hell.”
"Breivik told the court that "ridiculous" lies had been told about him, rattling off a list which accused him of being a narcissist who was obsessed with the red jumper he wore to his first court hearing, of having a "bacterial phobia", "an incestuous relationship with my mother", "of being a child killer despite no one who died on Utoya being under 14".
He was not insane, he repeated many times. He claimed it was Norway's politicians who should be locked up in the sort of mental institution he can expect to spend the rest of his days if the court declares him criminally insane at the end of the ten-week trial. He said: "They expect us to applaud our ethnic and cultural doom... They should be characterised as insane, not me. Why is this the real insanity? This is the real insanity because it is not rational to work to deconstruct ones own ethnic group, culture and religion."
All this is fine and dandy, and, no doubt, the aforementioned infinite wisdom of Scandinavian level headed justice (embodied in a stern but motherly demeanor of the presiding Judge Wenche Elisabeth Arntzen) will eventually emanate from its somewhat obscure, slowly but surely turning and unstoppable wheels, hopefully to almost every one's satisfaction. And eventually, this horrendous crime, the purp and the trial will be almost forgotten and placed into archives for further studies.
But the nagging questions remain and will remain for some, and probably a long time: is psychiatry really a science? Or is it just a collection of "professional" opinions, mixed with convenient labels and outdated jargon? What is "sane" and what is "insane"? And how far should the justice go in its modern "humane" stance?

"Grete Faremo, Norway’s justice minister, has said that it plans to establish a committee to examine the role of forensic psychiatrists. She told Norwegian daily Aftenposten on April 13 the committee would have a “broad mandate” that would examine three key questions: What is sanity? What is the role of the forensic psychiatrist? And how do we take care of security when an insane man is sentenced?
“Much suggests that the medical principle is inadequate,” said Faremo. “It is a historic step we are now taking. It is an important step in light of the terrible incident and the trial we face and in consideration of people's sense of justice.”
“This is a big thing,” says Abrahamsen. “If it hadn’t been for Breivik, we wouldn’t have discussed this.”

References and Links

Psychiatry May Also Face Scrutiny at Norway Killer's Trial -

Breivik trial: Norwegians rethink role of psychiatry in courts -

Breivik Trial and The Crisis Of Psychiatry As Science - Links

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