6. Profiles for Aggression/ Violent Beh - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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6. Profiles for Aggression/ Violent Beh

Therapist Resources > Therapy Books > How Dangerous

 How Dangerous is this Person? Assessing Danger & Violence Potential Before Tragedy Strikes

An individual’s potential for aggression or violence can be assessed based on these seventeen criteria.  The aggression, abuse, or violence may be verbal, emotional, and psychological.  It may be passive-aggressive or overtly aggressive.  The aggression or violence may be physical intimidation, physical assault, or fatal.  It may be targeted at a specific known individual, strangers, particular groups of people or a nebulous group of “them,” oneself, or the world at large.  Cho or Jim or a client or someone else that the therapist or professional suspects may be prone to violence can be scrutinized based on these seventeen characteristics.  Each characteristic implies issues for the individual and helps the therapist or professional determine how to intervene with him or her.  They suggest what will or what will not work well or whether the individual is more or less amenable to intervention.  

The criteria manifest in certain combinations that indicate the core etiology of nine types or sources of violent or aggressive behaviors.  Each of the nine types of violent or aggressive behavior has a distinctive profile of the seventeen criteria or elements.  The therapist or professional should learn how each of the seventeen criteria applies to these nine types or profiles of violent or aggressive behaviors.  The nine profiles are recognized in social and mental health conceptualizations.  The therapist can recognize some profiles as mental health disorders, although they use different diagnostic criteria and/or terminology from that of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders used by mental health professionals. The therapist may have opinions that differ with other professionals on the relevance of or how to apply these criteria to a type of violence or the profile of an individual, disorder, or issue.  Or, the therapist may differ in how he or she considers or uses the DSM diagnostic theory and perspectives.  Nevertheless, as the therapist or professional examines a client or other individual for danger potential, including suicide, homicide, domestic violence, elder abuse, or child abuse, using this process should conceptually confirm much of the therapist or professional’s clinical instincts and/or conceptual knowledge.  The therapist or professional often does very good work based on his or her instincts.  However, if it is good work, it also is conceptually sound work.  As the therapist or professional identifies the conceptual foundations to his or her instincts, the therapist or professional often goes from good to great work.  Most people are reactive or triggered by some provocative experience or information with a potentially problematic person.   Comparable ironically to the emotional reactivity underlying certain types of violence, the therapist or professional is triggered as much as another person.   Further ironic, is that proactive abuse intentionally committed for a targeted gain is comparable to therapeutic proactive interventions aimed at specific issues with a clear purpose.  

Instinctive responses are reactive.  Instinctive therapy, for example is largely clinically reactive.  The response or intervention may be appropriate and effective, but it is often unplanned and often conceptually vague in the moment.  The therapist or professional, much like any other person may be “winging it.”  However with conceptual clarity, most people including especially the therapist or professional can be proactive using clear principles and sound theory.  Interventions or treatment can be planned based on sound theoretical assessment and foundations.  They can be contemplated and adjusted based first on understanding the quality and type of aggression or violence, and then on the characterological pattern of the abuser.  With conceptual clarity and resultant theoretical direction, instincts remain important primarily at the interactive inter-relational discourse among the therapist or professional and the client or individual of concern.  When the therapist or professional has the first inkling- that is, instinct of potential, current, or past violence or abuse by one or more persons, conceptual clarity of various profiles of criteria of violence or abuse styles or abuser/batters/perpetrators guides further clinical and professional inquiry.  The therapist or professional actively investigates for additional criteria suggested by a suspected relevant profile to confirm or disconfirm potential diagnosis of aggression or violence styles.  Or, if aggression or violence is confirmed, the therapist or professional can further assess for the type, intensity, volatility, and harm/injury potential of the aggression or violence.  The outcome of the therapeutic or professional review would direct subsequent treatment, therapy, and/or interventions to treat or as the case may be, to protect a partner, child, or other endangered individual.  Therapeutic or professional assessment becomes especially important when there is a potential for violence by or to an individual under care or who is the object of attention or concern.  

The first legal and ethical responsibility of a therapist or professional is the safety of the client and the safety of others in the community.  The threat of harm to others, suicide, child abuse, elder abuse, and domestic violence constitute fundamental legal and ethical requirements for all mental health and other professionals.  The first assessment of violence or danger potential serves the mandate for action regarding that first responsibility.  Subsequent assessments for the therapist for example, serve therapeutic responsibility to address the client’s emotional and psychology process.  For another professional, other responsibilities follow depending on the professional’s mandated or contracted role.  Whether or not the therapist operates clinically using DSM terminology and diagnoses or the professional operate from other diagnostic traditions, assessing for and addressing relevant criteria or elements can serve to direct the therapist or professional attention.

For example, the violence potential of one adolescent gangbanger Jake versus another gangbanger Chuck can be differentiated based on considering the motivation for violence.  One individual's potential aggression- Jake’s may come from the cultural framework of the gang.  The gang commandment is to drive all “scraps” out of the hood.  While the commitment to gang principles and desire to protect the neighborhood is impassioned, there may be little or no personal satisfaction in hurting or killing a rival banger.  Jake may be no personal animosity or grievance against the unknown individual.  On the other hand in Chuck, another gangbanger’s significantly greater potential for violence and danger to individuals and society may come from a sociopathic energy that exists with or without the cultural validation or framework of the gang.  In the intimate partner situation, a reactive batterer may be triggered by jealousy because the partner has given real or imagined attention to a potential romantic rival.  In a similar situation but with important differences, another individual with sociopathic qualities activates when the partner is attracted to another person.  The reaction comes not from fear of loss of intimacy or attachment, but from anticipating loss of power and control over the partner.  For the first gangbanger Jake, once the “scrap” is out of the hood, aggressive or violent tendencies would tend to subside.  The trigger has been removed.  For Jake, who can also have reactive initial and immediate waves of jealousy when threatened with the loss of his partner, he would be more likely to be soothed by reassurances of commitment and fidelity.  Once again, aggressive or violent tendencies would also tend to subside.  For the second gangbanger Chuck, if there is no “scrap” to aggress violently against with the cultural sanction of the gang, Chuck may opt for intimidating or assaulting a fellow gang member to satisfy violent controlling energy needs.  Moreover, Chuck despite no evidence of abandonment, he will still do things to control, intimidate, and exploit his partner to satisfy sociopathic needs.  Differentiating criteria for the sociopath whether a partner in a relationship, a gangbanger, criminal, police officer, politician, or businessperson would be:

a) lack of remorse,
b) pleasure in the violent behavior,
c) absence of intense emotional arousal,
d) ego-syntonic nature of the behavior,
e) lack of resentment fueling the behavior,
f) opportunistic nature of getting away with the behavior,
g) disinterest in social sanctions,
h) characterlogical nature of the behavior

Given the psychological profile of the sociopath, emphasizing or creating significant negative consequences for the violent behavior would probably be the most effective approach for change.  The sociopathic gangbanger such as Chuck or mob hit man, and therefore the proactive sociopathic batterer will be most concerned with getting caught and punished.  Punishment can be incarceration or termination of the relationship and associated benefits for example.  Appealing to remorse that is non-existent in sociopaths (Chuck has no remorse or empathy) would be largely to completely ineffective, among many other approaches other antisocial characteristics advise against.  However, for the gangbanger such as Jake or batterer who may be asked to or does engage in aggressive behavior primarily, for example because of the culture of the gang or rigidly internalized patriarchal values, the differentiating criteria or elements would be

a) potential functional gain or loss in self-esteem and social status within the gang or partnership for the violent behavior,
b) need to arouse intense anger in order to be violent,
c) lack of motivating resentment against a target,
d) displeasure in the act,
e) ego-dystonic experience
f) remorse for harming someone.

For this gangbanger Jake or partner, challenging the cruelty of the act, the dystonic identity of being a violent person, the gangbanger’s or partner’s remorse from harming someone, while also addressing and offering alternatives to gain self-esteem and status would be more effective therapeutically.  This approach would have little or no effect on the sociopathic gangbanger Chuck or batterer.  This assessment process cannot absolutely ensure the therapist or professional’s accurate assessment about a person’s potential for violence.  Nevertheless, the therapist or professional remains responsible to be as discerning as he or she can be.  Applying these criteria to other persons could provide diagnoses, assessment for violence potential, and direct treatment differentially.   And, give the therapist or professional greater confidence for professional judgments.  A layperson however concerned may lack sufficient knowledge and experience to diagnose this accurately, and is well advised to seek professional expert consultation or refer concerns to appropriate professionals.

3056 Castro Valley Blvd., #82
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT32136
office: (510) 582-5788
fax: (510) 889-6553
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