Recently I’ve been asked an interesting, yet chilling question. A kind person who reads my weekly blog sent me a message asking if neurofeedback therapy could help rehabilitate serial killers, helping them live normal productive lives, being a danger to no one in society. So of course, this got me thinking. Can neurofeedback therapy help rehabilitate serial killers?
First of all, did you know there are two types of killers? Those who’ve been diagnosed by Psychologist as having a personality disorder called Psychopath (like serial killer Ted Bundy) and those who’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness called Psychosis (think Norman Bates the character from Psycho). Psychopaths use a mixture of charm, manipulation and intimidation to control others. People suffering from psychosis lose all sense of reality and suffer from delusions. The two types of killers generally share certain traits, but the difference is that Psychopaths know right from wrong, but has no empathy or remorse for their victims/actions. It’s as if this type of killer is addicted to killing and feels empowered by torturing and killing its victims.
Several studies have shown that a majority of serial killers grew up in abusive homes, experiencing severe child abuse, child sex abuse and neglect, which means these types of serial killers are more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—which we will discuss in the blog next week. It’s also important to note that not all serial killers suffered abuse and many appeared to have grown up in supportive homes, but I’d suspect there is more to that story. Other researchers suggest that damage to the frontal lobe, the hypothalamus and the limbic system; can cause extreme aggression, loss of control and poor judgment. The University of Wisconsin conducted a brain study that showed a drop in connectivity between the amygdala and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. These areas of the brain process negative stimuli into negative emotions and responses. So, when the connectivity is low, people have lower levels of empathy and have no remorse for their actions. However, it’s important to know that not all people who suffer this kind of brain damage end up becoming serial killers and not all that suffer from psychosis commit murder, especially if they’ve been diagnosed by a licensed medical professional and are receiving treatment.
Research suggests that countless serial killers have experienced severe child abuse, child neglect and child sexual abuse; therefore, they can be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder with neurofeedback therapy. Truth be told, many criminologists feel criminal psychopaths are difficult to rehabilitate because of their personality disorder and are most likely to repeat offend. On the other hand, a study conducted by German researchers found neurofeedback therapy might be a potential treatment. Dr Lilian Konicar and her team recruited 14 criminal psychopaths with severe violent histories for an intensive program designed to teach them to control their brain activity. She had them perform 25 neurofeedback sessions spread out over three months. When the study concluded, her subjects demonstrated improved self-control of their brain activity and reduced impulsivity and aggression. Granted, these results are preliminary but extremely promising. Nonetheless, the study doesn’t state, if any of these subjects were serial killers, just criminal psychopaths.
Back when I was training to be a neurofeedback therapist we provided free therapy sessions for young people in juvenile detention centers who suffered from the same disorders as serial killers. Consequently, after numerous sessions, the subjects showed fewer signs of aggressive behavior and were much more calm, compassionate and remorseful for their crimes. While every person is unique, and some needed more sessions than others, the outcome was positive for all those who received treatment. All things considered, neurofeedback therapy can help violent criminals and some serial killers, who in addition to suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, have also been known to suffer from addiction, extreme impulse disorder, attention deficit disorder, anxiety and depression. In my humble professional opinion, perhaps the key to rehabilitation begins with preventative measures, by treating violent criminals in juvenile detention centers with neurofeedback therapy to prevent them from becoming serial killers in the future.
Dr. Elena Eustache is a specialist in Neurofeedback Therapy, with a PhD in Psychology and Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Dr. Elena Eustache helps her patients reach their full potential so they can live the life they’ve always dreamed of.