A Discourse Analysis of Clinical Psychologists' Talk about Psychopathy in Forensic Settings

Prof Doc Thesis

Clark-McGhee, Kitty 2016. A Discourse Analysis of Clinical Psychologists' Talk about Psychopathy in Forensic Settings. Prof Doc Thesis University of East London pSYCHOLOGY https://doi.org/10.15123/PUB.5381
AuthorsClark-McGhee, Kitty
TypeProf Doc Thesis

Background: Psychopathy is a controversial psychological construct with a contentious history. Ambiguity regarding its pathology persists, coincident with long-standing critique of the construct. Contemporary research indicates ontological confusion, limitations with assessment practices, and the presence of a negative bias towards individuals identified as psychopathic; the implications of this raise serious ethical concerns. Despite this, the psychopathy construct is used within forensic settings to understand the psychology of forensic service users; in particular, clinical psychologists hold status as a professional group able to understand, assess for, and confer the presence of, psychopathy. In addition to the aforementioned limitations, there is also a lack of research into the accounts of clinical psychologists working in forensic settings.
Aims: To examine how clinical psychologists discursively construct psychopathy, including an investigation of the discourses and subjectivities produced and utilised in their talk, and the implications for action resultant from these.
Method: Eight one-to-one semi-structured interviews were conducted with clinical psychologists currently working in forensic mental health contexts (low, medium and high secure). Foucauldian Discourse Analysis was used to analyse the data.
Results: (1) Persons with psychopathy were constructed as problematised individuals. Constructions arose from four overarching discursive sites: dangerous, challenging, manipulative, and psychologically deficient. ‘At risk’ and ‘trauma’ discourses were utilised to explain the aetiology of psychopathy. ‘Intuition’ talk was employed by participants as a marker of the presence of psychopathy. (2) The psychopathy construct was identified as contested and problematic. To manage this, a variety of subject positions were taken up; three overarching subjectivities were identified: pragmatist, subversive, and expert/specialist. (3) Accounts pointed to a psychological imperative for psychopathy. Central to this was the promotion of three core psychology technologies: formulation, supervision, and reflective practice. These were constructed as solutions to the ‘problem’ of psychopathy in different ways. Clinical and research implications are discussed in light of the analysis.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.15123/PUB.5381
Publication dates
PrintAug 2016
Publication process dates
Deposited21 Nov 2016
Publisher's version
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