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Updated 09 October 2015

Oscar Pistorius does not need psychotherapy

CyberShrink examines the recommendation by the Parole Review Board that Oscar Pistorius should receive psychotherapy.

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Everyone is mystified by news that the Parole Review Board has asked Oscar Pistorius to be sent for psychotherapy.   

Suddenly, without warning or explanation, and for reasons not revealed to the public, it's been decided Oscar should receive “psychotherapy” of an unspecified form, from an unspecified professional, and for unspecified reasons. And, presumably, the public will have to pay for this expensive folly. This is hardly routine procedure for convicted criminals . . . So, why him, and why now?

'Criminogenic factors'

It wasn't revealed who the members of this Parole Review Board were, which is not unusual. They usually consist of a judge, someone from correctional services, a prosecutor, 2 carefully, if mysteriously, selected members of the public, and “a person regarded as an expert in the correctional system”, whatever that might mean. Note that it is not required for any member to be an expert in psychiatry or psychology.

Read: What is a psychiatrist?

The PRB directed that he "be subjected to psychotherapy in order to address criminogenic factors of the crime he committed". This is a truly incomprehensible sentence and would never be used by any competent psychotherapist. It’s a mouthful of concentrated jargon devised by correctional services folks to make their ineffective work sound impressive. 

According to the Department, these were “some of the directions” of the Board, and I shudder to imagine what the others might be.

In South Africa we have a most unwholesome model of “criminology” which allows amateurs working within a Correctional Services framework to involve themselves in clinical matters where they have no competence. Criminologists are entirely non-clinical sociologists who study aspects of crime and criminals, and possibly the effects of punishment.

Though they may have studied basic psychology, they have no training or proper supervised experience in clinical matters, and are resolutely not qualified to examine or assess anyone, to make any diagnosis, or comment on or recommend any treatment.  

Untested method

The reference to “criminogenic factors” is fashionable gobbledygook which has no meaning. It is designed to dress up the ineffective fumblings of probation officers and could refer to risk factors for repeated criminal behaviour. 

If the shooting of Reeva was accidental and not premeditated, then there is no action that could be prevented from happening again. Chatting to a probation officer cannot bring about any useful change, so why the sudden effort to prevent re-offending in this case? 

Read: Prison education stops re-offending

There’s very little evidence that this approach is of the slightest use, and certainly not on an outpatient basis.

This kind of intervention would be of no use in any future trial. The method hasn’t been tested in this sort of case and shows little value in cases of domestic violence. He was examined and assessed by a psychiatrist called by his defence team and a group of shrinks at Weskoppies, and I don’t recall any of these experts recommending this therapy.

The issue of gun ownership

The comment about the Firearms Control Act are worrying, implying that there is no binding order in place preventing Oscar from ever again owning or handling a gun. The implication that any such restriction might only apply for the duration of his sentence is terrifying. If he’s been banned from gun ownership for life,  as should have happened, why would the board need to refer to it now? After all, who would want to allow him near a gun ever again?

Read more:

More on the 'Oscar oops'

Why parole for Oscar Pistorius is perfectly legitimate

Oscar’s three sources of danger

Professor MA Simpson is Health24's CyberShrink. A South African psychiatrist, he qualified in medicine and in psychiatry in Britain. He has been a senior academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries. Read more of his columns.

 

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