Looking under rocks: Research on renowned psychiatrist surprising

Fifty years ago, while a student at Columbia University, I commenced a major research project. I examined the files of the Army Air Force during World War II with specific purposes in mind. Did the leaders find time to plan for the postwar world? What were their theories of international relations? Whom did they think the enemies of the future might be?

 

After months of digging through dusty archives, I learned that a major strategic planning effort commenced in the Air Staff in 1943. The “postwar planners” constructed a coherent force structure, a basing plan and a research-and-development approach. They established an impressive long-range mindset that has served the Air Force well for more than 70 years.

 

ALSO, I LEARNED that research was great fun. Almost every week, I uncovered some fascinating fact, discovered a brilliant staff officer who saw the future with great clarity, or found a glaring shortfall in the planning process. I also learned that following the trail of research often took me in directions I had never previously considered.

Over these past few months, the life and legacy of Dr. Hervey Cleckley has been closely examined. Dr. Cleckley was an outstanding scholar and athlete at the Academy of Richmond County, Princeton University and the University of Georgia. In 1924, Dr. Cleckley earned a coveted Rhodes Scholarship and was off to Oxford University in England for two years.

Dr. Cleckley’s athletic accomplishments include:

shining as a football and track star at the Academy of Richmond County;

setting the University of Georgia record in both the 100-yard and 220-yard dashes; competing in the javelin and the sprint relays; and starting at halfback on the UGA football team;

earning his “Oxford Blue” award in track, and becoming the intercollegiate heavyweight boxing champion of Europe;

back in Augusta, becoming the Southeastern Open badminton champion.

After receiving his degree from Oxford in 1926, Dr. Cleckley returned home and entered the Medical College of Georgia. After completing the four-year curriculum in three years, he entered into a two-year surgical residency at MCG. Intrigued by the field of psychiatry, he shifted gears and spent the rest of his life deeply involved in trying to help people with mental issues.

Dr. Cleckley’s impact on the field of psychiatry was profound:

For decades, his book The Mask of Sanity was the definitive work on the psychopathic personality.

Along with his colleague, Dr. Corbett Thigpen, he validated the multiple personality disorder. Their book, The Three Faces of Eve, has sold more than 3 million copies and hs been translated into 27 languages.

Dr. Cleckley influenced the work of many psychiatrists and psychologists during his lifetime and for many years after his death.

Today, perhaps the most respected expert in the study of the psychopath is Dr. Robert Hare, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Dr. Hare is highly appreciative of the inspiration, advice and help he received from Dr. Cleckley during the later years of Dr. Cleckley’s life. Hare is best known today for his books Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us and Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, as well as the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), the international standard for assessing psychopathy, widely used in mental health and criminal justice systems (www.hare.org).

 

THE 18 ITEMS in the PCL-R are scored on a three-point scale (0, 1, 2), and reflect the degree to which an individual matches the prototypical psychopath, as depicted in Dr. Cleckley’s The Mask of Sanity.

The traits and behaviors assessed by the PCL-R score are:

glib and superficial charm;

grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self;

need for stimulation;

pathological lying;

cunning and manipulative;

lack of remorse or guilt;

shallow (superficial emotional responsiveness);

callousness and lack of empathy;

parasitic lifestyle;

poor behavioral controls;

sexual promiscuity;

early behavior problems;

lack of realistic long-term goals;

impulsivity;

irresponsibility;

failure to accept responsibility for own actions;

many short-term marital relationships;

juvenile delinquency.

During my lifetime, I encountered five people who probably were psychopaths. They outsmarted and manipulated me, and caused me to lose lots of sleep. If I had read The Mask of Sanity much earlier in my life, I might have better understood and dealt with these individuals. Today, the book I recommend is Dr. Hare’s Snakes in Suits. It should be noted that on the national and international scene, psychopaths sometimes reach positions of great influence. The impact can be devastating.

One final point: To help preserve the legacy of Dr. Cleckley, a DVD will be produced by Augusta’s fine videographer, Mark Albertin. It should be completed by the summer of 2017.

 

(The writer – a retired U.S. Air Force major general – serves of the boards of the Augusta Warrior Project and the Augusta Museum of History. His website is genpsmith.com.)

 

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