Reflections About Classical Adlerian Depth Psychotherapy: Theory, Practice, and Life

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Classical Adlerian psychotherapist and training analyst. Director of the Alfred Adler Institute of Northwestern Washington, offering distance training in Classical Adlerian psychotherapy. Tel: (360) 647-5670. Email:

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Worse Than Greed?

Fixing our growing world-wide economic crisis will probably require tighter government oversight and regulation of financial practices. This "blowing away the smoke" approach is necessary, but perhaps not deep enough to "put out the fire." Economic theories and financial systems have certainly contributed to the widespread economic disasters, but the character and motives of the people managing large sums of money needs to be explored and understood if we wish to address the deeper roots of the problems. The popular buzz word explaining the psychology of Wall Street running wild and reckless is greed. Although this term seems accurate, it does not come close to describing the underlying psychopathology of many of the individuals or the devastating impact on large segments of society.

On December 12, 2004, the New York Times published an article by Michael Steinberger titled "Psychopathic CEO's," wherein he speculates on the motives of "lavishly compensated CEO's who cheat and lie," Relying on the research of Paul Babiak and Robert Hare, he suggests that many captains of industry are "sub-criminal psychopaths," not serial rapists or murderers, but smooth-talking, energetic, charming, manipulative, narcissistic, and ruthless. He emphasizes that the frenzied nature of modern business, constant down sizing, relentless merging and acquiring, provides a very fertile environment for havoc-wreaking psychopaths who thrive on chaos and risk-taking. As Hare put it in one interview, "If I couldn't study psychopaths in prison, I would go down to the Stock Exchange."

Three years layer, on December 19, 2007, FastCompany,com published "Is You Boss a Psychopath?" by Alan Deutschman. He describes a lecture that Hare gave in 2002 to 150 police and law enforcement officials, including a proposal that "recent corporate scandals (Enron and WorldCom) could have been prevented if CEO's were screened for psychopathic behavior." Hare claims that "We are worshipful of top executives who seem charismatic, visionary, and tough. So long as they are lifting profits and stock prices, we are willing to overlook that they can also be callous, conning, manipulative, deceitful,verbally and psychologically abusive, remorseless, exploitative, self-delusional, irresponsible, and megalomaniacal. So we collude in the elevation of leaders who are sadly insensitive to hurting others and society at large." Babiak elaborates by comparing the narcissist, who simply thinks only of himself, to a psychopath who enjoys hurting others.

Transposing Hare's and Babiak's assumptions from business and finance to government, it is appalling to contemplate the implications of people in positions of economic and political power who are possibly borderline psychopaths. When you add up the massive physical, mental, and economic suffering caused by war, torture, layoffs, depleted retirement investments, foreclosures, poverty, and insufficient medical care, a disturbing questions arises. Are these conditions intended by psychopaths in positions of economic and political power?