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Williams, A.H. (1960). A Psycho-Analytic Approach to the Treatment of the Murderer. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 41:532-539.

(1960). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 41:532-539

A Psycho-Analytic Approach to the Treatment of the Murderer

A. Hyatt Williams

In his 1915 paper, 'Criminality from a Sense of Guilt' (4), Freud showed how in crime the internal situation is frequently of paramount importance, and the criminal act itself is unconsciously intended to reduce that painful internal state of affairs. He stated that the oedipal situation, with phantasies of killing the father and marrying the mother, is pivotal. He stressed, however, that by comparison with the savage phantasies, the actual crimes were trivial enough. In murderers I found quite a different situation, and was reminded of Freud's statement to Jones and Ferenczi after he had written Totem and Taboo, that he had gone from the study of the wish to kill to that of an actual killing, and that from wish to deed was a big step.

In looking through some of the literature on murderers I have been impressed by finding that most of the cases described were clearly psychotic, as is shown in the papers of Bromberg (3), Wertham (13), Sheehan Dare (12), Podolsky (11), Marie Bonaparte (2), and Alexander (1). Alexander also describes a neurotic attempt at murder which was part of a suicide pact which went awry. Writing from a psychiatric viewpoint Gould (7) refers to the close relationship between murder and suicide in phantasy, impulse, and action. Bromberg mentions the early excessive sexual activity of his patient and points out that the adult character trait of complete compliance in his patient was apparently a defence against deeply buried unconscious aggressive impulses.

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