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Title: A discourse analysis of clinical psychologists' talk about psychopathy in forensic settings
Author: Clark-McGhee, Kitty
ISNI:       0000 0004 5990 5031
Awarding Body: University of East London
Current Institution: University of East London
Date of Award: 2016
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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.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (D.Clin.Psy.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available