Psychopaths Are Incredibly Difficult to Treat but Not All of Them Are Murderers (EXCLUSIVE)

Psychopaths will "often do kind of thrill seeking things that could harm others, but they don't have any remorse or guilt."

Jennifer Tisdale - Author

Apr. 5 2024, Published 10:07 a.m. ET

Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Charles Manson
Source: Getty Images

(L-R): Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Charles Manson

The word psycho is tossed around rather lightly in the digital age. An entire spectrum of behavior can be described as psychotic, which somewhat dilutes its actual definition. Film buffs might reference the Alfred Hitchcock movie Psycho, which centers around a man obsessed with his domineering mother and ends up killing women who excite him sexually.

The movie was based on the Robert Bloch book of the same name and in turn, was inspired by the very real story of Wisconsin killer Ed Gein.

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In February 2024 Peacock released a documentary about Joran van der Sloot, the man who killed Natalee Holloway in May 2005.

Pathological: The Lies of Joran van der Sloot takes us through the shocking ways in which Van der Sloot was able to avoid being caught for five years and only after he killed another young woman.

Dr. Ayesha Ashai is a forensic psychiatrist who appears in the documentary. Distractify spoke to her about the traits of psychopathy and whether or not a psychopath is a lost cause.

Can a psychopath be a good person?

Mental health professionals don't approach psychopathy in a black-or-white fashion that would reduce their clients to good or bad. Psychopaths possess certain traits of varying degrees but it all depends on a combination of said traits.

According to Dr. Ashai, if we looked at a single descriptor then we would all be psychopaths. Of course, if social media is to be believed, perhaps we are.

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Photo of Dr. Ayesha Ashai; Joran van der Sloot in court
Source: Forensic Psychiatric Associates; Getty Images

(L-R): Dr. Ayesha Ashai; Joran van der Sloot

Psychopaths "have a parasitic lifestyle," said Dr. Ashai. "They often feed off of others for money or work and will try to avoid any responsibility."

Many psychopaths can't consistently hold down a job and are very nomadic. They also bore quite easily and are in constant need of stimulation. Dr. Ashai pointed out they participate in "thrill-seeking things that could harm others, but they don't have any remorse or guilt." That certainly explains Van der Sloot's penchant for gambling and murder.

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If you're wondering how someone can possibly exist in society like this, it's because psychopaths are generally charming. Van der Sloot was described as a "ladies' man," which means he was able to put on this armor of likability, similar to a spider weaving a beautiful web to catch a fly.

Most psychopaths also think highly of themselves and have a "grandiose sense of self-worth," Dr. Ashai explained.

Some people possess a fair amount of psychopathic traits, but they don't end up murdering people. That can be attributed to their environment and their experiences. Those who do go down a darker path, like Van der Sloot, probably have a "dominating number of traits that are maladaptive to functioning," said Dr. Ashai.

In the age-old argument of nature versus nurture, nurture can really help someone with psychopathic traits that are less aggressive.

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Can a psychopath be cured?

Fans of true crime aren't always empathetic when it comes to understanding what makes someone do the unthinkable. They often feel as if we're being too sympathetic to the devil when searching for answers and asking for context. However, how can we possibly treat someone if we don't ask the hard questions. Dr. Ashai told us that psychopathy is a "hard disease to treat."

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Back in the 1960s, medical professionals experimented with LSD while treating psychopaths. Not only did this not work, but it often made the patients worse. There is no single treatment plan for psychopathy.

Dr. Ashai said that it's "really case dependent on whether it's treatable or not, or to what degree it's treatable, and to what degree it causes dysfunction." Obviously, a serial killer would be very difficult to treat, but Dr. Ashai looks at a psychopath's individual symptoms and tries to treat them separately.

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Honestly one can start to get emotionally bogged down by the hopelessness of it all. No one has asked for a mental illness, especially one as debilitating as psychopathy. It's comforting to know there are people like Dr. Ashai in the world who revealed to us that she likes forensic psychiatry partially because it's a bit like solving a mystery.

She was drawn to this field because one of her very good friends from middle school was murdered by his family. It would be easy to get angry and blame his killer. Instead, Dr. Ashai decided to help the world by asking the right questions.

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