Psychopathy, treatment involvement, and subsequent violence among civil psychiatric patients

Law Hum Behav. 2002 Dec;26(6):577-603. doi: 10.1023/a:1020993916404.


Individuals with psychopathy typically are viewed as incurable cases that should be diverted from treatment settings to environments where their behavior can be monitored and controlled. The prevailing clinical conviction that psychopaths are untreatable has crucial implications, given the scarcity of mental health care resources, the number of legal contexts that call for assessment of treatability, and the explosion of research on psychopathy and violence risk over recent years. Based on a sample of 871 civil psychiatric patients (including 195 "potentially psychopathic" and 72 "psychopathic" patients), this study explores the relations among psychopathy, receipt of outpatient mental health services in real-world settings, and subsequent violence in the community. The results suggest that psychopathic traits do not moderate the effect of treatment involvement on violence, even after controlling statistically for the treatment assignment process. Psychopathic patients appear as likely as non-psychopathic patients to benefit from adequate doses of treatment, in terms of violence reduction. We interpret these results in light of prior research with offenders and analyze their implications for future research, policy, and practice.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Ambulatory Care
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / psychology
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / rehabilitation*
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Massachusetts
  • Missouri
  • Pennsylvania
  • Risk Assessment
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Violence / psychology*
  • Violence / statistics & numerical data