Uncovering the past may explain the present

Not all people with mental health problems become violent. In fact, very few people with mental health issues inflict violence on others. The author of this book The Devil You Know is Dr Gwen Adshead (the book is co-authored by Eileen Horne). She is a psychotherapist who works with that small group of people whose mental health has made them a danger to others – many of her clients have been in Broadmoor when she saw them. She firmly believes that these are damaged and not evil people although they may have done evil things and that her responsibility is to work with her patients to uncover the root cause of their issues and to help them begin to recover. This book has twelve very different stories of people who have committed often horrific crimes where uncovering their past trauma has enabled them to make some form of progress mentally.

These stories are obviously carefully chosen because they are ones where she is able to uncover past trauma which can explain current events but they don’t always have positive outcomes and the author certainly isn’t advocating that having discovered the cause of the problem that people will be miraculously cured and able to rejoin society. She definitely believes, however, that the root of poor mental health and acts of violence is often childhood trauma and it is interesting to see how she uncovers the past for her patients.

The case studies in this book include murderers, those who harm their own children and a stalker. Most of them only receive any help for mental disorders after they have harmed others and are in the criminal justice system and even then there are not enough resources to help all those who need it. It’s sad to read about how so many people are not given the help that they need and how that impacts on others but it is encouraging when we see people begin to deal with their past.

This is not a comprehensive overview of mental health and violence but it does show, through these case studies, that things are not as simple as we might think. I found it an interesting and informative read.

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