By Helen Smith, PhD
times, people ask me if I have an exciting job as a "criminal profiler"
or if I dissect dead people. The answer to both questions is "No!"
I am a forensic psychologist in Knoxville, Tennessee who specializes
in kids (and adults) who are violent. The American Board of Professional
Psychology (ABPP) defines the field of forensic psychology as "The
application of the science and profession of law to questions and
issues relating to psychology and the legal system." Ok, so my job
is exciting (at least I think so) but I deal with live people who
have very severe problems with anger and feelings of aggression. I
mostly do psychological evaluations that involve assessing individuals
to see if they are competent to stand trial, or are dangerous to others;
or to make treatment recommendations. My typical day might consist
of a parent, organization or court asking me to evaluate a child who
has assaulted others, brought a gun to school or made homicidal threats.
Or I might be asked to examine mitigating factors for someone who
has committed a violent act. Occasionally, I might see someone for
therapy who has been having homicidal thoughts. I try not to work
with more than a few clients a week because of the stress, and I spend
a great deal of time on each case. This is my day job.
other main interest is in helping lay people in society understand
more about the psychological and environmental conditions that might
make the violent tendencies in kids worse. Anyone who works with children
or has them knows that there is some genetic component to how aggressive
or non-aggressive kids can be. But genetics does not explain the whole
story of why certain kids become violent. I am interested in the societal
systems and the environment that interact with certain disturbed kids
to produce a killer. I have seen first-hand in my work what happens
when the various societal systems we have in place fail to protect
society. These systems include mental health facilities, criminal
justice and educational systems, and the changing attitudes of our
communities in dealing with kids who are aggressive. My reason for
making the documentary, Six, was to explore one case study
of six young murderers as a way to help the public understand not
only the world of violent youth but the systems that failed to take
notice of the warning signs until it was too late. I bankrolled the
documentary myself because I believed it was important to tell the
story of the Lillelid murder in a way that graphically demonstrates
the failures of the various systems and institutions we rely on to
deal with those troubled teens* failures that led to the death of
innocents. It is only by understanding these systems that we can work
towards solutions in the area of juvenile violence.
next project is likely to be an educational video to be used as a
companion to the documentary that will explore more in depth the societal
systems that violent kids encounter and to offer some solutions in
improving upon these various systems.
ending, I just want to say thank you to all the people who have bought
my book, The
Scarred Heart, the video, Six, and made generous donations
to my website through the Amazon Honors Program. Each dollar I receive
goes towards funding the next of my research projects for understanding
more about the world of violent kids and providing more information
to the public. Since this takes up so much of my time and is a labor
of love (certainly not one of money!), your monetary contributions
are greatly appreciated.