WASHINGTON-March 21, 2013-“I can’t recall the last time I forgot to remember”-Paul Mountjoy-self quote.
Expert testimony in the case of Jodi Aras, the woman accused of stabbing her then-boyfriend multiple times and slashing his throat while he was in the shower, may have hurt not only Arias but the entire mental health industry.
Dr. Richard Samuels, a psychologist whose specialty is sex therapy, stepped up to testify for Jodi Arias with a semi-plausible account of Arias’ psychological profile at the time of the murder she is accused of committing.
Samuel’s assertion that Arias experienced Post traumatic Stress disorder ( PTSD), but a sort of reverse PTSD in the public eye, that was so traumatic as tocause a dissociative disorder called dissociative amnesia- an interesting and novel approach to explaining Arias’ behavior.
A brief overview of salient points central to this discussion is the American Psychological Association (APA) definition of PTSD: PTSD is characterized as a psychological response to a catastrophic or traumatic event. These events include but are not limited to; combat, sexual abuse, auto accidents, physical violence and any event that threatens or is perpetrated upon one’s physical integrity and mental well-being. Usually, these events are perpetrated on a victim-the recipient of events beyond their control.
Some but not all of the resulting behaviors are; psychotic reenactment of events (aka flashbacks) fear of confronting reminders and a hyper-response to external stimuli that can be so severe as to develop paranoia and agoraphobia-the fear of leaving one’s home.
The defense Samuel proposes is Arias suffers from dissociative amnesia as a result of PTSD and the role Arias is placed in is not that of a victim but victimizer. Studies of 628 women from the general community show those with a dissociative disorder had a comorbidity, or related disorder, of PTSD but again, these are victims not perpetrators.
Dissociative amnesia describes a person who has a singular or multiple experiences of being unable to recall events or important information about themselves. The most relevant characterization is forgetting a traumatic event.
In short, what Samuel proffers is Arias cold-heartedly murdered her boyfriend and victim, Travis Alexander, but cannot recall the events as a result of amnesia from the trauma she perpetrated.
Additionally, Samuel claims Arias created an “alternative reality” to events leaving one to ponder if one creates an alternative explanation, one must recall the true explanation in order to present an alternative.
One can hear the Arias defense team howling at the moon.
Complicating this entire affair are peripheral events that reduces credibility to floor level. A review:
- Samuel was sanctioned by the New Jersey Board of Psychological Examiners to “cease crossing boundaries with clients by entering into relationships that may create conflicts of interest with clients.”
- Samuel was sanctioned for bartering services for dental work.
- Samuel was again sanctioned for making a recommendation in a child custody case without speaking to the mother.
- Samuel has been sending cards and gifts to Arias to her prison.
- Samuel admitted “Perhaps I should have re-administered that test” referring to the PTSD assessment he administered.
The media focuses on odd peripheral matter to paint a picture of Arias as inappropriate. The oft repeated video of Arias in the police interview room doing a headstand, searching through the trash and singing to herself are not unusual behaviors of someone locked in a small room for a length of time. Anything to break the boredom, yet she did appear impervious to the serious nature of her presence there and displayed nonchalant behavior.
Arias smiling for a mug shot is rather odd, particularly since she asked for her purse for primping before the photo. It would seem one accused of a heinous crime would not be interested in putting on a happy face.
Ex-prosecutor turned commentator Nancy Grace relentlessly focuses on the fact that Arias developed a ‘cold sore’ while being questioned. So-called cold sores are usually a stress response and not a physical manifestation of guilt. As for Arias, let’s review:
- Arias originally claimed Alexander was murdered by intruders as she crouched out of view.
- Arias changed her story to murdering Alexander in self-defense claiming Alexander brutalized her.
- The question of legitimate self-defense tortures logic when the assailant is taking a shower.
- The amount of brutalization indicates a crime of emotion not typical of intruders who would, by all accounts, deliver a fatal blow and rapidly depart.
- Arias seems to tailor her accounting of the murder to fit the reason du jour and claiming self-defense indicates she is knowledgeable of the events.
When attorneys offer a novel defense and succeed, they are canonized by the media and reap rewards of drawing new clientele-think “twinkie defense”. But when psychologists attempt to do the same and fail, they bring doubt and shame upon the field of professional mental health care.
The trial continues today but as of this writing, the only thing missing is a ‘carny’ yelling “Hey Rube!”
Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based writer and a member of the American Psychological Association and the Association for psychological Science.
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