Almost a Psychopath

They're our neighbors, friends, colleagues, and family members. We interact with them daily, even as they manipulate, lie, cheat, and steal, all without showing empathy or remorse. They're not quite psychopaths, but they're not quite right, either. Something about them is just a little bit off — and they can make our lives a living hell. In a new book, excerpted here, two local experts take us inside the world of these hidden predators.


The Dishonest Therapist
After George and his wife went through a difficult period in their marriage, George decided to enter psychotherapy. After only a few meetings, the therapist suggested that George’s wife, Ann, come in for a few sessions, and she agreed. After two sessions, the therapist began seeing them as a couple. Initially, there seemed to be some progress; Ann seemed happier at home and she was invested in the therapy. Which made it all the more shocking when one day Ann announced that the marriage was over and she wanted her husband out of the house. Devastated, George called his therapist in a panic, and the therapist agreed to see him that day. The therapist was supportive but told George that “sometimes things turn out this way, and it’s probably best for you to move on with your life.” In short order, the couple divorced. Some months later, George learned that Ann and his therapist (who was still treating George!) were living together.


The Community Cheat
Connie volunteered at the local hospital and served as a crossing guard at the neighborhood elementary school. With no children of her own, she was very fond of the kids she saw every day. It was with great sadness that word spread through the community that Connie had cancer.

Lymphoma, people said. Or leukemia. One of those — it didn’t really matter. The important thing was that this sweet person, who was so kind to the children, was sick. So sick, in fact, that she couldn’t be treated at the local hospital but instead had to travel by plane to an academic medical center where she could see a cancer specialist for experimental treatments. People became used to Connie and her husband being out of town for a week or two at a time. When she was in town, people saw her with her head wrapped in a scarf or wearing a hat — to cover up her hair loss from chemo, they thought. Other than her apparent hair loss, Connie looked pretty good. She would come back from many of her trips looking, well, tan. A side effect of the chemo, she told people. In these casual conversations, Connie also let it be known that she and her husband were running out of money. The experimental treatment wasn’t covered by their health insurance, and they were paying out of pocket. Add to that the cost of the plane tickets, hotels, meals, her husband’s lost income…. Well, she was going to have to stop treatment. As soon as word got around, people in Connie’s town stepped right up. There was no way they were going to let her down. Within weeks, major fund-raising efforts were under way. There were bake sales, silent auctions, charity basketball games — you name it. Over several months, the community raised nearly $25,000, giving all of it to Connie and her husband. Soon Connie seemed to improve a bit, even putting on some weight and sporting a more consistently even tan when she returned from her time away for “chemo.”

As her condition seemed to improve, or at least grow no worse, a number of Connie-skeptics popped up. People began to ask questions about her treatment and that tan. There was a growing sense that something was up, but what? To most, Connie was her old sweet self and what a fighter! But others started to openly ask, how could she look so good while still supposedly being so sick?

The mystery was solved when a family who lived on Connie’s street returned from Disney World with their children and reported that they had seen Connie (and her husband) there — and Connie, with plenty of hair, was working on her tan at the pool. Connie, who was supposed to be at chemo, didn’t have cancer. She wasn’t sick at all. While they were still in Florida, Connie and her husband learned that they were in trouble — angry e-mails and texts flooded their accounts. The next time they came home, it was to stand trial for fraud and theft.


Excerpted from Almost a Psychopath, by Ronald Schouten, MD, JD and James Silver, JD. Copyright 2012 by Harvard University. Reprinted by permission from the Hazelden Foundation, Center City, Minnesota. The case examples in this book are drawn from media accounts or are composite examples based upon behaviors encountered in the authors’ own professional experiences. None of the individuals described were patients or legal clients. The names and details have been changed to protect the privacy of the people involved.