09 Jul 2011

Essay Topic: Psychology in the Real World

Jared Lee Loughner’s recent shooting rampage at Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ January 8, 2011 outdoor community meeting (Simon, 2011) touched on several different aspects of psychology.  On that day, 22-year-old Loughner showed up at Congresswoman Giffords’ event and opened fire on Giffords and the crowd (Simon, 2011). The gunman took the lives of 6 and injured 14 (Simon, 2011). The tragic event scarred the victims and immediate witnesses and community and brought fear to Americans and government officials nationwide.  All at once, several news outlets and commentators struggled to find answers, blame, and solutions.  Arguments that got the most attention were the assignment of blame: Was it loose gun laws? Poor parenting? Campaigning tactics of politicians? Sarah Palin?  Many news outlets scrambled to find gossip on Loughner and came up with an abundance of evidence pointing to his apparent mental health struggles (Simon, 2011).  Unfortunately, past the shock, awe, confusion of the content of Loughner’s internet ramblings and what has theorized to possibly be Psychosis (Simon, 2011), the lesson of psychological well-being was lost.  The key to preventing future similar acts of domestic terrorism from occurring again is an examination of individual psychological experience and mental health conditions such as Psychosis.

The technical term for Psychosis is “Brief Psychotic Disorder” and is code 298.8 in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual- IV (DSM-IV) which is the standard diagnostic manual for Psychiatry (Heffner, 2003).  Psychosis may also clinically fall under Schizophrenia, a more long-term diagnosis (Dilks, Tasker, & Wren, 2010). Both Brief Psychotic Disorder and Schizophrenia involve at least one of the following: severe delusions, paranoia hallucinations, disordered thought, disordered speech (Heffner, 2003 and Dilks, et al, 2010). Although there has been no official psychiatric/medical record of Loughner’s that has been made public, it can be derived by Loughner’s writings that he may have suffered from a paranoid/delusional type of Psychosis; his writings included assumptions that time, currency, and language as meaningless illusions used by government to facilitate mind control.  In an ever-advancing technological society, a tendency to fall victim to stress-diathesis if not solely environmental psychological factors by subscribing to disordered and paranoid thoughts such as Loughner did is not necessarily rare. Although conspiracy theory alone is not dangerous, it may become dangerous if an individual feels threatened by what they perceive to be a malicious “big brother” government. Though Psychosis can be devastating, researchers have found that the condition is manageable.

In a research study on the management of Psychosis published by the British Psychological Society in 2010, researchers asked what was most effective in the treatment of Psychotic patients (Dilks et al., 2010). Researchers compiled 19 therapy session tapes, 23 Psychologist-client interviews, and 31 published accounts of psychotic experiences in order to build a qualitative study on the success and failure of different treatment methods of the disorder (Dilks et al, 2010).  It was found that individuals diagnosed with Psychosis could regain social functionality in their everyday lives with active, ongoing, and consistent individualized therapy (Dilks et al., 2010).  This research is important to the issue of paranoia/delusion-fueled violence because it provides hope in solutions for severe mental health issues.  In American culture, mental health is often stigmatized and symptoms are more often seen as markers of being asocial or “weird” instead of being recognized as the characteristics of a serious disease that people may not be able to detect in themselves let alone understand that they need and will fare better with proper treatment.  Although Psychosis does not always manifest as violence, encouragement of mental health research may promote efforts to take effective measures to increase public awareness of the importance of mental and emotional well-being and the treatment of disorders that could otherwise lead to tragedy if left unchecked.


Dilks, S., Tasker, F., & Wren, B. (2010). Managing the impact of psychosis: A grounded theory exploration of recovery processes in psychosis. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 49(1), 87-107. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Heffner, D. (2003). Psychiatric disorders. AllPsych Online: The Virtual Psychology Classroom.

Retrieved from: http://allpsych.com/disorders/psychotic/briefpsychotic.html.

Simon, Mallory. (2011 January 13). Jared Loughner’s background reveals series of warning signs. CNN. Retrieved from: http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2011/01/13/jared-loughners- background-reveals-series-of-warning-signs

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