Augusta, Ga. (WJBF) – We turn on the news and see it, people committing horrendous acts of violence against others. What makes them do it? That question is what so many primetime crime dramas like Criminal Minds and CSI and Law and Order are based on. But what about in real life? Dr. Jason Henle, a clinical psychologist who focuses in forensic psychology, does in real life what so many others do on television; he delves into the mind of criminals through his work at East Central Regional Hospital.
Brad Means: Dr. Henle thank you for being here and kinda letting us lean on you for some expertise. Appreciate it.
Dr. Jason Henle: Thank you for inviting me.
Brad Means: Alright so forensic psychology … I read where it is where psychology meets the criminal justice system. Is that fair?
Dr. Jason Henle: That’s actually very fair.
Brad Means: I’m sorry. And so what is your role? Do you study criminals, crime scenes or both? What’s you role?
Dr. Jason Henle: Our role is once somebody has been accused of already committing a crime and somebody within the legal system is saying that this person might not know exactly the rational part of court. What they’re charged with, what the outcomes are gonna be, who are the players in the courtroom. What it is they’re facing. Or if the factual parts, that’s the factual parts. The rational parts is more understanding is their condition into the outcome. Understanding that if they’re charged with a minor crime, do they understand what a deal is or a plea bargain, and what would be a good bargain, what would be a bad one. So our actual job would be as once the judge assigns somebody or assigns an order sending them to us at East Central Regional. We give them enough time to get stabilized. We educate them on what they would need to do to go to court and stand trial on their charges. And then we give an evaluation. All we’re giving is an opinion to the judge and to the courtroom and what it is is basically, does this person understand what’s going on and what they’re facing. And that’s our preliminary job.
Brad Means: Does everybody get to see you or only the cases where the judge assigns someone to come see you?
Dr. Jason Henle: Only the ones where the judge assigns them to come see us.
Brad Means: So if we hear that someone is unfit to stand trial, you’re that guy right?
Dr. Jason Henle: Yes we’re those people that evaluate and give an opinion. It’s always an opinion ’cause here the judge gets the final say on the outcome.
Brad Means: Sometimes when I’m doing the news at night, I’ll see people being arrested and taken into jail. One particularly comes to mind who was accused of shooting a police officer and was making crazy faces in the video. Really weird, crazy faces, snarling. And I’m sure you all remember who I’m talking about. I think it was Akin. Can people fake that to try to … And then when they’re with you do they try to fake it, and if so ’cause I’m sure they do, how do you cut through it?
Dr. Jason Henle: That’s a great question because depending on the charge a lot of people have a desire to fake … Having the judge think that they’re mentally incompetent to stand trial. And it is part of our job to give certain tests. Obviously when someone’s faking it they’re not going to be honest with us. So collateral information, calling up different sources, people that may know them, schools, getting medical histories, seeing if they’ve seen psychologists or ever been hospitalized in the past. So we have to get a lot of collateral information in order to corroborate our opinions.
Brad Means: What’s the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath?
Dr. Jason Henle: That’s actually a great question. Could I give a little bit of history quickly?
Brad Means: Sure, yeah.
Dr. Jason Henle: I’ll make it quick. If we jump back roughly to the 1800s, some doctors were working with some mentally ill patients and they realized that on the outside they look normal, but the way they treat society and others is not normal and they originally called them …
Brad Means: What was the early name?
Dr. Jason Henle: The early name was …
Brad Means: I don’t know either I wish I could assist. But they called them a name.
Dr. Jason Henle: They called them a name.
Brad Means: Before sociopath or psychopath?
Dr. Jason Henle: Right. And then in the early 1900s they came up more and they said you know this is more of a psychopath.
Brad Means: Psychopath for that one?
Dr. Jason Henle: For psychopath and by 1936 they said well a lot of these people actually have behaviors against societal norms and they changed the name to sociopath. So it was the same thing, but they changed the name.
Brad Means: Oh okay I see.
Dr. Jason Henle: Then jump forward a little bit and they said well we need to come up with an actual list for what these people are doing that makes them stand out. Today what we go by is the DSM. The diagnostics statistical manual 5. And in there both those terms fall under anti-social personality disorder. And this is just my opinion, is that I view today while they both fall under the larger term of anti-social personality disorder. I would say that a psychopath is more severe, more genetic based and a sociopath is someone who’s more … Their upbringing, their environment that they were exposed to while growing up lead to them not always having respect for others.
Brad Means: So a psychopath might have a psychopathic mom or dad?
Dr. Jason Henle: Yes.
Brad Means: Let me ask you this. Is there an event or behavior that we can witness when someone’s young that lets us know that they’re gonna down the wrong path. You often hear that people who abuse animals … If you see a child hurting a dog is that person gonna be bad?
Dr. Jason Henle: Not necessarily. There are red flags that stand up for us. So if somebody sets fires, abuses animals, wets their bed, those are more characteristics that we’d be looking out for what direction is this person going on. We wanna be a little more careful. From where I sit and with my job unfortunately, I often get to look back at the history and basically do Monday morning quarterbacking saying oh we should have seen this.
Brad Means: You sound like people we interview on TV who say, we should have seen this or why didn’t I see this and I’m thinking of a neighbor who says he or she was so quiet, I had no idea. Perhaps I should have seen a warning sign. Why do we hear that so much that the person was quiet, the person was low key, the person was a loner. Is there something that makes them snap?
Dr. Jason Henle: There could be, there could be. Someone who’s a loner might have social anxiety. They might have a mental illness besides just an anti-social personality disorder. A lot of people that we work with also have schizophrenia. And they might be co-morbid. Have two diagnosis, schizophrenia and anti-social. So with schizophrenia they’re often wanting to stay away from other people. They’re often secluding themselves. They might have delusions that people are out to get them. It really depends on each person.
Brad Means: This probably goes against every bit of your training, but are some people just bad? Are some people just evil?
Dr. Jason Henle: I actually don’t believe they are. I truly believe that people perceive the world in their own way. And if they perceive that they’re in danger or that someone’s out to get them. From a schizophrenic perspective, they’re trying to protect themselves. From an anti-social personality disorder, that’s a little bit different where often when they do something against another person, they justify it. They believe that their actions were justified. The person had it coming. The person should have known better. The person well they deserved it. Even though the behavior that they caused or the pain they inflicted on another person is way extreme for what you and I would consider normal.
Brad Means: Can they ever be healed or cured?
Dr. Jason Henle: For the anti-social personality disorder, research has shown that by age 40, in your 40s, it starts to slow down a little bit. It’s not as severe often. And over the course of a lifetime it should be less severe, but sometimes it’s not, sometimes it continues. A lot of people end up in environments, let’s say prison, where it’s a survival mode. It helps them survive in order to get through what they need to get through. With schizophrenia, with medication a lot of people can live a very productive and active life. And you wouldn’t even know that somebody was schizophrenic. If they’re functioning well, holding a job, taking their medication, they live just fine throughout their lives.
Brad Means: You see and hear a lot of dark things. Are you ever scared when you’re in the room with the criminal?
Dr. Jason Henle: I guess I’m lucky as there’s usually staff close enough that if I get into trouble, there’s someone that would come and help me. And at the point that I usually see them … I started in forensics in 2004 and I’ve not had any problems yet. Sometimes I still get shocked sometimes by what one person has done to another person.
Brad Means: How do you turn it off? Just in our quick conversation before we started, you have such a joyful life. How do you separate it from your work? Was that part of your training?
Dr. Jason Henle: That actually wasn’t part of our training so much. Where I’m working now is sometimes a little bit harder ’cause I’m on call all the time. Except for when I’m out of town. But I have my own little ques when I get into my car at the end of the day and I close my car door, I slam my car door shut. It’s sorta like okay work is over for the day. If anything comes up tonight I’ll deal with it, but I’m going home to my family and I need to enjoy that.
Brad Means: I love it. I heard a pastor one time in a sermon say that we should all have a trouble tree. Whenever we pass under it, hang your troubles in it until the next day when you pass under it again. Let me ask you this in closing. Are the CSIs and the criminal minds and the movies and everything that’s out there in media. Are they close to true to what you do? Some of them?
Dr. Jason Henle: The CSIs, I get that question all the time. Wow you’re a forensic psychologist. I watched CSI, I love it. I don’t do anything, we don’t do anything like that.
There are people that I guess are trained to do things like that and I do joke around a lot when we have new students coming. I say we have a microscope set up for you. We’re gonna look at blood splatter. And they say really and I say no.
Brad Means: That’s not how it works.
Dr. Jason Henle: That’s not how it works.
Brad Means: I’ll ask you the same question I asked Dr. House. What do you get outta your work? It is dark, it is sad, it is scary, but what brings you joy or satisfaction?
Dr. Jason Henle: We get a lot of sick people in the front door. And I truly believe that through education and medication, we really help a lot of people out that they had nowhere else to go. This was the last stop for them. Society has often given up on them. What we often see at the end is somebody who’s walking out of our doors with help, with follow up, but that can lead a productive life in society and have a job. At the hospital we have work therapy where we’re already giving them skills. A lot of classes. People get their GEDs. I love it because we’re truly helping people that may have forgotten what they want to learn or they never had the opportunity.
Brad Means: Well I thank you so much for what you do. I know it’s tough at times for sure. And we appreciate it and thanks for being here.
Dr. Jason Henle: Thank you.
Brad Means: Absolutely, Dr. Jason Henle, Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. Great information today. If you need more information about mental health. If you heard some of the things that these doctors talked about, they resonate with you or you wanna reach out on behalf of a loved one. It is easy to do so. There are agencies that are waiting to help you and we can easily put you in touch with those.
If you need more assistance you can call Mental Health America. There’s the number on your screen. You can text MHA to 741741. Do this for yourself for a loved one. Please we can all improve our mental health.