Journal article Open Access

The psychology of killing: Connections between trauma, impulsivity, and treatment in cognitive analytic music therapy

Compton Dickinson, Stella Jean

With the constant threat of terrorism, people often wonder about the underlying social and cultural issues that contribute to the radicalisation of individuals and why humans kill each other. In order to think about this difficult subject, this paper refers to a play by Terence Rattigan called, Ross. It is set 100 years ago and it explores the impact of killing and trauma on the psyche of E.T. Lawrence (of Arabia), Alias Ross. The work then compares Lawrence’s experiences to the recent case of Sergeant Alexander Blackman who shot a wounded Taliban fighter; accused of breaking the Geneva Conventions he was court martialled and convicted of having committed murder. After three years of incarceration he was assessed as suffering from an adjustment disorder at the time of the killing. The court of appeal reduced his sentence of murder to that of manslaughter under grounds of diminished responsibility. Blackman was released from prison. Clearly, the acquittal of Sergeant Blackman has relevance to Ross with regard to what we have and have not learned over the 100 years since T.E. Lawrence’s experiences. These two examples raise more questions than answers around what happens in the human brain when either premeditated or an impulsive killing occurs, also bringing to mind questions about the nature and presence of compassion and duty. To define the difference between intentional motivation or impulsive action to kill a fellow human being involves the curiosity by which to examine the impact on the brain of psychological trauma in response to fear and traumatic loss leading to mental disorder, as well as considering the meaning of mental health and the introduction in 1953 of the conviction of diminished responsibility due to mental illness.

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