JHMI Office of Communications and Public Affairs

December 3, 2001
MEDIA CONTACT: Trent Stockton
PHONE: 410-955-8665
E-MAIL: tstockt1@jhmi.edu

A Psychiatric View of Terrorism


In the wake of Sept. 11, psychiatry's contribution to America's response is to defend not against bombs, but against confusion. What is needed now more than ever is a realistic view of what terrorists do, how they think and how to stop them, according to Paul R. McHugh, M.D., University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and formerly psychiatrist in chief at The Johns Hopkins Hospital.

McHugh's view of terrorists - - that their ferocious passion is rooted in intense emotional commitment to an "overvalued idea," not unlike the overvalued ideas of the Unabomber, Adolf Hitler and even Jack Kevorkian - - is published in the Dec. 10 issue of The Weekly Standard, which appears today.

"Terrorist actions, whether war or crimes, are all behaviors," says McHugh. "Our job as psychiatrists is to prevent the behavior. To stop it! That's what you do with anorexia, alcoholism, drug addiction. There's no reason to think this doesn't apply to terrorism."

McHugh places his ideas against the backdrop of "recent confused thinking" about terrorist behavior, including one news story describing the "two phallic symbols" of the World Trade Center and our emotional distress over their destruction as castration fear and anxiety, as well as "dubious debates" over whether terrorists are "mad" or "bad." Instead, he says, psychiatry should offer a realistic, pragmatic and commonsense depiction of terrorism so that the behavior can be prevented.

To interview McHugh, contact Trent Stockton at 410-955-8665.

Related Web site:

The Johns Hopkins Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences: http://www.med.jhu.edu/jhhpsychiatry/master1.htm


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