Rehabilitating antisocial personalities : treatment through self-governance strategies

Leon McRae

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
186 Downloads (Pure)


Offenders with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) are widely assumed to reject psychotherapeutic intervention. Some commentators, therefore, argue that those with the disorder are better managed in the criminal justice system, where, following the introduction of indeterminate sentences, engagement with psychological treatment is coercively linked to the achievement of parole. By comparison, National Institute of Clinical Excellence guidelines on the management and treatment of ASPD recommend that those who are treatment seeking should be considered for admission to specialist psychiatric hospitals. The rationale is that prison-based interventions are underresourced, and the treatment of ASPD is underprioritised. The justification is that offenders with ASPD can be rehabilitated, if they are motivated. One problem, however, is that little is known about why offenders with ASPD seek treatment or what effect subsequent treatment has on their self-understanding. The aim of this paper is to address these unresolved issues. It draws on the findings of Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded qualitative study examining the experiences of sentenced male offenders admitted to a specialist personality disorder ward within the medium secure estate and the medical practitioners who treat them. The data are analysed with reference to Michel Foucault’s work on governmentality and strategy in power relations. Two arguments are advanced: first, offenders with ASPD are motivated by legal coercive pressures to implement a variety of Foucauldian-type strategies to give the false impression of treatment progress. Second, and related, treatment does not result in changes in self-understanding in the resistive client with ASPD. This presupposes that, in respect of this group at least, Foucault was mistaken in his claim that resistive behaviours merely mask the effectiveness of treatment norms over time. Nevertheless, the paper concludes that specialist treatment in the hospital setting can effect changes in the resistive offender’s self-understanding, but not if the completion of treatment results, as is commonplace, in his prison readmission.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-70
JournalThe Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology
Issue number1
Early online date19 Dec 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • antisocial personality disorder
  • treatment
  • Mental Health Act 1983
  • Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection
  • parole
  • governmentality


Dive into the research topics of 'Rehabilitating antisocial personalities : treatment through self-governance strategies'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this