The Total Encounter Capsule

The psychopaths he (Barker) met during his first days at Oak Ridge were nothing like R.D.Laing’s schizophrenics. Although they were undoubtedly insane you would never realise it. They seemed perfectly ordinary. This, Elliot deduced, was because they were burying their insanity deep beneath a facade of normality. If the madness could only, somehow, be brought to the surface, maybe it would work itself through and they could be reborn as empathetic human beings. The alternative was stark: unless their personalities could be radically be altered, these young men were destined for a lifetime of incarceration.

And so he successfully sought permission from the Canadian government to obtain a large batch of LSD.., handpicked a group of psychopaths (‘They have been selected on the basis of verbal ability and most are relatively young and intelligent offenders between 17 and 25…), led them into what he named the Total Encounter Capsule, a small room painted bright green, and asked them to remove their clothes. This was truly to be a radical milestone: the world’s first ever marathon Nude Psychotherapy session for criminal psychopaths.

Elliot’s raw, naked, LSD-fuelled sessions lasted for epic eleven-day stretches. The psychopaths spent every waking moment journeying to their darkest corners in an attempt to get better. There were no distractions – no television, no clothes, no clocks, no calendars, only a perpetual discussion (at least a hundred hours every week) of their feelings. When they got hungry they sucked food food through straws that protruded through the walls. Much like Paul Bindrim’s own Nude Psychotherapy sessions, they were encouraged to go to their rawest emotional places by screaming and clawing at the walls and confessing fantasies of forbidden sexual longing for each other even if they were, in the words of an internal Oak Ridge report of the time, ‘in a state of arousal while doing so’…

Elliott himself was absent, watching it all from behind a one-way mirror. He would not be the one to treat the psychopaths. They would tear down the bourgeois constructs of traditional psychotherapy and be each other’s psychiatrists.

There were some inadvertently weird touches…There would be tour groups of local teenagers: a government initiative to demystify asylums…How could he ensure  the presence of strangers wouldn’t puncture the radical atmosphere he’d spent months creating? And then he had a brainwave. He acquired some particularly grisly crime-scene photographs of people who had committed suicide in gruesome ways, by shooting themselves in the face, for instance, and he hung them around the visitors’ necks. Now everywhere the psychopaths looked they would be confronted by the dreadful reality of violence. (pp75-77)

Ronson, A (2011) The Psychopath Test. Picador. London.


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