Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dr. Robert Hare: Expert on the Psychopath


Lest anyone think that diagnosing psychopathy is just a matter of going down the list and checking items off, then adding them up, Hare notes that the process is quite involved.  It can take two hours to get through the list, because the diagnosis is based on interviews and file data.  One doesn't diagnose a psychopath lightly.  That means that professionals have to be trained in how to administer the assessment instrument correctly.

"We're concerned that if people are going to use the PCL-R," Hare says, "they should do it properly, with good training and professional standards.  I've been trying to set up international standards for its use, and we now have a training program through my forensic consulting company, Darkstone."

He and several of his colleagues offer a three-day training program to government or professional agencies for using the PCL-R.  "We realized a number of years ago that this idea of psychopathy was becoming so important to the criminal justice system, typically for sex offenders, that the potential for misuse and abuse was great.  We wanted to make sure people were well-trained, so we developed the three-day program.  Now we have a post-workshop training program, where they have access to eight videotaped case histories, for which we have well-developed criteria for evaluating them."          

He also does training in England with Dr. Adelle Forth, a former student of his, now an Associate Professor at Carleton University in Ottawa.  "Three or four years ago when the Prison Service in England started to adopt the PCL-R in a major way, they wanted to ensure that their psychologists were qualified to use the instrument. Adelle and I put on a series of workshops, and I think we trained about 500 people.  We then made arrangements to take some of their best people and train them as trainers.  They now run their own system and have developed formal system-wide guidelines for use of the PCL-R in the English Prison Service. Their protocol for forensic use of the PCL-R sets a standard for the rest of the world."

Hare points out that training by his group is by no means the only route for researchers and clinicians to take if they wish to become qualified and competent in the use of the PCL-R.  His web site describes the qualifications for use of the PCL-R and its derivatives, as well as ways in which users can ensure that they are doing a good job.

His own manual, first published in 1991, is now in its second edition, and from that original 77-page document, it has grown to 222 pages.  "The scoring criteria remain exactly the same as they have been since 1985," he says, "and that's consistent with the APA guidelines, which say that if you are going to change an instrument you have to be sure you have enough data to support the changes.  So many people have used the PCL-R in its current form that I couldn't change the scoring criteria without extensive field-testing.  The original manual was based on 1100 offenders from a variety of samples, plus another 400 from forensic populations.  The current manual is based on 10,500 offenders plus almost 2000 Europeans.  In addition, some 75 pages of the 2nd edition are devoted to discussions of the extensive basic and applied research generated by the PCL-R.

Given the success of the PCL-R for diagnosis, risk assessment, and suitability for treatment evaluation, it was important to take it to other populations, and many researchers are now engaged in those areas.