Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Treva Throneberry: The Girl Who Refused to Grow Up

Psychological Perspectives

From the beginning, there was a great deal of bewilderment concerning Treva's mental state. Was she an ingenious con artist looking for a free ride at the expense of the government or was she suffering from a personality disorder, which encompassed symptoms of amnesia, delusions and a need to escape into various personalities. Prior to her court hearing, psychologists and lawyers working on the case set to find out who the real Treva was and why she felt compelled to stay a teenager.

Book cover: DSM-IV-TR
Book cover: DSM-IV-TR

There was little doubt that Treva was sexually abused as a child, especially considering her sisters' accounts of their childhood. As a result, the trauma likely led to increased bouts of depression and anxiety, which she often suffered throughout her teenage years and was most evident when she exhibited suicidal tendencies. Her behavioral problems could have thus intensified, probably developing into a personality disorder. In fact, many psychologists who analyzed Treva's case came up with varying diagnosis, such as Dissociative Identity Disorder (also known as Multiple Personality Disorder and occurs when one alternates between two or more distinct identities, which take control of one's behavior), Dissociative Fugue (a rare form of short-term amnesia that occurs under stress whereby a person forgets vital aspects of who they are and what they have done and replaces the lost information with that which is newly fabricated) and even Munchausen Syndrome (when one repeatedly fabricates physical illness in order to gain attention from others). 

Treva Throneberry
Treva Throneberry

However, Treva's symptoms didn't fit so neatly into any "psychological box." She was a unique case and one which few psychologists have ever experienced. That is what made her unusual behavior so intriguing to the mental health community.

Yet, there are those who just had trouble believing that Treva suffered from any psychological problem. Some thought she was merely a gifted con artist who was skilled at fooling even the most skilled psychologist. At least, that is what the prosecution purported in their case against her.

As for Treva, she didn't think she suffered from any mental disorder nor did she believe she conned anyone out of money. In her view, she was 19-year-old Brianna Stewart just trying to make her way as best she could, despite the trauma she endured. She was so confident about her identity that she decided to fire her court-appointed lawyer and represent herself at trial.

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