Is Tony Soprano a sociopath?

[This post is by Donna Andersen from Lovefraud.com and the Lovefraud Blog. The goals of Lovefraud are to teach people how to know when love is a con and to wake them up to the danger of sociopaths. ‘Is Tony Soprano a sociopath?’ was first published at Lovefraud blog on June 10, 2007.]

Tonight, in the final episode of the HBO series The Sopranos, we find out what happens to Tony. Will he get whacked? Will he
escape? Will he go into the federal witness protection program?

As a prelude, last week’s episode, called The Blue
Comet
, showed Tony as a man alone, losing his family,
friends and even his psychiatrist. Early in the show, Tony’s shrink,
Dr. Jennifer Melfi, is at a dinner party with other mental health
professionals, including her own shrink, Dr. Elliot Kupfenberg. The
conversation turns to sociopaths:

Doctor #1: I Googled stuff on sociopathic personalities.
Apparently the talking cure actually helps them become better
criminals. It was fascinating. The study was by Yochelson and
Samenow.
Dr. Melfi: Studies are turned around every few years.
Doctor #1: This other—I think it was Robert Hare—suggested sociopaths
actually quite glibly engage on key issues, like mother, family …
Doctor #2: I seem to remember that from residency.
Dr. Melfi: Me too, and I’ve read Hare, but who’s a true sociopath?

As the scene continues, it is revealed that Dr. Melfi is treating
Tony Soprano. Dr. Elliot Kupfenberg points out that she may face
moral and even legal consequences for keeping him as a patient. Later
in the show—after reading the study—Dr. Melfi dumps Tony.

Reasonably accurate

The dialog among the psychiatrists was essentially correct,
although I’m sure Dr. Robert Hare was not happy about them using the
term ‘sociopath‘. He always uses ‘psychopath.’

Still, I’ve been to two of Dr. Hare’s seminars, and I’ve heard him
discuss the research about talk therapy and sociopaths (psychopaths).
However, I believe the research related to incarcerated men mandated
to attend group therapy sessions. What happens is they learn the buzz
words to manipulate their prison psychologists and parole officers.
This allows them to get out of jail faster, or, if they re-offend,
talk their way into reduced sentences.

Of course, many Lovefraud readers who have attended counseling
sessions with sociopaths can relate to how they con the therapists.
And the line about “sociopaths glibly engage on key issues like
mother, family,” well, we all know that one.

For me, the best part of this scene was seeing a reasonably
accurate discussion of the sociopathic personality in a mainstream TV
show.

Is he or isn’t he?

Still, is Tony Soprano a sociopath? My first response is no. As
those of us who have experienced sociopaths well know, they feel no
guilt or remorse. Nothing is their fault, and they do not believe
anything is wrong with them. So although it may be great television
for a mob boss to go into therapy—not because he was ordered by the
court, but because he felt the need—it is not going to happen with a
true sociopath.

But in an article Friday in the St. Petersburg Times, Dennis Lehane, a writer for the HBO series
The Wire (my personal favorite), says Tony Soprano is a
sophisticated sociopath who fools everyone. And Allen Rucker, author
of three officially sanctioned books about The Sopranos,
says, “We were all the therapist being sucked in by the psychopath.
One part of Tony has the sensibility of a poet and another part is
the predator—which is why we love him.”

So is he or isn’t he? The sociopathic personality encompasses a
range of behaviors, and Tony certainly has some of the traits. Or
maybe he’s taken the personality disorder to a whole new level.
Luckily, Tony is a TV character and we don’t really have to decide.

But the good news is that the media may finally be getting the
idea that sociopaths are not all deranged serial killers. They’ve
graduated to mob hit men. I guess that’s progress.

Healing the criminal mind? A Soprano-question

Can Tony be cured by talk therapy?

A recent study on impulsivity, alcoholism, and personality disorders raises an interesting point. The authors are Gabriel Rubio and colleagues of Complutense University in Madrid, the article appears in ‘Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research’.

Rubio says: “We may also need to rethink treatment options. Programs that emphasize immediate rewards for abstinence may have a better chance of succeeding with antisocial personality disorder. Conversely, psychotherapeutic and pharmacological interventions that focus on ‘behavioral control’ may work better with subjects with borderline personality disorders.”  

The bit on treating the antisocial personality caught my eye. Continue reading