Mass Shooters and Mental Illness

Mass Shooters and Mental Illness

Curt and Katie talk about why mass shootings happen. We look at the complexity of the research and how solely blaming mental illness, doesn’t reflect the research and is stigmatizing. We also talk about how to identify risks and what to do to try to prevent violence.

It’s time to reimagine therapy and what it means to be a therapist. To support you as a whole person and a therapist, your hosts, Curt Widhalm and Katie Vernoy talk about how to approach the role of therapist in the modern age.


Click here to scroll to the podcast transcript.

In this episode we talk about mass shooters and mental illness:

  • Looking at why Mass Shootings happen
  • Defining Mass Shooting
  • The harm that blaming mass shootings on mental illness can cause – stigma, lack of seeking mental health treatment

“Mental illness in and of itself is stigmatized in a way that when we start to conflate that with gun violence does not do [it] any justice. And there’s really not a lot of direct causation between mental illness and gun violence.” – Curt Widhalm

  • The limitations and complexity of the research
  • The dehumanization of others and the role that it can play in the violence
  • Attribution Model, low self-esteem, moving out to fringe groups, radicalization
  • Developmental factors including parenting, culture, gender, coercion, history of violence
  • The difficulty with learning from sound bites
  • The role of violent media, video games
  • The importance of differentiating correlation from causation
  • The most important factor: access to guns
  • “Aggrieved Entitlement” leading to seeking revenge in a violent way for a perceived or actual victimization
  • Multi-systemic solutions and what therapists can do to address the situation

“It’s something where it’s so complex that…what I’m hoping people will take away from this conversation is, it’s not one thing. And it can’t be solved with one thing.” – Katie Vernoy

  • Compassion, listening, and connection as a way to intervene prior to radicalization
  • Seeing from a different perspective than what is “acceptable” for you, to help to build alliance and open opportunities for challenging violent beliefs
  • Clarifying therapy versus threat assessment
  • Fighting Fascism in the world and in the therapy room

Our Generous Sponsors for this episode of the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide:

Center For Discovery

Center For Discovery provides evidence-based treatment for eating disorders, binge eating disorders, mental health, substance use, and co-occurring conditions nationwide. Discovery offers gender inclusive and gender-specific treatment with separate programming for adolescent and adults. Programs have a high staff to client ratio because individualized attention is critical when it comes to providing effective and efficient treatment. Learn more about these clinical programs at Discovery offers free resources including weekly support groups, a recovery app, free evaluations, and treatment scholarships. Learn more about Discovery’s Free Weekly Support Groups, for those struggling and loved ones, at Center For Discovery is a preferred provider and in-network with all major insurance companies.

Logo Image of Simplified SEO Consulting, our very generous sponsor for this week's podcast episode of the Modern Therapist's Survival Guide. Simplified SEO provides search engine optimization services and training to improve your organic search rankings on Google.

Simplified SEO

Thank you to our generous sponsor, Simplified SEO Consulting. Do you have a beautiful website that just doesn’t rank very well on Google?  Simplified SEO Consulting can help!  Jessica Tappana, LCSW  and a team of SEO Specialists focus exclusively on helping mental health professionals improve their website rankings on Google so you can get in front of more clients!  Jessica’s team goes in depth to edit your website in a way search engines will respond to, while also encouraging you to maintain your own voice and branding. Simplified SEO Consulting offers both SEO training for motivated practice owners who want to learn to manage their own SEO as well as “done for you” services for therapists who are too busy and are ready to hire someone to invest the time into getting their website ranking. Simplified SEO Consulting is offering a FREE 7-day SEO e-mail series to help you learn the basic components that can help you get your website to the top of search engines!  If you’re interested in learning more about search engine optimization, you can head over to to sign up!

Resources for Modern Therapists mentioned in this Podcast Episode:

We’ve pulled together resources mentioned in this episode and put together some handy-dandy links.

Tons of articles:

Gun Ownership and Attribution Theory

APA Statement on Shootings at Dayton and El Paso

NAMI Statement on Mass Shootings in Texas and Ohio

APA Report on Gun Violence Prevention

SAMHSA Bulletin on Mass Violence

Reading on Fascism

NYT: What Experts Know About Mass Shootings

Washington Post: Mentall Illness, Video Games, and Gun Violence

Why Mental Illness Can’t Predict Mass Shootings

Serious Mental Illness and Mass Shootings (article can no longer be found)

NAMI – Mental Illness and Gun Reporting Laws (article can no longer be found)

Thanks to James Guay, LMFT for sourcing some articles for us!

Relevant Episodes of MTSG Podcast:

On the APA Guidelines for Boys and Men

Episode with Dr. Joel Schwartz

Who we are:

Picture of Curt Widhalm, LMFT, co-host of the Modern Therapist's Survival Guide podcast; a nice young man with a glorious beard.Curt Widhalm, LMFT

Curt Widhalm is in private practice in the Los Angeles area. He is the cofounder of the Therapy Reimagined conference, an Adjunct Professor at Pepperdine University and CSUN, a former Subject Matter Expert for the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, former CFO of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, and a loving husband and father. He is 1/2 great person, 1/2 provocateur, and 1/2 geek, in that order. He dabbles in the dark art of making “dad jokes” and usually has a half-empty cup of coffee somewhere nearby. Learn more at:

Picture of Katie Vernoy, LMFT, co-host of the Modern Therapist's Survival Guide podcastKatie Vernoy, LMFT

Katie Vernoy is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, coach, and consultant supporting leaders, visionaries, executives, and helping professionals to create sustainable careers. Katie, with Curt, has developed workshops and a conference, Therapy Reimagined, to support therapists navigating through the modern challenges of this profession. Katie is also a former President of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. In her spare time, Katie is secretly siphoning off Curt’s youthful energy, so that she can take over the world. Learn more at:

A Quick Note:

Our opinions are our own. We are only speaking for ourselves – except when we speak for each other, or over each other. We’re working on it.

Our guests are also only speaking for themselves and have their own opinions. We aren’t trying to take their voice, and no one speaks for us either. Mostly because they don’t want to, but hey.

Stay in Touch with Curt, Katie, and the whole Therapy Reimagined #TherapyMovement:


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Podcast Homepage

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Consultation services with Curt Widhalm or Katie Vernoy:

The Fifty-Minute Hour

Connect with the Modern Therapist Community:

Our Facebook Group – The Modern Therapists Group

Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide Creative Credits:

Voice Over by DW McCann

Music by Crystal Grooms Mangano

Transcript for this episode of the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide podcast (Autogenerated):

Curt Widhalm 0:00
This episode of The Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide is sponsored by Center for Discovery.

Katie Vernoy 0:04
Center for Discovery provides evidence based treatment for eating disorders, binge eating disorders, mental health, substance use, and co-occurring conditions nationwide.

Curt Widhalm 0:14
Discovery offers free weekly support groups for those struggling and loved ones. Learn more at

Katie Vernoy 0:21
Listen at the end of the episode for more information.

Curt Widhalm 0:25
This episode is also brought to you by Simplified SEO Consulting.

Katie Vernoy 0:32
Do you have a beautiful website that just doesn’t rank very well on Google? Simplified SEO Consulting can help. They have a team of SEO specialists who focus exclusively on helping mental health professionals improve their website rankings on Google so you can get in front of more clients.

Curt Widhalm 0:42
They go into depth to edit your website in a way that search engines respond to. Listen at the end of the episode for a free way to get started.

Announcer 0:51
You’re listening to The Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide where therapists live, breathe and practice as human beings. To support you as a whole person and a therapist, here are your hosts, Curt Widhalm and Katie Vernoy.

Curt Widhalm 1:07
Welcome back modern therapists. This is The Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide. I am Curt Widhalm with Katie Vernoy. And following up on our episode from last week on responding to mass shootings, we’ve both come across some questions of why do mass shootings happen? How does that fit within the therapy world and being able to describe to clients being able to be in our professional role and kind of identifying what our intervention strategies or identification patterns are. And we’ve pulled together a bunch of research, we’re going to walk through this, but I think it’s important for us to point out from the very beginning that these are opinions of Katie and myself and don’t necessarily reflect the opinions or values of anybody else that we might be associated with. But this is coming from Katie and me to you. And you know, tackling this, nobody seems to have kind of the smoking gun of research into mass shootings, pun partially intended there. But it’s really something that is very, very complex that is made complex in a lot of different ways. And we’ll get into a lot of that during the episode here today.

Katie Vernoy 2:24
And just to reiterate, this is these are our opinions, but it’s also we’re going to be citing research. And we are going to be putting this all in the show notes. So even though a lot of times I think this issue is politicized, we are trying as much as possible, not to politicize it. But just making clear, these are our opinions. So.

Curt Widhalm 2:44
So a couple of operational definitions to go from the very beginning, mass shootings are defined as four or more unrelated victims, who have been injured or killed, not including the perpetrator of the shooting themselves. So we’re looking at four identifiable victim or victims who are in this space. And, you know, really the prevalence of this as of the day of recording this in the United States, in 2019. There have been more mass shootings in 2019 than there have been number of days in 2019. So this is a wide scale sort of thing, even if they don’t all make the news.

Katie Vernoy 3:29
And I think it’s important to recognize that at times, there are going to be different studies that we cite that actually have narrow the definition to not include mass shootings that are related to some of these other criminal activity or drug sales or those kinds of things. There’s a lot of different definitions, just to clarify, because I think there’s obviously the ones that make the news or have not been daily, sometimes it feels like over a weekend, a couple weekends ago, it was daily. But I think it’s something where it’s a it’s a large problem regardless of why four more people have been shot in a single 24 hour period by a single shooter.

Curt Widhalm 4:05
So last week, in our episode, we talked about a couple of statements from NAMI and from APA about the role that mental illness plays in this and both statements are talking about that mental illness in and of itself is stigmatized in a way that when we start to conflate that with gun violence does not do any justice. And there’s really not a lot of direct causation between mental illness and gun violence. We’re going to just throw that one out there right here at the very beginning.

Katie Vernoy 4:38
Laying the gauntlet down: mental illness does not cause gun violence.

Curt Widhalm 4:42
And we mentioned in that episode too about that when we start to see statements like this, that these two things are related, despite all scientific evidence that they’re not, that it stigmatizes people from seeking mental health services and that these are levels of intervention that can prevent people from seeking out their own treatments, just completely independent of gun violence, but also the interventions that may be necessary to meet with and intervene with people before their actions escalate into more and more violent behaviors.

Katie Vernoy 5:16
I think it oversimplifies it to say either direction that either it’s unrelated or it causes gun violence, that mental illness causes or is unrelated to gun violence. I think it’s so complex, and there’s so many different factors, mental health concerns can be a part of the mosaic of issues that are at play. And so I think just saying it one direction there, I think we do we want to be cautious because there are there are a lot of studies that do show that there is a correlation. And a lot of a lot of folks who are doing mass shootings have some sort of suicidal ideation; does that make them mentally ill? You know, there’s, there’s a lot of those things that I think can be very complex. And I think when we try to simplify it, for sound bites for folks, I think that’s what really starts hurting is that it’s, it’s something where we don’t actually get to what are the things that will help to prevent these these situations. And and I think that really looking into some of the details might be very helpful.

Curt Widhalm 6:15
We also recognize that there are some major limitations into identifying this in a much more in depth way, because the current administration in our government has cut off funding to the Center for Disease Control on researching gun violence and mass shootings. So the research that is out there is either older, or it’s being purposely hidden away, if I’m going to make, you know, my crazy tinfoil hat comment about this. But big part of understanding this in a more in depth way from the scientific community is currently not being seen as a priority, which is it’s really frustrating coming from a social science sort of standpoint of not being able to see what’s really largely an epidemic in the United States, of having some sort of way of looking at this in a way that can come to a comprehensive answer in a very complex sort of system.

Katie Vernoy 7:16
So if we’re going to, I guess, talk about things that are a little bit outside of what the research is that we’re looking at the thing that I’m really saying that really concerns me as this kind of dehumanization of others, whether it’s the dehumanization of individuals who are migrating to United States, if it’s dehumanization of women or objectification of women, when we dehumanize others, it seems less important whether or not they live or die. I think there’s also and maybe this is a bit controversial when we dehumanize people who are shooting and call them evil and vicious and monsters. I think that there’s an emotional reality to that. But I think that the actual reality is that these are individuals who may have shown up in our office, may have been people who we could intervene on ahead of time. And I think I would reach out to all of us to seek human connection. And humanize and understand the humaneness of each of us, regardless of where in the world we are, what we believe, how we’re behaving. I do believe that there’s there’s more to it than that. And that’s also you know, kind of my Pollyanna let’s all love each other and that will save the world.Joslyn But I think it’s it’s something where when we lack the ability to see another human being as a human being and someone worth value, it makes it very easy for us to dismiss them or to kill them.

Curt Widhalm 8:39
So you’re segwaying pretty well into this article. It’s from Mark Joslyn and Donald Haider-Markel. It’s called Gun Ownership and Self Serving Attributions for Mass Shooting Tragedies is a 2017 article from Social Science Quarterly. And they talk a lot about attribution theory, which first came out in the 1950s. And this is analyzing how individuals observe and explain and analyze their behaviors with causal explanations. And specifically, in looking at this through the frame of gun violence, they go through several pages, I’m going to just try and hit some bullet points on this. But they largely look at some past research studies that look at the fragility of self esteem and people who are likely going or have committed these sorts of acts. Now, there is some limitations in this kind of research because a lot of people who perpetrate mass shooting violence end up dying in either by suicide or in being apprehended before they can be studied. So a lot of the studies about what their individual aspects are kind of these post mortem sort of psychological profiles that are built up about them, they go into their computers, they go into their writings, they see what kind of people that they hang out with. But in looking at some of these other attributions, when people have low self esteem that they look to create favorable impressions on people who are going to help elevate their self esteem. And this isn’t necessarily from majority groups, that they can be pushed out to fringe groups who then identify that you’re, you’re welcome here as long as you express a certain ideology. And this is where we can look at certain aspects of in 2019, internet groups that perpetrate this further ideology. And everything that we know about being on the internet is that it allows us to de-personalize ourselves and see people, even if they’re in our own groups as being not necessarily on that same level of being human. But when these groups further go on to dehumanize other people, immigrants, minorities, people of different religions that we can start to see the framework of this developing as people who are looking to fit in with groups that push more and more extremist ideologies.

Katie Vernoy 11:13
Yeah, I mean, I guess this would be considered kind of the radicalization, right?

Curt Widhalm 11:18
Definitely. Now, there’s also evidence and they, this is still citing from that same article that they’re putting out a couple of articles from the 80s and 90s, about how political ideologies also fit within this.

Katie Vernoy 11:18
Oh, wow. OK.

Curt Widhalm 11:25
And we look at the way that second amendments we’re, as a country, we’re generally associating that with the right wing, there are people who are on the left side of the political spectrum, who are gun owners and, and I’m, I’ll be the one to say for the two of us: Katie and I both recognize that there are responsible gun owners and that there are, and there probably the vast majority of people who own guns here. But when we’re looking at the people who perpetrate mass shootings, that when the political ideology becomes the attribution of how people view themselves, that we start to see how different aspects of a fractured political ideology that you might have people who are solely only looking at things from a different political plank within within the platform. But as we start to faction out, you know, whether it’s things around other controversial things, abortion, immigration, these kinds of things, that when we bring kind of this radicalization idea together, that we see all of these ideas kind of becoming this fervent sort of everybody needs to agree and everybody needs to move together in order to fit this cohesive in-group that then further dehumanizes people who are on the outside. So if we’re looking at this, from this attribution model standpoint, what we’re trying to do is identify the people that we need to intervene with are not necessarily just people who have access to guns, but the fragility of where their self esteem is, their need to fit in with people and the people that they’re seeking out to fit in with having these more extremist views.

Katie Vernoy 11:35
That makes a lot of sense. But it also feels a little daunting. My assumption is a lot of these folks that are kind of once they’re within these groups that they are already going to be, you know, avoiding mental health treatment or mental health diagnosis because of that’s where everybody goes, that’s how you don’t get your gun is if you have a diagnosis, if you are in treatment. And in truth, you know, what I saw in a lot of the stuff I read from NAMI from APA was that the people who have mental health concerns that ended up doing some of these shootings are untreated or have stopped treatment. And so I think, to me, looking a little bit earlier in kind of the developmental factors and some of the cultural and gender factors, I think, and APA did a really nice report on kind of the causes and kind of what to do about gun violence. And I’ll link to that in the show notes. But what they were really saying is that intervention can potentially happen a lot younger and a lot sooner, assuming that you’re able to kind of have the doorway in and looking at some of these things, there’s, you know, kind of the, the parenting style. So this is not to blame parents, but just to kind of identify some of these things, is that if a parenting style is either too permissive, or too strict, that can sometimes lead to, you know, kind of these coercive kind of behaviors where either the child finds out that coercing their parent is effective. And so then, you know, violence and coercion becomes this is how I get my needs met, or the parents are coercing the kids. And what ends up happening is that level of violence, that’s how we solve problems in our family. That’s how it’s best to solve problems. And this can also include if families have guns that are not that are not being supervised, locked up, you know that there’s not that monitoring that access can be pretty dangerous. I think some of the other pieces that I saw that really were notable to me is kind of this kind of the role that gender plays because the vast majority of men do not inappropriately handle guns or do not perform mass violence. But when you look at mass shootings, they are inordinately, vastly more likely to be perpetrated by men. And so looking at the culture of manhood, and looking at how people become men, and I think this speaks to kind of what you were talking about the self esteem issue, violence, self sufficiency, you know, don’t express your emotions, like this kind of antiquated version of what manhood is. And we, we actually talked about this in more detail, I think the kind of the man issues last week in our episode about the APA guidelines on treating boys and men. But I think it’s it’s something where, culturally there’s this, this notion that men and boys have to respond in a certain way. And that can that can with some of these folks that have some of these other factors would be end up kind of be more likely to do some of these mass shootings. But I think the other piece that I think is is really critical is that the best predictor of violence is previous acts of violence. And so looking developmentally at some of these kids that are having, you know, potentially some of these coercive experiences or who are, you know, kind of, I don’t know, temperamentally, maybe there’s some of this stuff, but if they’re having more violent behaviors as kids and as young adults, those things are like, you know, when you add enough of these factors, those things line up with potentially a higher likelihood of these violent acts in adulthood.

Curt Widhalm 16:48
So this is where, again, a lot of these post mortem sort of looks at who perpetrates these things is quick to blame things in sound bites. I remember after Columbine shooting, it was about them playing Doom, the video game and about them listening to Marilyn Manson. You know, is it the music? Is it the video games? And at the time, Chris Rock came out with this one, you know, this is the music what was in Hitler’s discman like. But in kind of speaking to the aspects around video games, in 2017, the United States ranked first in the world for violent gun deaths per 100,000 people. And it’s about four and a half people per 100,000, died in violent gun deaths in 2017. Coming in second place was Canada, which was at point two people per 100,000. So we’re looking at a scale of 20 times more within the United States. And culturally, you can’t get much closer than Canada to the United States.

Katie Vernoy 18:03
Yeah, yeah.

Curt Widhalm 18:04
Other countries that ranked higher in here, Italy, and France coming in third, and fourth. But when we look at video game revenue, right next to violent gun deaths, we we don’t see the same types of things that we see, you know, numbers-wise that the US in 2019, video game revenue per person estimates is about $110 per person that comes in third behind South Korea and China who are not even part of the top five as far as violent gun deaths per 100,000 people. So we’re starting to see this as a correlation, not as a causation, because when ever we can point to two things that might seemingly be related, this falls apart relatively easily. Now, there is past research that suggests that violent kids tend to be attracted towards violent video games, but violent video games don’t necessarily cause violent kids.

Katie Vernoy 19:05
Yeah, I think that’s important to point out because I think the correlation piece is is huge. I mean, if I think about all of the things even that, that we’ve been talking about the correlation between some of these developmental factors and self esteem, and then you look at, you know, kind of the radicalization, you look at what they’re attracted to, as far as violent media and this could be video games, but it could also be violent movies and violence that’s discussed in the even the media, you know, like news media, you know, that we’re seeing a lot of this stuff, there’s so much of it really present. All of those things can correlate it all of them can be a factor but the causation really is hard to find because it’s you know, we’re not we’re not studying in a way that really supports that and I think it would be so hard because it’s so complex to divide all these things out. It would be so hard to say well, oh, well, you know, that video game that was that was the last thing that, that really did it, but cuz I mean there is there is a correlation, there is the dehumanization, the normalization of violence that can happen with all this violent media. And so there’s correlation, but there’s no causation. Like, it doesn’t cause those things. And I think the thing that was really interesting, it was this very pointed sentence and the APA report was, someone needs to have access to a gun in order to be able to do this, to use one to be able to have, you know, violent acts that are caused that that involve guns. And so I think there’s a lot of stuff that are priming the pump, so to speak for some of these folks, and most of them are young men, that end up leading to this is the logical thing. And I and I think that in one of the studies, the APA report cited, it really just the way that it was described aggrieved entitlement, it’s, I have been victimized, whether it’s real or perceived, you know, and it could be bullying, it could be this kind of this outgroup thing, it could be so many things that are impacting my self esteem, but I am aggrieved. And then I am also entitled to seek revenge, I am entitled to use violence to do so because of all of these factors, how my family talks about it, how they talk about guns, how society treats others. I mean, there’s there’s and potentially if it’s untreated psychosis, like there’s, there’s so many factors in this, that it’s hard to say, Oh, well, that’s the thing that caused it. You know, that’s the thing that happened. I mean, maybe there is a trigger a loss or some sort of something bullying, something that has happened that has now said, Okay, now I am a victim, and it’s my turn to take, take the stage and do what I needed to do. But I think there’s, there’s, you know, there’s many people who are bullied, there’s many people who have had losses that never pick up a gun and shoot anybody or themselves. And so I think it’s, it’s something where it’s so complex that I think what we’re, what I’m hoping people will take away from this conversation is, it’s not one thing. And it can’t be solved with one thing.

Curt Widhalm 22:10
Right? And this is where I don’t want it to just kind of throw our hands up in the air and say, there’s nothing to be done about this. And…

Katie Vernoy 22:17
No, no, of course not.

Curt Widhalm 22:19
And, you know, this is where, and one of the things that has been pointed out to me by a couple of our listeners is that last week’s episode for us, it’s very much like the article from the, that comes out after most mass shootings that just is titled, there’s nothing to do about this, as the only country where this routinely happens. All they do is update the location and the body count of every mass shooting. And our listeners pointed out that, you know, this is our version of that. But if this is the only country that happens that regularly that we need to be able to look at kind of what a multisystemic answer to this is, I think we have to face some hard truths about this, because in addition to this in-group sort of thing comes the ideological messages that are presented, and the more that those ideological messages are put out into the mainstream, by popular figures, by the people in leadership, the more that people who are prone to accepting these as these are the the ways of fitting in, and these are the ways of being accepted that these are the people that are going to respond to it. So when we see messages from our president, dehumanizing immigrant immigrants, that this is activating people who needed this intervention earlier, because they’re trying to fit in. But a huge part of this where it gets conflated with it being a mental health problem is the failures of the mental health systems to respond to all of these things that we’ve talked about so far. And this is really where we fit in is, there is a lot better job of kids seeing something, saying something of, you know, the Parkland shooter, the other students in his school, joked about him to such a point that they started labeling him as the one most likely to shoot up the school. Now, the bolts in that system, we’re not responding to the kids who are reporting, hey, this kid’s likely going to shoot up our school. And we see this across a number of different areas of people writing their manifestos or their reasons why they’re doing these things that site, Donald Trump, in order to in his language, that these are red flags that people are identifying earlier that are not being responded to in a way that helps to intervene. And this is partially because of the fear within the mental health system and the mental health workforce of overstepping our bounds of going too far with a client in order to prevent violence, even if there’s not a necessarily direct threats against an identifiable person or persons.

Katie Vernoy 25:10
I think there’s confidentiality issues, though. And I think there also are things where, you know, Monday morning quarterbacking can also be a big impact. Because I think we can say, Oh, well, we all saw it. But it’s, it’s something where there’s attribution bias there as well. But I think if we’re looking at how do we better do this, I think we need to actually say, well, not like, Oh, we’re, we’re afraid because I think that in my assessments in my threat assessments and the things that I’m doing, I’m consistently trying to make sure that I’m balancing the needs of the clinical needs of the client, the safety needs of the client and society. Like, I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. But you’re saying that, hey, we’re not doing enough? What would you recommend?

Curt Widhalm 25:48
So I think that a lot of therapists are trained, when we identify clients like this is that the intervention is no, don’t think this way. And this is really where we, as therapists need to be trained better on how to listen to clients who are expressing this kind of stuff. So they feel understood because

Katie Vernoy 26:08
Explain that more, because I don’t know what you mean, by no, no, don’t think this way.

Curt Widhalm 26:11
So if a client comes and says, you know, I’m really, you know, feeling like this outgroup, you know, does not belong does not need to be here, you know, use immigration as an example, you know, people who are here undocumented are urchins in the system, whatever their their language is, that really starts to speak to, you know, this, this pre violent rhetoric, that the reaction to a lot of these kinds of clients is to explain to them, what their, you know, how their thinking is wrong, and how they should be looked at it from a different angle. And this is wrong. This is not how we intervene with these people, it is better to have them feel understood. Because that connection is going to help to mitigate the response that’s going to change the answers that they’re getting it rather than its it being this in group versus out group, like, yeah, you’re you’re right, or, you know, no, no, you’re wrong. When you’re told that you’re wrong. Most people are going to identify more with their principles rather than listening. You know, not this, this back and forth debate. And I brought up Columbine and Marilyn Manson’s rolling things. But in the wake of the shooting, when people were asking Marilyn Manson, what he would have told these kids, he said, nothing. I would have sat there and listened to him. And I think that this is something where we are trying to jump to answers that, again, are not, you know, these cookie cutter answers that don’t work, when really what it is, is showing compassion, showing understanding. And once they’re feeling part of your in group in that therapeutic relationship, that’s where we’re going to see the change happen. But it’s, it’s not fast, it’s not something that is, in the moment, going to change things. But this is where identifying these red flags earlier, allows us to intervene in a way that happens much earlier and a lot more safely.

Katie Vernoy 28:17
I think that’s a really interesting perspective. Because I think oftentimes, especially with stuff that is, and I’m agreeing with you just to clarify, stuff that is hard to listen to, stuff that’s so against kind of what the therapists perspective is, I think, can be very hard for some therapists to really be able to sit with somebody and explore the reality. And, and I’ve seen this, especially with psychosis, a lot of people will try to challenge the psychosis without understanding it without really digging into it. And I know this is something that actually I’ve talked to Joel Schwartz about whose previous guest, but just kind of really trying to understand and inhabit their world and understand what’s happening. And I think being able to really get what that is and to to, to find those spaces that you can open conversation about. What does this mean? What are the other opportunities to how how else can you look at this? What are the things that how does this impact you and your view of the world those kinds of things? I think it can be very interesting, because it can open up that conversation and that alliance around how do you navigate the world in a more effective way and a healthier way given your perspective of it, understanding how you view it, understanding what you’re seeing, and I think a lot of people are really struggle with that because I think that we’re you know, we go to no we have to teach them to behave properly. We have to teach them to think properly. But it was it was a very interesting training that I went to a really long time ago that was basically like if you directly challenge psychotic beliefs you know, kind of delusions, hallucinations, that kind of stuff, you’re gonna get that same thing, it’s going to be a back and forth, and they’re not going to believe you versus being able to explore and understand it. So I really like what you’re saying. And I think it opens up this space of having therapy be more accessible for everyone that needs those services versus people that fit into a majority perspective, or who are already in that in group and are just kind of the the worried well.

Curt Widhalm 30:25
Yeah, this is one piece, and it’s probably a much earlier piece in the process, then, you know, when people are actively making threats, then that needs to be responded to accordingly, that this is not, you know, everybody’s opinion holds equal weight. But we’re not going to convince people through arguments. Lord knows I’ve been on enough internet chats that I haven’t convinced anybody to change their mind on things.

Katie Vernoy 30:52
Or even just you and I talking oftentimes we don’t, we don’t ever convince each other.

Curt Widhalm 30:56
Sure. But, you know, this multi-prong approach also has to make it to where, when we do see these messages out in public that we have a non therapist response too to call out when public behaviors are not appropriate to that. There’s evidence of things like fascism being best fought through, shutting it down when it happens on a public sociological level. And that Fascism is a natural sort of thing that happens. But being able to show that fascist ideas are not acceptable and not going to be accepted as part of the mainstream that predictably, leads to more and more incidences of mass violence. And I’ll link in the show notes to some really fascinating reading around all of this. But it’s something where we have our individual therapist responsibilities and the clients that we work with who identify these things. But sociologically, we also need to be able to stand up and say when things aren’t okay in a more public space. And I think that this fits into where you know, all of Katie and my mission is, this is part of our whole person thing, if we’re really serious about stopping mass shootings and mass violence, knowing what we know about human psychology and about therapeutic principles, we actually have to be activated to respond to this in public in the way that has historically been able to make it to where these kinds of ideologies being expressed publicly are not becoming part of the mainstream.

Katie Vernoy 32:34
I think it’s interesting to look at it from kind of some systemic ways. It’s because if we’re looking at fascism, or coercive behaviors, or kind of do what I say, kind of environments, if we look at it from a societal perspective, versus a family perspective, I think, if you have the capacity, and you have the voice, to be able to speak out against fascism, or some of these more coercive types of roles, the dehumanization, that kind of stuff, I think that’s that’s really important as therapists. I think, in the therapy room to kind of take it to a place where folks who maybe don’t have the voice or the the desire to step out in that way. I think anytime we see these kinds of coercive acts, we see people who are in these relationships where revenge and violence and kind of an obedience and dehumanization, and all of these things that can lead to some of these these violent acts, I think being able to address them and like what you were saying, Curt it, you know, being able to listen and understand and kind of explore these viewpoints, and challenge them and really look at how do we get to a place where we are more compassionate, human society where we see each other and accept each other in the best ways we can, with all of the differences with all of the perspectives that we have there. And I think I think it’s hard. But I think when we see these things, when we see these, these kiddos with, you know, really poor self esteem and violent acts, and we see, you know, when we see these, these families that are really struggling and don’t have the bandwidth to have a different parenting style, or whatever it is, I think being able to intervene at any stage of the game. We’re helping. And so I don’t want to say like, Hey, we’ve got to stand up and do this thing, because I don’t think every therapist has to, I think we have to understand what what we’re dealing with. And I think we take the steps that we can take at the place that we’re at both emotionally, developmentally in our careers, that kind of stuff.

Curt Widhalm 34:03
We recognize that this is only one aspect in dealing with things. I think the overall point though, is that it’s who has access to the guns that is really making all of these events happen. And the better that we can intervene with the people who are most likely to do this. This is, you know gun control is a whole different conversation that we’re not getting into it all here today. But doing our parts, being able to really recognize ways that we can get involved in helping to prevent these kinds of incidents ahead of time. Really being able to identify these flags is really a matter of life and death.

Katie Vernoy 34:40

Curt Widhalm 34:40
We’ll have our show notes at And a wealth of information there. I also want to point out James Guay helped us source some of the articles for this. So thank you to him and until next time, I’m Curt Widhalm with Katie Vernoy.

Katie Vernoy 35:43
Thanks again to our sponsor Center for Discovery.

Curt Widhalm 35:45
Center for Discovery provides evidence based treatment for eating disorders, binge eating disorders, mental health, substance use and co-occurring conditions nationwide. Discovery offers gender inclusive and gender specific treatment with separate programming for adolescents and adults. Programs have a high staff to client ratio because individualized attention is critical when it comes to providing effective and efficient treatment. Center for Discovery is a preferred provider and in network with all major insurance companies.

Katie Vernoy 36:14
Learn more about these clinical programs at Discovery offers free resources including weekly support groups, a recovery app, free evaluations and treatment scholarships. Learn more about Discovery’s free weekly support groups for those struggling and loved ones at

Curt Widhalm 36:32
Also, thank you to Simplified SEO Consulting.

Katie Vernoy 36:35
The Simplified SEO Consulting team is passionate about helping mental health professionals get in front of their ideal clients. They help therapists meet clients where they are looking on the internet through search engine optimization or SEO.

Curt Widhalm 36:47
Simplified SEO Consulting offers both SEO training for motivated practice owners who want to learn to manage their own SEO, as well as done for you services for therapists who are too busy and are ready to hire someone to invest the time to getting their website ranking. No matter where you are in your private practice journey. They have a package that can fit your needs and help you fill your caseload with your ideal clients.

Katie Vernoy 37:09
Simplified SEO Consulting is offering a free 7-day SEO email series to help you learn the basic components that can help you get your website to the top of search engines. If you’re interested in learning more about search engine optimization, you can head over to to sign up.

Announcer 37:27
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