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A large group is on hand Thursday at Willmar Senior High for the opening panel discussion at the 12th Annual Community Conference on the Brain. This year’s conference included breakout sessions on a wide range of topics: childhood trauma, the impact of domestic violence on families, mental health in infancy and early childhood, and the role of school crisis teams in helping children and staff deal with tragedy. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Author on criminal minds highlights 12th brain conference in Willmar

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WILLMAR — A psychologist and author who has focused his research on crime as a “lifestyle choice” by some individuals keynoted this year’s Community Conference on the Brain in Willmar.

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Dr. Stanton Samenow, longtime psychologist and author of “Inside the Criminal Mind,” was the keynote speaker Thursday as the conference’s theme addressed aggression, violence, trauma and the brain.

Samenow, who continues to practice in Alexandra, Va., has presented in 48 of the 50 states about his clinical research of juvenile and adult criminal offenders. His research has been called controversial by others in the field, because Samenow does not focus on the alleged causes of crime or the environment in which a criminal grew up, but on the fact that crime may be a lifestyle choice for some small subset of criminals.

His focus, Samenow said in an interview earlier Thursday with the West Central Tribune, is to examine a person’s thinking patterns to determine how they see themselves and others and what motivates them.

“My job is to get inside that mind,” he said, and examine a person’s motivation in lying and being dishonest. “The goal is to try to engage the person in understanding their thinking patterns.”

Mental health workers, teachers and other professionals attended the 12th annual event, which is sponsored by the PACT for Families Collaborative for children’s mental health. The brain conference is held each year to share the latest knowledge about brain development, especially among children and teens, and provide models for how organizations can put what they learn into practice.

This year’s conference, conducted at Willmar Senior High School, also included breakout sessions on a wide range of topics: childhood trauma, the impact of domestic violence on families, mental health in infancy and early childhood, and the role of school crisis teams in helping children and staff deal with tragedy.

Debb Sheehan, PACT for Families Director, wrote in her introduction in the conference brochure that planning for this year’s event started shortly after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. The idea of exploring violence in society quickly emerged as a theme, and then expanded to include trauma and aggression.

Sheehan wrote that organizers knew Samenow would be viewed as controversial “in that he looks not at the environment in which a criminal grew up, but the notion that for a small subset of people, crime is a lifestyle choice.”

The keynote address included what Samenow called a brief tour of the criminal mind, which is the same for men and women and for boys and girls, and the tactics they deploy to accomplish their goals.

While most everyone lies at some point, usually a small fib to get themselves out of a difficult or embarrassing situation, people who exhibit extreme patterns of dishonesty and crime leave a much more destructive mark on society, he said in the interview.

“For the person who makes crime a way of life, it results in physical, emotional and financial injury to others,” he said. “They leave a trail of carnage behind them.”

Samenow’s research and books, he said, are recognized by those who work with offenders and may help counselors understand their clientele’s mental makeup and how to work with those clients in efforts to understand and change their behavior. Sheehan in her introduction wrote that whether a person agrees with Samenow’s premise or not, “you are likely to find many things to agree with in how to approach the issues of intervention and even prevention when it comes to exploring the mind of the criminal.”

News Editor Susan Lunneborg contributed to this story.

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Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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