Self-representation and future perception of youth followed by a specialized intervention team in violent radicalization

Desmarais, C., Rousseau, C. (2023, aout)

Applied Psychoanalytic Studies

Vol. 20/Num. 02 : Onlinelibrary


In response to the increase in ideological and non-ideological mass killings, mental health professionals are beginning to invest in prevention and intervention in violent radicalization situations. The psychological and psychiatric literature proposes multiple psychological theories describing the individual factors at play in the process of violent radicalization: loss of meaning, responses to humiliation, dehumanization of the other as well as serious identity problems are often mentioned, but little is known about the self-representation of individuals attracted or involved in violent radicalization. This qualitative study aims at giving a sense of the complexity and texture of the experience of radicalized youth (18–30 years old), followed by a specialized clinic in Quebec (Canada). Ten patients, 18–30 years old, a significant age group for identity formation, were recruited for the study. An art-based method (self-portrait with a collage) and a projective testing method (the Thematic Apperception Test) were used to elicit the psychic representations of the patient about their identity and document their time perception. The results show that idealization and devaluation processes are central to these patients’ self-representation and are associated with adverse childhood experiences. Regarding time perception, many participants were spontaneously drawn toward a nostalgic past, manifesting significant difficulties in anchoring themselves in the present and imagining a future. These results confirm the vulnerability of this clientele and show that the projective art-based methods are perceived as more soothing than threatening. Clinical implications, tools and approaches to help evaluate and intervene with radicalized youth are discussed.