Individual Presentation:
• Nina Cerfolio: Adolescent Domestic Mass School Shooting Sprees and the Need for Humane Parenting (60 min)

Abstract: This paper explores the psychopathology of adolescent teen mass shooters through the lens of childhood trauma and underscores the need for human parenting especially in those most vulnerable. Rather than dismissing these adolescents as “oddballs” or “loners,” the author provides interpretation and diagnosis. “Soul murder” (Shengold, 1989) – the abuse of children that deprives them of their identity and the ability to feel joy – was experienced by many of these adolescent assailants. Common themes in these adolescent shooters were, significant trauma of emotional, sexual, and physical abuse, frequent dislocations, bullying and marginalization, online radicalization, exposure to firearms, and low socioeconomic status. In part due to the fear of being stigmatized, these adolescent shooters and their families tragically concealed psychotic symptoms from their treating mental health professional. The families ultimately did not secure proper psychiatric treatment even when they knew their child had command auditory hallucinations telling them to kill. Because these adolescents were misdiagnosed and mistreated, their underlying psychotic symptoms were exacerbated to a deadly degree. Many of these individuals were capable of being psychotic, while still having the ability to plan and execute a mass shooting. The devastating effect of the early abuse and neglect on these adolescent shooters underscores the need for more humane parenting. The importance of spirituality as one path to heal from trauma will be discussed.

Bio: Nina Cerfolio MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, is an internationally recognized expert on trauma and terrorism and a board certified, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in New York City.  In practice for 30+ years, Nina’s success rests in her unique approach, which integrates traditional psychiatric training with her decades of spiritual training. She has been published in prestigious peer-reviewed journals and presented her original work on the psychological influences of spirituality, trauma, and terrorism nationally and internationally, and featured on numerous TV outlets. Her thought-provoking new book, Psychoanalytic and Spiritual Perspectives on Terrorism: Desire for Destruction (Routledge, 2023), weaves her team’s cutting-edge research with her extraordinary first-hand experiences of being a first responder and unique real-world trajectory to explore a more expansive understanding of the origins of terrorism while highlighting an overlooked spiritual lens as a powerful antidote for healing from trauma.