Application of Clinical Psychology: Ted Kaczynski

Application of Clinical Psychology: Ted Kaczynski

Learning Team E


University of Phoenix


Theodore Kaczynski was an incredibly intelligent man with a wide array of mental health problems that helped propel him to become one of the most wanted men in the country for over twenty years. Many people know of Kaczynski as the Unabomber, so named because the first few bombs he sent to universities, but not many people know of the many different mental health issues he was suffering from for almost his entire life. Kaczynski’s high I.Q. (rumored to be around 170) and his rapid academic rise from preparatory school to Harvard and beyond masked the fact that he was an incredibly troubled individual. Kaczynski began his run of bombings in 1978 and continued off and on until 1995 when the final bomb was sent to the California Forestry Association killing one man.

Kaczynski, who was accepted to Harvard at age sixteen, went on to get a doctorate in mathematics before becoming an associate professor of mathematics at University of California, Berkley. Majority of his youth, he was a loner which continued after he graduated and never really caught on to relating to other people or wanting to associate with anyone else. This and the fact that he had little patience made him an inferior teacher who didn’t connect with the students. Kaczynski eventually moved away from California and took odd jobs moving further and further away from people and large centers. Theodore Kaczynski’s case study showed a clear pattern of his inability to relate or interact with other people and demonstrated how the problem grew continuously as the years passed. The change from unsocial introvert to mad bomber wasn’t something that happened overnight and possibly could’ve been stopped if he had gotten help at a much earlier age.

Psychological Factors

Theodore Kaczynski had a host of psychological issues that grew and festered through the year as they were left untreated. His multiple psychological issues ranged from gender dysphoria to schizoid personality disorder, and they ended up consuming his life turning what should have been a great academic career into a lonely existence as a mad bomber. Kaczynski had early issues with his gender internally struggling to identify himself. His attempts to seek psychotherapy ended in anger and termination of treatment when he didn’t get the desired response from his therapist. His gender dysphoria and issues assigning blame or trying to understand the problem was compounded by his schizoid personality disorder which he developed early in age and led him to withdraw further away from society. His reclusive, antisocial behavior became completely normal to him and was seen in his eyes as a lifestyle choice instead of something that was wrong with him. His lack of interest in making friends or doing normal things that people his age did only exacerbated the problem and made him feel as if others were beneath his standing. His high I.Q. and rapid rise through school also left him at a disadvantage since he was mostly robbed of his childhood with the high expectations that were put on him as a child prodigy.

By not being able to express himself or relate to others his age, Kaczynski further propelled the notion in his mind that others weren’t worth his time or effort. Kaczynski’s biggest problem was his not being able to cope with the fact that he may have a psychological issue. That was clear when the decision to plea to the charges instead of being labeled as a crazy or mentally unstable person in court and on the papers. This further proved that Kaczynski did not want to be painted as psychologically deficient and helped bring clarity as to why he refused to seek help for himself and change his life.

Biological and Social

When you think of the social effects on his behavior, Kaczynski went to great lengths to remain off the radar by moving to a rural area and making sure to keep a low profile. Being in Montana, allowed him to be off the grid continuing to be a loner. Kaczynski plotted how he would carry out his crimes without being caught or having anyone be any wiser that it is him that carries these ideas for the pipe bomb attacks. An unknown fact about Theodore Kaczynski that seems to rebuff the idea of him being a loner is the fact that he would send letters seeking out the companionship. Biologically it is believed that Theodore began to have his deep-rooted issues come to the forefront while he was a young man at Harvard.

While at Harvard, Theodore was put through an experimental testing where he was observed to his reactions to this stress (Alston, 2000). During this testing, Theodore and other students were subjected to having his ego tested through abusive attacks and attempts to crush the ideas and beliefs that the students held dear. Kaczynski’s subjection to these tests seemed to be the trigger that made him feel he was unjustly treated by the administrator’s and by his family, which in turn, led him to be very specific in the type of people that he attacked during his reign of terror.

Intervention & Rationale

Theodore Kaczynski suffered from a mental illness called schizoid personality disorder (SPD) early in his younger years. It is said that “men may be more likely to have this disorder than women” (Psychology Today, 2016). Later in life, he also was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic. His family tried to convince him to seek professional help. Their concern for him was primarily about his social life, being that Kaczynski lived a socially secluded life. Ted was known for being intelligent, shy, yet unapproachable and the older Ted became the more his lifestyle became strange from the perspective of others. He had a fixation with the book “The Secret Agent” by Joseph Conrad where the main character in the book was known for setting off explosives by bombs that he created himself. Ted started reading the book when he resided in Chicago and it remained a favorite of his once he moved into the wilderness in Montana.

Intervention Treatment

His imagination and his mental illness made him delusional, and it is believed he started to view himself as the character in the book. Theodore Kaczynski should have received psychological evaluation as a way of intervention. Psychological evaluations are performed using questionnaires and personality tests to aid in the diagnosis” (Psychology Today, 2016). Ted would need to have had psychotherapy more specifically, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with a therapist to build trust and a relationship. It appears Kaczynski treatment required him to feel safe and comfortable as well as to learn how to interact with others through communication and expression of himself and his emotion. Also, because he has paranoid schizophrenia, antipsychotic medication could have helped. Family support would have been a big help paired with self-help programs, and group therapy can be added to possible strategies of intervention.

Intervention Setting

When evaluating the approach of the case of Theodore Kaczynski and possible interventions, there can be some level of difficulty presented. Due to Kaczynski’s isolation from society and family, finding a more neutral setting would be far more beneficial to all parties involved in helping with his psychological treatments. Neutral settings would assure that Theodore will be less likely to skip out on the intervention. Also, by having a neutral setting, the possible defensive type behaviors could be lessened, that would have pushed Theodore further into isolation.

The next aspect to consider is if the intervention is going to be for target areas. For the case of Theodore Kaczynski, the social and psychological areas are going to need to be the most significant focus. By focusing on the social aspect, his isolation could be reduced which would help to alleviate other issues brought on by separation. By focusing on the psychological aspects, the treatment, and maintenance of his mental problems like, schizotypal personality disorder, would serve as an additional course of action to catch any of the underlying issues that were going unnoticed by his isolation behavior.

It should be noted that it would probably be more beneficial to Theodore if the psychological treatment aspects started first. This would help to establish some treatments and maintenance of mental disorders so that when the social issues of treatment begin, there would be fewer possibilities for relapses or defense mechanism.

Although Theodore Kaczynski refused to acknowledge it himself, but the state of his mental health caused several issues within his life and ultimately the lives of others. Lack of intervention and treatment can lead to the onset of other conditions as they did with Kaczynski. All aspects of the type of therapy should be carefully examined as well, like the settings, the people involved, maybe even the way it is being administered. Had Kaczynski not only acknowledged his mental health issues but received proper treatment for them, a lot of lives could have been spared, and he would probably be known as an academic scholar as opposed to the Unabomber.


Chase Alston. 2000. “Harvard and the making of the Unabomber.” The Atlantic Monthly, 285(6): 41-65

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