BBC Radio 4: Dictators on the Couch

AHP readers may be interested in a recent episode of BBC’s Archive on 4 “Dictators on the Couch,” which explores efforts to psychologically profile foreign leaders. The episode features historian and psychoanalyst Daniel Pick and is described as follows:

For decades psychologists working for the CIA have drawn up psychological profiles of foreign leaders.
Using expertise developed watching the Nazis, the programme presented American Presidents with detailed profiles of their opponents, complete with proposed weak points and personal foibles.
In 1961, prior to a planned summit meeting between John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev, the CIA profiled the Russian leader, declaring him “an uninhibited ham actor who …has a truly unusual ability to project the force of his own powerful personality.”
The report – which today reads like generalisation of a peculiarly obvious kind – so impressed Kennedy that he became “addicted” to reading analyses of foreign leaders, particularly if they contained details of sexual peccadilloes. The Russians became keen on psychological reports too, commissioning one on Kennedy which questioned whether his liberalism was anything more than skin deep.
Extraordinarily, the CIA unit profiling foreign leaders survived the Cold War, offering such gems as…
“Fidel Castro is not “crazy,” but he is so highly neurotic and unstable a personality as to be quite vulnerable to certain kinds of psychological pressure. The outstanding neurotic elements in his personality are his hunger for power and his need for the recognition and adulation of the masses…”
“While Saddam Hussein is not psychotic, he has a strong paranoid orientation…”
Psychoanalyst Daniel Pick explores these extraordinary files, and speaks to psychiatrists about the validity of “distance readings” and foreign policy experts and historians about how they may have influenced the direction of American foreign policy.
And what exactly are the psychiatrists currently saying about today’s world leaders?

The episode can be heard online here.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.