8 Psychologists Tell Us About Their Most Petrifying Patients

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I usually like to put a little relatable anecdote at the beginning of these articles, but, man, I got nothing for this one. I’ve met some weird people, and plenty of people who made me feel uncomfortable, but I’ve never had to interact with anyone for an extended period of time who made me feel genuinely unsafe.

I guess that’s probably cause I’m a writer/editor who works from home, not a psychologist treating criminals with mental illness like the 8 people who answered this Quora question:

#1. “I’ve been observing you too…”

‘I was a psychiatrist working with young offenders, so I’ve met a lot of pretty scary people over the years. But one in particular really stands out in my mind.

He was a boy, barely 18.

When I looked at his medical chart, he was a very bright kid, with an IQ of 140.

But his own parents were utterly terrified of him. They were convinced he was trying to kill them, and apparently he had made several legitimate attempts.

He showed no emotions, and refused to answer any of my questions.

But what scared me the most was when I realized he had actually been keeping himself to an incredibly strict routine – even though he didn’t have a clock in his cell. He seemed to have some sort of incredibly accurate internal timetable.

For example: he only went to the washroom at exactly 2 PM, 6 PM and 9 PM. On the nose. Every time.

Just before I retired, I visited him one last time, and got the chill of a lifetime when he told me this.

‘All this time you’ve been observing me, but I’ve been observing you too. I figured you out easily. But you still have no idea who I am or why I do the things I do. And you never will.’

He was right.”

#2. Social History

“The vast majority of patients are safe, and I generally never feel ‘safer’ than when I’m working with my patients, especially after I get to know them a little.

But early in my career, years ago, I did get a little spooked by one patient – let’s call him Nick. Nick was in his 60s, a widower, manic, and really, really agitated.

I didn’t know how his wife had died.

I was performing his initial evaluation and, like many new doctors, I asked him every conceivable question. When I got to the ‘Social History’ part, I asked about how his wife had died.

He ran up, got inches from my face, and coldly stated: ‘They say I’m pretty good with a knife.’

The way he said it, for whatever reason, made the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up straight.

Then he abruptly announced that the ‘f’ing interview’ was over and was escorted to his room.

It was only later that staff informed me that his wife had died several years before. Her body was found in a wooded area carved up into little pieces and piled in a neat mound. The killer had (and has still) never been apprehended.”

#3. Secret Knowledge

“A colleague asked me to take care of a patient she had been assigned. She said the patient was making her ‘uncomfortable.’ She was visibly upset, but wouldn’t elaborate. This colleague is an incredibly compassionate and competent professional, and I had never seen her this way.

Anyway, when I met the patient, he told me things about myself and my family that he had zero way of knowing. Things no one knew. The patient did not threaten me, he just quietly listed off all of our secrets.

It was terrifying. I excused myself politely and managed to pass on his care to someone else.”

#4. Locked Ward 

“Long ago, I worked in a psychiatric hospital. We worked rotations and usually did six months in one ward. One day someone didn’t show up to work, so they took me out of my usual rotation and put me in the most dangerous ward in the hospital.

The outside of this place was surrounded by a 10-foot fence with razor wire at the top. It was one of the only locked wards. These were long-term patients, most of whom suffered from severe psychosis. Most of them were also criminals.

The other nurses in this section were all very big, strong males. I was a small, young woman, but for some reason, I was told to go outside to supervise the patients.

I was sitting next to a rather large female patient, and decided to politely ask why she was in the ward. That was a mistake.

She told me she had killed a cop. I tried not to overreact or show fear, but, well, that was difficult.

The she said she also enjoyed strangling cats, and followed that up with: ‘just like I am going to strangle you.’ Then she wrapped her hands around my throat, trying to choke me.

Luckily, there were two of the big male nurses who rushed out and saved me from strangulation. They must have known her history of violence and been watching me.”

#5. “Just…wait for him to talk”

“This was decades ago, during my internship in the Psychology department of a state mental hospital. I treated only one patient who really scared me. Let’s call him Hannibal. Not only was Hannibal on a locked ward, he was locked in his room! This was quite unusual.

This was Hannibal’s 42nd hospitalization. He suffered from severe Bipolar Disorder and enjoyed hitting people when he lost his temper. He was here because he had punched his 18-year-old daughter in the stomach during an argument. I was asked to meet with him to determine whether he was a good candidate for individual therapy.

One of the staff unlocked his door and told me to just knock when I was ready to leave. I wondered how long it would be before someone heard me knock – or scream.

Hannibal sat on his bed. He appeared middle-aged, disheveled, and sluggish, with one seriously mean-looking face. I offered my hand and said, ‘Hi! I’m Rick.’

Instead of shaking my hand, he looked at it as if were a dead rat. I sat on the empty bed across from him.

‘So, how are you?’ I asked.

Hannibal just sat there staring at me. I wondered how long it would take for him to jump up from his bed and kill me.

‘Do you think you might want to work with someone on a one-on-one basis?’

He just glared at me. I wondered how long it would take for me to get to the door and break it down with my fists.

‘Well, Hannibal, it’s been a pleasure meeting you!’ I lied. Then I left.

That evening, I had a graduate class in clinical work. I told our professor and the class about my experience with Hannibal.

My classmates were horrified! Most of them treated clients who suffered from disorders such as Acute Disappointments, Chronic Dissatisfaction, and Unmet Expectation Disorder.

The professor listened to my story, and then said: ‘I want you to do me a favor. See him just one more time. But, this time, don’t feel pressured to draw him out. Say hi but then just sit there and wait for him to talk.’

So the following morning, I went back into Hannibal’s lair. I said hello, sat on the empty bed, and waited.

After about 20 seconds of awkward silence Hannibal frowned and said, ‘So, how are you doing?’

Within two weeks, he didn’t have to be locked up anymore. He and I began having our sessions while walking the hospital grounds twice a week. Thanks to the medication regimen and his new anger management skills, he was calm and stable enough to be released several months later.

I have never been afraid of another patient or client since.”