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James Gilligan is an American psychiatrist who has specialized in studying the causes and prevention of violence.  For 35 years he taught at the Harvard Medical School, where he became Director of the Institute of Law and Psychiatry. 


When a war-zone level of violence – homicides, suicides, riots, hostage-taking, mass rapes, arson -- occurred throughout the Massachusetts prisons throughout the entire decade of the 1970s, much of which was caused by or precipitated undiagnosed and untreated psychopathology, state and federal courts required the state to allow a team from the Harvard Medical School to bring the level of mental health care in the prisons up to community standards. Thus he was able to utilize the prisons as a social-psychological “laboratory” in which to learn about the causes and prevention of violence, by learning what had caused prisoners to commit their violent crimes, both before and after incarceration, and to discover interventions that would enable them to abandon violence as their default mechanism for expressing their feelings and pursuing their goals.  

When he had succeeding in reducing lethal and life-threatening violence to zero for a year or more at a time, the courts ended their oversight, and he spent the next two years as a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Criminology of Cambridge University. From 1999 to 2001 he was President of the International Association for Forensic Psychotherapy. In 2002 he joined the faculty at New York University, where he is now a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Adjunct Professor of Law.  

In 2004, a highly successful violence-prevention experiment that he designed and evaluated in San Francisco jails was awarded first prize in a competition with 800 other nominees from around the country for “innovations in American governance” by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.  The concepts and principles of violence prevention that he has developed in the U.S. have been adapted for use in prisons and prison mental hospitals in this country and around the world, including New Zealand, Singapore and Poland (where the psychiatric staff of their maximum-security prison published a book in 2006 describing their successful application of his approach to violence prevention).

He has served as a consultant on the causes and prevention of violence to President Clinton, Tony Blair and the Law Lords of the House of Lords, the Secretary General of the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the World Court (in the Hague), and the World Economic Forum’s Committee on Negotiations and Conflict Resolution. 
In 2011, the Times Literary Supplement named his book, Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others, a “Book of the Year.”  He was a contributing author of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump (2016), which was a New York Times best-seller.
In 2003, Physicians for Social Responsibility (a co-winner of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize) honored him with their Annual Achievement Award.  In 2011 he was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award of a consortium of violence-prevention NGO’s by the Alliant International University in San Diego.

Selected Bibliography: 

  • "Beyond Morality: Psychoanalytic Reflections on Shame, Guilt and Love," Chapter Eight in Moral Development and Behavior: Theory, Research and Social Issues, edited by Thomas Lickona, N.Y.: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1975, pp.144-158

  • "Structural Violence," in Violence in America: An Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 229-233, Ronald Gottesman, Editor in Chief, New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1999 

  • "Psychological Violence," in Violence in America: An Encyclopedia, Vol 2, pp. 626-631, Ronald Gottesman, Editor in Chief, New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1999

  • “Violence as a Problem in Public Health and Preventive Medicine,” Lancet 355:1802-04, 2000 

  • “Punishment and Violence:  Is the Criminal Justice System Based on One Huge Mistake?,” Social Research 67(3):745-772, 2000

  • “The Last Mental Hospital,” Psychiatric Quarterly 72(1):45-61, 2001

  • “Shame, Guilt and Violence,” Social Research 70 (4):1149-1180, 2003

  • Gilligan, James, and Bandy Lee, “Beyond the Prison Paradigm:  From Provoking Violence to Preventing It by Creating ‘Anti-Prisons’ (Residential Colleges and Therapeutic Communities),” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1036:300-324, 2004 

  • Gilligan, James and Bandy Lee, “The Resolve to Stop the Violence Project: Reducing Violence in the Community through a Jail-Based Initiative,” J. Public Health, 27(2):143-148, June 2005 

  • Lee, Bandy and James Gilligan, “The Resolve to Stop the Violence Project: Transforming an In-House Culture of Violence Through a Jail-Based Programme,” Journal of Public Health, 27(2):149-155, June 2005 

  • “Terrorism, Fundamentalism and Nihilism:  Analyzing the Dilemmas of Modernity” in The Future of Prejudice: Applications of Psychoanalytic Understanding Toward Its Prevention, edited by Henri Parens and Stuart Twemlow, New York:  Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2006 

  • Lee, Bandy X., Bruce E. Wexler and James Gilligan, “Political Correlates of Violent Death Rates in the U.S., 1900-2010: Longitudinal and Cross-Sectional Analyses,” Aggression and Violent Behavior, 19:721-728, 2014    

  • “A Modest Proposal to Universalize the Insanity Defense and Replace Prisons and Punishment with Treatment and Education,” Int. J. Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 12(2):134-142, 2015

  • “Can psychoanalysis help us to understand the causes and prevention of violence?” Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Vol. 30, Issue 2, pp. 125-137, May 2016

  • “Violence,” Chapter 17 in Textbook of Applied Psychoanalysis, First Edition, Edited by Salman Akhtar and Stuart Twemlow, London and New York:  Karnac Books, 2018

  • “Violence, Morality and Religion,” Tikkun, 33(4):49-61, Fall 2018

  •  “Punishment, Shaming and Violence,” a chapter in Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy and Practice of Punishment, Edited by Farah Focquaert, Elizabeth Shaw and Bruce Waller, New York and London: Routledge (2020) 


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