Forensic psychologist and father-of-five Tim Watson-Munro, 65, has faced the worst of Australia’s criminal underbelly over his 40-year career, from psychotic killers to deranged sexual perverts. He’s even had a knife pulled on him.
Staring into the void, he paid a heavy price.
“I was caught up in the maelstrom of big cases, an exciting lifestyle and living off the adrenaline, and inevitably that ended in an explosive crash,” the author of best-selling memoir Dancing with Demons and new book A Shrink in the Clink tells The New Daily.
Struggling with depression and self-medicating with a $2000-a-week cocaine addiction, Watson-Munro was arrested in September 1999 and struck off a year later.
But in a remarkable turnaround, he got his life back on track, getting clean and returning to practise just four years later.
“It’s been a long, hard slog, I can tell you, but if there’s any silver lining to the nightmare it’s that a lot of people have gained inspiration from my recovery,” Watson-Munro says, pointing out how touched he has been by a barrage of emails and letters from people facing their own addiction, or that of loved ones.
As the 31st anniversary of Melbourne’s infamous Hoddle Street massacre approaches on August 9, he recalls facing mass-murderer Julian Knight, the rejected military cadet who opened fire on passersby on Melbourne’s inner-city Hoddle Street
He his rampage was over, he had slaughtered seven, grievously injured19 and downed a police helicopter.
Watson-Munro was 34 was when he first met the 19-year-old Knight. Assessing him over a year-long period, he was struck by the killer’s youthful immaturity.
“I expected a tough, hostile psychopath, but instead I was confronted by a respectful, deferential kid, his military training I suspect. That said, I felt he was revelling in the attention and notoriety.”
With Victorian law changed to ensure Knight’s continueing incarceration, the felon still contacts Watson-Munro occasionally. The shadow of that case still haunts the psychologist.
“I was too involved.”
These days he’s a staunch advocate of all first-responders – including police, firemen, doctors, nurses and psychologists – getting the counselling they need.
“I resisted that in the arrogance of youth, but it’s essential,” he says.
A Shrink in the Clink also recounts the surreal day Watson-Munro was delivering a lecture on mass murderers at the Australian Federal Police’s Melbourne HQ when, four months after Hoddle Street, Frank Vitkovic stormed the Australia Post building, shooting eight victims before leaping out a window to his death.
“Melbourne was in shock,” he recalls. “People saw it from adjacent buildings, including his plunge eight floors to Queen Street below.”
Watson-Munro’s fall from grace has made him a better psychologist, he believes.
“I was high on hubris and arrogance. I was very successful, very young, and this process has created a more humble and insightful person.”
Not that he’s making excuses for criminals.
“I can have empathy, but I’m not sympathetic to people breaking the law. I’m not their advocate. I’m sympathetic to their victims.”
He added: “When I started to use cocaine, I never thought it would end up the way it did, but people have to take responsibility for what they do.”
That said, Australia could reassess the way it thinks about the causes of crime, Watson-Munro argues.
“We need to be educating kids in primary school about communication skills, conflict resolution, managing impulses and anger, and, of course, about drug use.”
And he’s wary of the push to privatise prisons.
“There’s clearly a place for jail for people who are a danger to the community or themselves … but I think there should be much greater emphasis on early detection, prevention and treatment.”
A Shrink in the Clink, by Tim Watson-Munro, Pan Macmillan, RRP $32.99