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Dons on the couch.

For one mafia kingpin in Calabria, Italy, dealing with loss was a central theme to his feelings of anxiety.

But not the loss of lives or even the loss of his freedom.

"Doc, it's my hair," the mafia don from the ndrangheta crime syndicate confessed to his psychiatrist, whilst he sat in jail.

"I'm afraid of losing my hair. "And look at these spots on my arm," he half-pleaded as he rolled up a sleeve and thrust out his arm.

"But your hair is fine. Absolutely fine. And there aren't any spots."

Doctor Gabriele Quattrone tried to reassure his patient, who had worked himself up into frenzied panic over the hair he believed to be falling out and the imaginary blotches popping up all over his arms.

Quattrone is one of a tiny group of psychotherapists who have treated Italian organised crime bosses or their family members increasingly over the years.

Their patients include everyone from kingpins haunted by nightmares, turncoats tormented after ratting, to mobsters' wives left frigid by rigid codes of loyalty.

Speaking on condition that the identities of the mobsters are not revealed in line with doctor-patient confidentiality, the doctors have offered rare insights into the secretive, increasingly strung-out world of Italy's centuries-old criminal organisations.

Quattrone, a neuropsychiatrist, treated his jailed ndrangheta patient with tranquill-isers and made some attempts at nurturing his introspection. "It's the stress of 20 years of being a fugitive, of going on trial," he told the man, a top boss in Reggio Calabria, Italy.

"Yeah, I'm stressed, all right. I'm stressed because I'm innocent," the boss retorted.

These are tense times for Italy's mobsters.

A growing police crackdown and a rebellion among businessmen expected to pay protection money have left some sons of organised-crime families wrestling with self-doubt, unsure they are cut out to take the places of their fathers and grandfathers in the bloody, vengeful world of the mob.

Seeking help, however, is risky business. Among mobsters, visiting a psychologist is a weakness you can pay for with your life. Palermo psychologist Girolamo Lo Verso recalled the case of a mobster's son who told another therapist at a public mental- health facility: "If my father knows I come here, he'll kill us."

"If you're a mafioso, and you're anxious, you're not trustworthy and you have to be eliminated," said Lo Verso. "A mafioso is paranoid about everything," trusting the mafia code of silence (omerta) more than the medical code of patient confidentiality.

The state's war on organised crime has put hundreds of bosses behind bars, some-times for decades, sorely testing the mental health of spouses, children and sometimes the mobsters themselves.

Lo Verso teaches at Palermo's University of Studies, which will soon offer a masters course in Mafia psychology, the first of its kind. The therapists draw psychological profiles from treatment of mobsters and their relatives, turncoat testimony in courtrooms, lawyers' dealings with their kingpin clients, and countless pages of intercepted conversations between bosses that wind up in indictments.

As Tony Soprano famously put it to his therapist in the hit US TV show, 'The Sopranos': "I understand therapy as a con-cept. But in my world it does not go down."

2009 Al Sidra Media LLC

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Publication:7 Days (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Date:Nov 9, 2010
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