What Is Oscar Pistorius Doing Right Now? Here's What His Psychiatric Evaluation Involves

With much of the world waiting and watching for Oscar Pistorius' high-profile murder trial to resume, you might wonder — what is Oscar Pistorius doing throughout this month-long delay? The trial was postponed in order to allow Pistorius to undergo psychological evaluations at a hospital in Pretoria, South Africa, and there's no way to say for sure how it's been going. But considering how he ended up there, and the concerns being raised about his observation, some things are clear.

Since May 26, Pistorius has been attending outpatient psychological evaluations for about seven hours per day at the Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital in Pretoria, South Africa. With the evaluation ordered by Judge Thokozile Masipa set for 30 days, Pistorius wrapped up the first half of his time there Friday, and is reportedly being overseen by a panel of four mental health specialists — three psychologists and one psychiatrist.

In trying to bolster their case that Pistorius reacted in fear when he fatally shot Reeva Steenkamp, his defense team presented a witness, Dr Meryl Vorster, who said he suffered from "generalized anxiety disorder." This spurred lead prosecutor Gerrie Nel to request Pistorius be ordered into evaluation, hoping to produce a psych report proving to the contrary.

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So what exactly will the four-member panel be doing? A blog post cited by The Guardian, and authored by a psychologist trained at the same hospital, gives about as much insight as possible:

They will:

  • Conduct lengthy psychiatric interviews in which they will obtain his full life history, his family background, his criminal history, and also importantly his psychiatric history.
  • Administer a range of psychological and other tests. These will include personality tests, neuropsychological tests, tests for malingering (the technical term for faking a mental illness) and general cognitive tests that evaluate each and every cognitive process from intelligence to memory. Each test can take between 30min – 3 hrs to complete. It is an extremely rigorous process. To give an example, the MMPI (The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) has over 500 items.
  • Observe him during every single minute of every procedure. In addition to the formal interviews and tests, OP’s every move will be scrutinized. He will be evaluated on his appearance, attitude, behaviour, mood and cognitions.
  • After each member of the team has concluded theses procedures, they will then meet and together they will formulate a diagnosis.

The decision to allow Pistorius to visit the hospital on an outpatient basis has been controversial in its own right, with concerns raised over how the looser schedule limits the access of the evaluators.

By allowing him to leave the hospital and head home to sleep each night, he's not getting the kind of round-the-clock evaluation that would be most thorough. Pistorius claims he shot Steenkamp after waking in the middle of the night, confused and frightened to see someone in his bathroom. But on an outpatient basis, nobody gets to observe Pistorius' sleeping habits.

As for what the panel ends up determining, that's impossible to say. But we shouldn't have to wait much longer to find out — the trial is supposed to resume June 30, with the extent of Pistorius' legal fate hanging in the balance.