Taking Action: a Ethical and Legal Duty to Warn and Protect Third Parties

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  • Topic: Case law, Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California, Law
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  • Published : June 7, 2012
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Taking Action: A Ethical and Legal Duty to Warn and Protect Third Parties

Stephanie Y. Symonette

Texas Southern University

Psychology 730, Ethical and Legal Issues in Mental Health

July 13, 2010

Abstract
The duty to warn refers to the responsibility of a counselor or therapist to breach confidentiality if a client or other identifiable person is in clear or imminent danger. The duty to protect is a counselor’s duty to reveal confidential client information in the event that the counselor has reason to believe that a third party may be harmed (Herlihy and Sheeley, 1988). The legal precedent for establishing a duty to warn and a duty to protect was set in the wrongful death case of Tatiana Tarasoff. This paper will discuss the ethical and legal duties of therapist to warn third parties of violent threats made by a patient.

Taking Action: A Ethical and Legal Duty to Warn and Protect Third Parties

Therapists have ethical and legal obligations to prevent their clients from physically harming themselves or others. In situations where there is clear evidence of danger to the client or other persons, the counselor must determine the degree of seriousness of the threat and notify the person in danger and others who are in a position to protect that person from harm. The most well known court case involving patient threats to third parties is the 1976 California Supreme Court decision in the Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California case. In this case, according to Keith-Spiegel and Koocher (1985), a University of California student named Prosenjit Poddar was seeing a psychologist at the university’s student health center because a young woman named Tatiana Tarasoff had rejected his marriage proposal (Herbert, 2002). Angry and humiliated, he told his roommate that he had thoughts of killing Tarasoff. Over the next few months of Poddar making threats to kill...
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