Volume 39, Issue 1 (January 1994)
“Tarasoff” Defendants: Social Justice or Ethical Decay?
In 1976, the California Supreme Court ruled in Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California that a duty to protect arises when a psychotherapist's patient poses a serious danger of physical harm to an identifiable third party. Discharging this duty by the issuance of a warning breaches the confidentiality of the psychotherapist-patient relationship. However, the potential benefit to society offsets the possible harm caused by the breach of confidentiality. Until recently, such warnings have served little purpose outside of possibly preventing harm. However, the cumulative effect of three recent California Supreme Court cases has been to permit the use of these confidentiality breaches in criminal proceedings to fulfill prosecutorial goals. Nonetheless, the cost of achieving social justice may be at the expense of other important ethical values for both the psychotherapeutic professions and society in general.