This paper will discuss the legal
case of Tarasoff v. The Regents of University of California. This case is a law
that requires mental health professionals to warn in the event of a person
being a harm to themselves or a threat to others to protect the client,
psychologist, and others from harm. Unfortunately, this law was brought to
light due to the loss of an innocent women’s life, Tatiana. As a result, mental
health professionals are mandated by law to warn and protect individuals.
Additionally, discussing its implications and importance in the school setting
in both general and special education and its relevance for a school
In 1968, Tatianna Tarasoff, a
student at University of Berkley dated fellow student Prosenjit Poddar.
Tarasoff was no longer interested in a serious relationship thus she broke up
with Poddar. Poddar was obsessed with Tarasoff and following their breakup he
was devastated and depressed. He began seeing a therapist, Lawrence Moore. In
their time together, Poddar expressed to Moore that he wanted to kill Tarasoff.
Moore reported to his supervisor and they reported this information to police.
After questioning, the police released Poddar as he posed no imminent threat to
Tarasoff. Poddar continued to stalk Tarasoff and went as far to sustain a
relationship with her brother and then move in with him. Following a trip that
Tarasoff went on, Poddar stopped going to therapy. Two months later Poddar
carried out his plan, killing Tatianna Tarasoff. This case resulted in the duty
to warn, based on the Supreme Court of California’s decisions that legally required
mental health professionals to warn individuals that may be threatened or at
risk of being harmed by a patient. (Tarasoff I, 1974)
Equally important, prior to the
duty to warn case and law as a result of Tatiana’s death, there were a few
instances that resulted in harm. For instance, the Merchants Nat. Bank &
Trust Co. of Fargo v. United States in 1967. In this case, the Veterans
Administration set for a former patient to work on a local farm, although they
did not warn the farmer of the man’s mental health history. The man built a
substantial relationship with the farmer and they were so close that the farmer
allowed him to borrow his belongings, such as his car. The man borrowed the car
and went to his wife’s home and killed her. As a result, due to the Veterans
Administrations failure to warn the farmer and wife, the Veterans
Administration was liable for the death of the man’s wife.
Tarasoff v. The Regents of the
University of California was brought to fruition due to the tragic event in
which Tatiana lost her life. Moore who was the therapist of the psychiatric
patient named Poddar failed to warn Tatiana of the potential danger she is in
when Poddar mentioned he wanted to kill Tatiana. As a result, following this
lawsuit in 1974, the law requires mental health professionals to warn in the
event of a person being a harm to themselves, or a threat to others to protect
the client, and others from foreseeable harm.
Additionally, two years later,
Tarasoff II was ruled in 1976, upholding the original ruling and adding the
duty to protect. The duty to protect states that mental health professionals,
for instance, a therapist, has the “duty to exercise reasonable care to
protect the foreseeable victim from harm.” Aside from warning the individual
of potential danger, the mental health professional must take “other steps that
are reasonably necessary under the circumstances to protect the individual.”
(Tarasoff II, 1976)
It follows that the ethics codes
apply to mandatory disclosures of information and the American Psychology
Association (APA) stresses the importance of disclosing confidential
information as well as how to respond in a situation such as the duty to
protect or warn. Specifically, school psychologist should consider whether they
are legally and/or ethically obligated to disclose confidential information by
referencing the APA Ethical Standard 4.05, Disclosures. It states when
psychologist may disclose confidential information with consent from the
individual and without consent that may be mandated by law. The section in
which the psychologist discloses information without consent and mandated by
law is to the duty to warn and protect “protect the client/patient,
psychologist, or others from harm.” Furthermore, child abuse also applies to
the duty to protect and warn. If the school psychologist suspects child abuse
based on information with good reasoning, the psychologist is a mandated
reporter and is legally as well as ethically obligated to make the claim. The
school psychologist who discloses confidential information regarding suspected
child abuse is kept anonymous. (Behnke, 2014)
According to Barnett and Coffman (2015), they
discussed the importance of confidentiality, one’s duty to warn, and the
differences among states. They begin by addressing the importance of
confidentiality in mental health care and how it has been essential to the
client-clinician relationship dating back as far as to the Fifth Century. For
instance, a survey of the public conducted by Miller and Thelen (1986) found
that 74% of respondents reported that there should be no exceptions to
breaching confidentiality. These findings demonstrate how seriously people view
confidentiality and sustaining the confidential information between the
clinician and the client regardless of the situation.
Additionally, Barnett and Coffman
(2015) discussed the variances of the duty to warn among states. To have a
better understanding, the duty to warn is not a required law in all states.
Barnett and Coffman examined the differences in states, from Maryland, Texas,
and California. Maryland attempts to treat the patient prior to utilizing the
duty to warn and Texas does not require mental health professionals to give a
duty to warn or protect. In fact, in Texas, if a mental health professional is
to warn/protect an individual they would be violating the law and reprimanded
for it. Additionally, they are only required to breach confidentiality in the
event that law enforcement gets involve and/or requests information. In California, as a result of Tarasoff v.
Regents of California, mental health professionals are mandated by law.
Ultimately, the duty to warn and protect is
crucial for mental health professionals including those who work in the school
setting. This law affects both the special and general education settings. Both
general and special education students when speaking to mental health
professionals will be voiced about the professional’s duty to warn. If and when
a student speaks to a mental health professional, for instance, a school
psychologist or counselor, they will disclose the duty to warn. The duty to
warn for students in the school setting is mentioned in the first meeting,
following the confidentiality statement, the mental health professional states
the three instances in when they are obligated by law to breach
confidentiality: if they are a harm to themselves, a harm to others, and/or if
child abuse is suspected. Following this, they warn the individual(s) who may
be at risk of anticipated harm. Overall, this law protects students, teachers,
and their families.
As a school psychologist, there is
a multitude of laws and legal cases that impact their work and the duty to warn
and protect is a significant one. This law is vital in ensuring that the
students, teachers, and the families that they are working with are safe and
protected from foreseeable harm. Prior to this law, students may have been
impacting negatively by the failure to be warned or protected. To illustrate,
this could be a student who is suicidal and mentions his/her suicidal thoughts
to their counselor or school psychologist and perhaps they take it as a cry for
help as appose to a serious threat to themselves, resulting in their suicide.
This example although extreme could happen to students and the mental health
professional may be liable. Therefore, it is important that all mental health
professionals take the duty to warn and protect genuinely and not hesitate
whether or not they should report on it.
To conclude, it is crucial that
mental health professionals and especially those in the school setting abide by
their duty to warn and protect. Most importantly, the duty to warn and protect
will protect any individual, students, and their families from being a victim
of harm due to a failure to warn. If one is unsure about the duty to warn and
protect, they should further their competence through asking their supervisor,
revisiting the Tarasoff cases, and the APA ethical standards.
Barnett, J. E., & Coffman, C.
(2015, May). Confidentiality and its exceptions: The case of duty to warn. Web
Article. Retrieved December 10, 2017, from http://www.societyforpsychotherapy.org/confidentiality-and-its-exceptions-the-case-of-duty-to-warn
Behnke, S. (2014, April).
Disclosing confidential information. Retrieved December 10, 2017, from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/04/disclosing-information.aspx
S., Decker, D. M., & Lugg, E. T. (2016). Ethics and Law for School Psychologists. Hoboken, NJ:
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Tarasoff v.Regents of University of
California, 17 Cal. 3d 425 (Cal. 1974) FindLaw’s Supreme Court of California
case and opinions. (n.d.). Retrieved November 28, 2017, from http://caselaw.findlaw.com/ca-supreme-court/1829929.html
Tarasoff v.Regents of University of
California, 17 Cal. 3d 425 (Cal. 1976) FindLaw’s Supreme Court of California
case and opinions. (n.d.). Retrieved November 28, 2017, from http://caselaw.findlaw.com/ca-supreme-court/1830445.html