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The case of Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California is concerned with psychotherapists’ obligation to defend potential victims of their patients’ actions if patients expressed threats or demonstrated some other kind of dangerous implications (Vitelli). This issue is ethical since it involves the need for therapists to breach their clients’ confidentiality. If a person confesses something during a session, it is usually a rule that the psychiatrist cannot share this information with a third party. Therefore, the ethical dilemma of the issue is that under the new rule, it has become therapists’ responsibility to decide how serious their patients’ threats are and whether it is necessary to inform potential victims and police officers about them.
Analysis of the case from the victim’s family
One side of the issue is presented by the families of the victims. In the case involving Tatiana Tarasoff’s murder by a psychologically unstable student Prosenjit Poddar, the girl’s parents considered the therapist guilty of their daughter’s death (Vitelli). They said that if the doctor had contacted Tatiana and not the police, there might have been a chance for their child to stay alive. The parents blamed therapists for the incorrect decision that led to death. They thought that it could have been possible to prevent such disastrous outcomes if psychiatrists had not put their professional duty of maintaining confidentiality in the first place. Although it is possible to understand the pain of these people and their reasons for wishing to change the law, it is also necessary to take into consideration the peculiarities of therapists’ practice.
Analysis of the case from psychiatry specialists
From the opposite side of the conflict – that of the therapist -, he did everything he could under regulations. The specialist did what he considered correct and took “acceptable actions” to warn the police about the dangerous inclinations of his client (Cottone 41). Dr. Moore could not have told Tarasoff about his client’s threats because it would have made him break the oath of confidentiality. The situation caused much confusion among psychotherapists (Knapp and VandeCreek 511). What Tarasoff’s parents demanded posed too much responsibility for the specialists. They would have to decide the severity of threats and weigh the pros and cons of revealing confidential information.
Conclusion: my opinion of the issue
I think that the position of therapists is more justified than that of the victims’ families. The issue raises too many questions that are impossible to answer. First of all, there are cases when a potential victim cannot be identified. Also, there are issues concerned with confessing to suicidal attempts. Most of all, there is a problem of undermining trust between a therapist and a client. If people know that they cannot count on the privacy of the sessions, they may choose not to have any counseling. No one can say which of the scenarios is better and in what case, there may be more positive outcomes. Thus, I do not support the new regulations that were ruled by the California Supreme Court in 1976 since they put too much responsibility on therapists.
Cottone, Rocco R. “A Social Constructivism Model of Ethical Decision Making in Counseling.” Journal of Counseling and Development, vol. 79, no. 1, 2001, pp. 39-45.
Knapp, Samuel, and Leon VandeCreek. “Tarasoff: Five Years Later.” Professional Psychology, vol. 13, no. 4, 1982, pp. 511-516.
Vitelli, Romeo. “Revisiting Tarasoff: Should Therapists Breach Confidentiality over a Patient’s Violent Threat?” Psychology Today, 2014, Web.