Yesterday, July 1, 1976, the ruling in the case of Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California was decided. The Supreme Court of California imposed a legal duty to psychotherapists, enforceable by a civil suit, to warn a person who may become a victim of a violent act by a patient or if the patient threatens to harm themselves. As professionals in the Human Service field it is necessary that we adhere to this when a client may threaten to hurt themselves or another person.
With this ruling, and before any action is taken, we are reminded of our code of ethics. Human Service Professionals have guidelines in their responsibility to the client. The ruling of this case has affected our ethical decision making, in that, we also acknowledge that we need to not only assist our client but also, if threat is made, to assist and protect a potential victim. Once this threat is made, ethically, we have no option but to report it and to not do so, we break our code of ethics and the law. This case has made us aware of the fact that threats can and possibly will be carried out, therefore, threats should not and will not be taken lightly.
Our Code of Ethics has changed slightly since this ruling was imposed and while we still protect our client’s confidentiality and privacy, there is now an exception. “If it is suspected that danger or harm may occur to the client or to others as a result of a client’s behavior, the human service professional acts in an appropriate and professional manner to protect the safety of those individuals. This may involve seeking consultation, supervision, and/or breaking the confidentiality of the relationship.” (Woodside and McClam, 2011)
Woodside, M., & McClam, T. (2011). An introduction to human services (7th ed.). Belmont, CA:
Brooks/Cole Cengage Learning.