The Tarasoff raid: a new extension of the duty to protect.

R. L. Goldstein and J. M. Calderone,
Bull. Amer. Acad. Psychiatry & the Law 20(3): 335-42, 1992.
The authors discuss the general outlines of the Tarasoff duty of psychotherapists to protect potential victims of their violent patients. They describe the flexible range of clinical responses that therapists have utilized, as well as their professional concerns about preserving patient confidentiality (or at least strictly circumscribing the scope of disclosure when confidentiality must be breached). A recent case is reported that illustrates a striking new extension of Tarasoff, involving a police search and seizure of a psychotherapist's confidential treatment records and tapes, in response to a third-party complaint that the records contained evidence of his patients' violent acts and propensities. The implications of this case are that the therapist's discretion in the assessment of his duty to protect, the selection of a proper course of action, and the implementation of specific responses may be taken out of his hands, for all intents and purposes, and expropriated by law and order officials. Moreover, regardless of whatever clinical approach he adopts and whether or not he issues a warning, his attempts to preserve patient confidentiality are bound to prove unsuccessful in any future legal proceedings. Patient communications are likely to lose their confidential status on the grounds that they caused or triggered the Tarasoff warning (or that they should have triggered it). If the patient directed serious threats against the therapist himself, the court may find that, as a consequence, a "genuine therapeutic relationship" ceased to exist and thereafter all patient disclosures were no longer confidential on that basis.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)