Homicidal Thoughts and Mandated Reporting

The Tarasoff Rule, originating in California, codified that psychotherapists have the duty to protect or warn a third party if the therapist believes the client poses a serious risk of inflicting serious bodily harm upon an identifiable victim (Ewing, 2005).  A second case, the Ewing court decision, extended that a therapist should also exercise the duty of protecting a third party even when threats or the possibility of harm is relayed through the patient or a family member (Ewing, 2005).  Mental Health professionals have the obligation to protect others which supersedes the duty of confidentiality owed to the client (Schoener, 2009).    As humans, we reserve the moral obligation to preserve life legitimating the cause of abandoning client confidentiality which implies the principle of justice as more important than autonomy (Schoener, 2009).  However, prediction of action is difficult, and therefore, therapists must rely on their personal assessment of danger risk (Schoener, 2009).  Before breaking confidentiality, a therapist should consider all options in an effort to be sure the threats are true feelings and have high potential for becoming actions (Schoener, 2009).

In regards to the scenario, the therapist, should further investigate the defendants claim.  The therapist should probe the client to learn whether the words were spoken in the heat of the moment, or if the defendant truly wants to kill someone.  They should learn who the potential victim is, or at least identifiers that could lead to the establishment of who the defendant wants to harm.  Due to the fact that prediction of action is difficult, it is essential for the therapist to utilize assessments and tools that can help establish the degree of the threat.

In the event that the therapist found potential of the threat being brought to action, mandated reporting would take effect.  The therapist should notify the proper legal authorities so they may alert the potential victim.  If the defendant were a child, the parents and proper legal authorities should be alerted that the child is experiencing homicidal ideations that hold potential for increased risk of turning into action in the future.  In the event the defendant is speaking out of anger in the heat of the moment, the therapist should develop an intervention plan to help the client deal with the negative emotions.  No matter the scenario, it is the obligation of the therapist to develop an intervention to help the defendant through the experience of the feelings leading to homicidal thoughts and ideations.


Ewing, JD, Ph. D., C. P. (2005, July/August). Trasoff reconsidered. Judicial Notebook, 36(7), 112. http://www.apa.org/monitor/julaug05/jn.aspx

Schoener, G. R. (2009, Spring). Dangerous clients & the threat of violence. Minnesota, (), . http://walkin.org/sites/default/files/DutyToWarn_0.pdf.



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