This week our practice question explores Tarasoff and our duty to protect. Oftentimes, people struggle with questions on this topic because the subject itself feels a bit abstract. Many clinicians have read case law and studied Tarasoff in graduate school, but have not encountered these situations in clinical practice. And while it is an intimidating prospect, the likelihood of our duties being triggered under Tarasoff is thankfully low. However, the BBS still wants to ensure you know what to do in the unlikely event you find yourself in this situation.
The most common question I receive regarding Tarasoff is, “What am I required to do if the potential perpetrator of violence is someone other than my client?” Many clinicians believe our duty to protect is triggered regardless of our relationship to the potential perpetrator, but that is not true. Our duty to protect is only triggered if we can reasonably determine that someone is a danger to others. To do this, a therapist must properly assess the level of risk by taking into account risk factors such as history of violence, affect, language, etc. We cannot accurately assess someone if we do not have a relationship with them and the law takes this into account. Tarasoff is only triggered when it is our client who is the potential danger.
With this in mind, let’s look at the question:
A 24-year-old woman is mandated to therapy by her probation officer for anger management. The therapist has been meeting with the client for 4 months and is nearing termination. Over the course of treatment, the woman slowly opened up to the therapist about her life, including her past involvement with gang violence and drug use. In session, she shares that her boyfriend has been very possessive and threatened to hurt a guy he thought she was flirting with. She confesses that he has a gun, has been in jail for assault in the past, and already researched where the man lives. What actions should the therapist take to address the legal and ethical issues presented in this situation?
a. Inform police of the threat and attempt to contact the intended victim.
b. Encourage client to report the boyfriend’s plan to the police and develop a safety plan.
c. Inform client that we must share this information with her probation officer since she is mandated to treatment and could be an accessory to a crime.
d. Inform client she must report the boyfriend’s plan to the police and assess client’s personal safety.
The answer and rationale will be posted at noon PST tomorrow! We encourage you to post an answer in the comments section below (you can also post your reasoning behind your answer choice!). Then check back in tomorrow for the correct answer and rationale explaining why the correct answer is correct and why the other answers are not correct.
Haven’t signed up for an exam prep program yet? Our structured, straightforward approach to exam prep will provide you with exactly what you need to pass your social work exam or MFT exam and nothing you don’t. You can learn more about our social work licensing exam prep HERE and more about our MFT licensing exam prep HERE. If you’d like to connect directly with one of our coaches, you can do that HERE.
We look forward to helping you PASS your exam with confidence!