What Reasonable Therapists Need to Do to Protect the Public

What Reasonable Therapists Need to Do to Protect The Public (and Protect Themselves from Legal Liability) when they have a Potentially Violent Patient

  • Make an assessment of the patient’s potential for violence. The four important dimensions are: type of harm, seriousness of harm, imminence of harm, likelihood of harm.
  • Determine how real the threat is. This is usually based on: the patient’s past history of violence, the patient’s ability to control his impulses, and use of alcohol and drugs.
  • Take some appropriate action.

What is appropriate action obviously varies under the circumstances. It can include:

  • Changing the patient’s treatment program.
  • Requesting that the patient agree to be hospitalized (voluntary commitment).
  • Trying to get the authorities to involuntarily commit the patient.
  • Warn the potential victim, or warn others who can warn the victim.
  • Advise the police with jurisdiction where the victim is or where the patient may be.

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