Emeritus Professor Donald Bersoff discussed legal requirements that mental-health practitioners face when treating potentially violent patients in the opening address of the American Psychological Association’s annual convention in Honolulu, Hawaii on Aug. 1.
Bersoff, who is president of the APA, will examine laws that require therapists to warn potential victims or law enforcement officials of threats posed by patients.
Laws that exist in many states fail to clearly define how certain therapists must be of imminent harm or the extent of risk that their patients pose, Bersoff observed.
The “duty to warn” can seriously compromise the relationship between a therapist and patient, undermining treatment that could help reduce the risk of violence, Bersoff noted.
Bersoff outlined numerous tactics for therapists to engage with patients who pose a risk of violence to avoid violating their confidences, which he suggested as “a last resort.”
The editor of the landmark, "Ethical Conflicts in Psychology," Bersoff is an internationally recognized expert on mental health and the law, and he founded the law school's JD-PhD Program in Law and Psychology.
The APA is the largest association of psychologists in the world.