Tarasoff and the clinician: problems in fulfilling the duty to protect

Am J Psychiatry. 1985 Apr;142(4):425-9. doi: 10.1176/ajp.142.4.425.


The obligation to protect potential victims of one's patients, as first described in the California Tarasoff case, is being endorsed by an increasing number of jurisdictions. Although problematic in many respects, it has become a factor that must be dealt with in routine clinical interactions. The author presents a three-part model of the Tarasoff obligation--identifying the requirements of assessment, selection of a course of action, and implementation--and illustrates with case examples the mistakes that clinicians commonly make at each of these stages. Guidelines are suggested for a reasonable approach to dealing with the Tarasoff doctrine.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • California
  • Confidentiality / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Dangerous Behavior*
  • Data Collection
  • Decision Making
  • Female
  • Forensic Psychiatry*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Records
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Mental Disorders / therapy
  • Mentally Ill Persons*
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Probability
  • Psychotherapy / standards*
  • Violence*