Tarasoff – Exploring and Understanding Implications

Subject: Psychology
Type: Analytical Essay
Pages: 3
Word count: 613
Topics: Childhood, Ethical Dilemma, Ethics, High School

Table of Contents


Issues of confidentiality present numerous ethical challenges key among which are the need to protect privacy, informed consent, records and documentation, collegial relationships, dual relationships and practitioner competence. The challenges threaten the relationship that exists between a patient and a practitioner. A patient who believes that a psychologist may not protect his or her privacy may not open up and provide adequate information about his condition a feature that would threaten the effectiveness of the entire engagement. Similarly, informed consent involves the need to inform the patients of the nature of the services including the risks and benefits it presents thus allowing the patient to make informed decisions (McCurdy & Murray, 2003). In the Tarasoff case, Prosenjit Poddar opened up to his psychologist since he trusted him to keep the information confidential thereby protecting his privacy.

Georgia’s statutory laws do not address the “duty to warn” which is the central idea in Tarasoff decision. The lack of clear laws that address the issue has caused immense confusions and cost psychologists in the states a lot of money. However, the state has adequate precedents that establish a duty to protect third parties. Key among such is the Bradley Center v. Wessner (1982). In the case, the Supreme Court court in Georgia upheld a decision of an appellate court that had identified a legal duty of a hospital that had failed to control a potentially violent patient who had threatened a victim at the facility. Other cases include Garner v. Stone (1999), which had similar implications. As such, psychologists in Georgia have the duty to warn and the legal responsibility to control their patients in cases where they threaten public safety.

In resolving the “duty to warn,” I would embody the words of Justice Mathew O. Tobriner who heard the Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California. The judge argued, “The protective privilege ends where the public peril begins.” The argument resolves any dilemma by demonstrating the responsibility that psychologists among other medical practitioners have in safeguarding public safety. The twelve questions model of ethical decision-making provides a strategic framework for resolving the dilemmas. I would begin by offering an accurate definition of the problem (Remley & Herlihy, 2016). After establishing the mental instability of an individual and the threat he or she possess to others, it becomes imperative to violate the confidentiality code and inform state authorities and the identified victims as a primary way of improving public safety and protecting the victims.

The media presented this week, the Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California case, provided a practical demonstration of the ethical dilemma and its inherent legal connotations thereby enabling me to understand the seriousness of the existing challenges to confidentiality. The judge provides an elaborate explanation of the roles of practitioners and their need to protect public safety. Such vivid explanations enabled me to see the need to violate confidentiality codes as a way of protecting victims. Furthermore, the media showed that both federal and statutory laws recognize the need to safeguard public safety (Crespi, 2009). As such, psychologists among other medical practitioners have a primary obligation to the law to protect victims. The case permits violations to some ethical codes to protect the public.

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  1. Crespi, T. D. (2009). “Group counseling in the schools: Legal, ethical, and treatment issues in school practice”. Psychology in the Schools, 46(3), 273–280.
  2. McCurdy, K. G., & Murray, K. C. (2003). “Confidentiality issues when minor children disclose family secrets in family counseling”. The Family Journal, 11(4), 393–398.     
  3. Remley, T. P., Jr., & Herlihy, B. (2016). Ethical, legal, and professional issues in counseling (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
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