Therapeutic Jurisprudence: A Response to Denial of Human Dignity in Public Policy

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Guest blogger Professor David Yamada writes…

Here in the U.S., I sometimes struggle over how to reconcile my everyday work with the ongoing existential threat that we face in our public sphere, generating from Washington D.C. How can my little niche of the world matter when every day brings multiple ghastly, distressing headlines (or tweets)?

I join with others for whom the aftermath of the 2016 American election has been a deeply unsettling and disturbing time. For the past two decades, the main focus of my research and public education activities has been on bullying and abuse in the workplace. It has felt like a mean twist to have a singular exemplar of those behaviors occupying the White House and being unconditionally revered by a large chunk of our population.

I also have asked myself, “What does Therapeutic Jurisprudence (TJ) have to do with all of this? How can such an idealistic way of looking at the law matter in view of what’s transpiring before us on a daily basis?”

Thankfully, I quickly get to the core of the answer: TJ has a lot to do with this. TJ is the antithesis of how laws and policies are being made in our nation’s capital right now, and thus it provides us with clarifying insights and potential solutions.

This understanding has further inspired me to connect my academic work to that bigger picture. This includes an article, “On Anger, Shock, Fear, and Trauma: Therapeutic Jurisprudence as a Response to Dignity Denials in Public Policy,” that will be published in a special issue of the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry honoring TJ co-founder David Wexler.

In brief, the piece cites the Trump Administration’s initiatives on immigration and health care as prime examples of how policy design and process are being used to instil fear and trauma into already vulnerable populations. These developments constitute broad, meta-level denials of human dignity.

The long-term solution, I suggest, comes by way of applying TJ to the substance and processes of legislation and public policy, with an ongoing focus on advancing human dignity, psychological health, and well being.

I realize that one modest journal article is unlikely to change the world. But if we’re going to reverse our course away from this awful status quo, then we must be unapologetic about the changes that we want to see. Our scholarship can plant the intellectual seeds toward a desired paradigm shift.

Am I suggesting that TJ enter the world of partisan politics? Absolutely not. It’s my preference that, when operating under the TJ banner, we stick to framing issues of law and policy through a TJ lens, not through conventional political ideology. But I do think that it’s time for TJ to step more decisively into the legislative and policy making arenas. And I hope that the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence will be a conduit for that exploration. At the risk of sounding immodest about TJ’s promise, the world stands to benefit from what we have to offer.

David Yamada is a professor of law at Suffolk University Law School in Boston and the current board chair of the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence This blog post is an expansion of comments first shared on an e-mail list hosted by Dr. Michael Britton of the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies network.

 

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