TJ is a revolutionary and global law reform philosophy, developed by two visionary mental health and disability law professors, David B. Wexler and the late Bruce J. Winick, who had a shared belief and vision that courts could act as therapeutic agents …” Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren
In practice therapeutic jurisprudence approaches continue to improve the links between our justice systems and what we know works from social science in areas such as behavioural change, addiction and mental health recovery.
This way of thinking has led to developments such as drug treatment courts and mental health courts and other practical changes in mainstream court such as improved judicial communication techniques, better involvement of victims of crime and judicial supervision of rehabilitation programs.
Therapeutic jurisprudence is the “study of the role of the law as a therapeutic agent.” It focuses on the law’s impact on emotional life and on psychological well-being.
Therapeutic jurisprudence focuses our attention on this previously under-appreciated aspect, humanising the law and concerning itself with the human, emotional, psychological side of law and the legal process.
Basically, therapeutic jurisprudence is a perspective that regards the law as a social force that produces behaviors and consequences. Sometimes these consequences fall within the realm of what we call therapeutic; other times antitherapeutic consequences are produced. Therapeutic jurisprudence wants us to be aware of this and wants us to see whether the law can be made or applied in a more therapeutic way so long as other values, such as justice and due process, can be fully respected.
It is important to recognize that therapeutic jurisprudence does not itself suggest that therapeutic goals should trump other ones. It does not support paternalism, coercion, and so on. It is simply a way of looking at the law in a richer way, and then bringing to the table some of these areas and issues that previously have gone unnoticed. Therapeutic jurisprudence simply suggests that we think about these issues and see if they can be factored into our law-making, lawyering, or judging.
When we say the law, we mean the law in action, not simply the law on the books. The law can be divided into the following categories: (1) legal rules, such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or the Americans with Disabilities; (2) legal procedures, such as hearings and trials; and (3) the roles of legal actors and the behavior of judges, lawyers, and of therapists acting in a legal context. Much of what legal actors do has an impact on the psychological well-being or emotional life of persons affected by the law. I refer here, for example, to matters such as the dialogue that judges have with defendants or that lawyers have with clients.
There are some useful introductory resources about TJ on this blog’s resource pages but for a quick introduction to Therapeutic Jurisprudence and its application in mainstream settings watch Professor David Wexler …
To read David Wexler’s article “New Wine in New Bottles” click here.