Professor David B. Wexler coined the term “Therapeutic Jurisprudence (TJ)” in 1987 and further developed the concept with Professor Bruce Winnick in their 1991 book, Essays in Therapeutic
been broadly adopted by other areas of law. Nearly all areas of law have now been impacted by
Initially, TJ was applied predominantly to cases involving mental health, but has quickly 2
From the perspective of a proponent of TJ, the legal system creates both therapeutic and anti- therapeutic consequences for all participants and for society in general. The goal of the TJ movement is to become aware of these consequences and work to remake and reapply the law in a way that is more therapeutically beneficial, while respecting traditional American legal values such as due process and justice.
A practitioner of TJ would take an issue like drug addiction and seek to go beyond the traditional criminal justice framework. Instead, offenders aren’t exclusively punished, but encouraged to accept diversion to drug court. There, drug court judges are specially trained in the nature and treatment of drug addiction. They serve as therapeutic agents, responsible for the supervision and monitoring of offender’s treatment progress. Other examples of the movements influence are domestic violence courts and mental health courts. The prevalence of these varied alternatives exemplifies the influence of TJ.
Various legal procedures are also examined from a therapeutic jurisprudence perspective. For example,
child custody hearings have a stigma of being adversarial and therefore traumatic to both child and
parents. One parents outcome is often predicated on the tarnishing of the alternative parent. A
collaborative divorce is seen as a less traumatic, divisive option to the traditionally adversarial framework. A TJ proponent would draw attention to the negative aspects of acrimonious legal procedures and suggest alternatives and more therapeutic ways of achieving an agreeable resolution.
Therapeutic jurisprudence also works to reframe the roles or behaviors of judges and lawyers. It envisions lawyers practicing with an ethic of care and heightened interpersonal skills, who value the psychological wellbeing of their clients as well as their legal rights and interests, and to actively seek to prevent legal problems through creative drafting and problem-solving. Similarly, a judge familiar with TJ may ask the person being sentenced to draft a plan that explains why he or she deserves a certain sentence and how he or she will be able to comply with the terms. Such techniques are believed to encourage people to take responsibility for their own rehabilitation.
Based on these trends, it is clear that TJ is becoming a permanent fixture of American law. Refocusing the emphasis away from punishment and towards treatment and healing seems to be marked improvement, good for both individuals and society alike. Law students and practitioners who recognize its value will be at the frontline of implementing this new, wholistic perspective.