What Does The Tarasoff Ruling Mean For Modern Therapy?

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated April 4, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Content Warning: Please note that this article mentions violence, death, and criminal cases. Read with discretion. If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for support. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788. You can also use the online chat

The Tarasoff ruling was a California law put in place due to a murder case in the 1970s. The case involved the killing of Tatiana Tarasoff by a man named Prasenjit Poddar, who had been receiving therapy from a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley.

To better understand this complex legal ruling, it can be beneficial to research the Tarasoff case in more detail. 

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The History Of The Tarasoff Ruling

The case of Tatiana Tarasoff began in 1969 when Poddar, a student at UC Berkeley, became infatuated with Tarasoff, a fellow student. Poddar sought help from a therapist at the university's counseling center, Dr. Lawrence Moore, expressing homicidal thoughts towards Tarasoff. The therapist determined that there was a serious danger, but no such warning was provided to Tarasoff or her family.

On October 27th, 1969, Poddar murdered Tarasoff. Her parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the regents of the University of California, alleging that Dr. Moore and the university had a duty to warn Tatiana and her family of Poddar's dangerous intentions. The California court, including the Supreme Court, examined the case and scrutinized the legal duties of mental health professionals in such situations.

The California Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Tarasoff family. Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California set a precedent for mental health professionals across the country. In 1976, the California Supreme Court issued a ruling requiring therapists to use reasonable cause to protect potential victims of violence or harm from their clients. 

Legal Implications Of The Tarasoff Ruling

The Tarasoff ruling has brought about a significant shift in the mental health field. To protect individuals at risk, therapists have stringent protocols for identifying and addressing clients expressing violent threats or intent toward potential victims. If imminent danger is expected, therapists have a legal obligation to protect the intended victim and report such danger to the local authorities, such as campus police or another law enforcement agency. These changes significantly affect patient confidentiality and therapist-client interactions in mental health organizations.

The Tarasoff ruling has caused conflicts between mental health professionals and legal officials and increased tensions between mental health professionals and their clients in some cases. In response to the Tarasoff ruling, mental health professionals may work to be aware and educated about the risks associated with violence. Many therapists and organizations now offer resources and training on recognizing potential signs of harm and legal and ethical obligations when managing such patients. Case law offering guidance on a therapist's duty to warn has continued to evolve since the Tarasoff ruling.

Navigating Disclosure Policies And Risk

The Tarasoff ruling has increased focus on safety and risk management within the mental health field. However, it remains a delicate balance between protecting others and maintaining client disclosure policies. Mental health professionals may carefully assess each situation individually to ensure they are following the law and not putting their clients in danger. In some cases, therapists may need to breach confidentiality to exercise reasonable care in protecting an identifiable victim.

Understanding your rights and responsibilities as a client may help you have a more informed conversation with your therapist, which can improve safety for you and others. By being aware of the Tarasoff ruling and its significant implications on your relationship with your therapist, you can ensure your safety and the safety of those in your community. 

The Tarasoff ruling and its subsequent implications have profoundly impacted the mental health field and the lives of individuals seeking therapy. Your mental health professional, following the ethical principles established by figures such as Rollo May, may take the necessary steps to ensure that all personal details are handled according to state and federal laws.

The Tarasoff Ruling's Impact On Community Care

Due to the Tarasoff ruling, mental health care providers may have a legal responsibility to report clients engaging in violent behavior or making verbal threats. As a result, Tarasoff has shifted how community mental health services are delivered, with a heightened awareness of threats and an emphasis on identifying and managing at-risk individuals.

One aspect of the Tarasoff ruling concerning community care is its emphasis on early identification and intervention. By identifying patients who may be at risk of committing violence early on, mental health professionals can take steps to prevent harm before it occurs. These steps include providing therapy and other forms of treatment, as well as making referrals to other community resources such as housing and employment programs.

The development of numerous programs and services in local communities to assist those living with mental illness may be beneficial in reducing harm. These include specialized crisis interventions, treatment centers, and support groups tailored toward individuals at risk of perpetrating violence.

Mental Health Challenges Can Make Life Difficult

Client Rights In The US

Clients may ensure they are aware of their rights when receiving mental health care so they know what they can expect from a therapist. A few of these rights include the following: 

  • The right to be informed: Your healthcare provider may provide you with all relevant information regarding your diagnosis (if applicable), treatment options, and associated risks.

  • The right to make decisions about your care: You have the right to make decisions about your mental health treatment and have your wishes respected. You may also have the right to refuse any form of treatment and understand the potential consequences of doing so. 

  • The right to file a complaint: If you feel your rights have been violated, you can file a complaint with a relevant governing body.

As a client, take ownership of your rights. If a situation doesn't feel right, don't hesitate to voice your concerns and seek help. Your healthcare provider or facility's patient advocate may assist and answer any questions. If the problem persists, contact your state's department of health or licensing board for further support.

Counseling Options 

Although the Tarasoff rule has impacted mental health counseling, therapy is still a safe and effective option for support with various concerns. You can meet with a therapist to discuss mental health conditions, symptoms, or life stress. You do not need a mental illness or diagnosis to attend therapy, and various forms of treatment are available. If you're unsure about how a therapist addresses specific policies, let them know upon your initial consultation, and they may be able to answer your questions. 

You can also consider online therapy if you're experiencing barriers to mental healthcare such as social anxiety, physical impairments, or financial challenges. Online therapy is a convenient resource to assist you on your journey to recovery. Recent findings note the effectiveness of internet-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (ICBT) is on par with in-person treatment. 

If you're interested in receiving mental healthcare online, consider signing up through a platform like BetterHelp, which offers a vast database of licensed therapists specializing in various support areas. 


The Tarasoff ruling has impacted how US therapists deliver mental health treatment. It emphasizes an opportunity for early detection and intervention, collaborative efforts between mental health professionals and community partners, and tailored programs to support those affected by mental illness.  

Your mental health is valuable, and you have rights when receiving care. You may gain support, guidance, and resources for your symptoms or concerns with an adequate support system like a therapist.

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