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Therapeutic jurisprudence: A different approach to law and practice
Therapeutic jurisprudence is an approach to law which uses wellbeing as a lens through which to analyse and evaluate legal rules, procedures and processes. It argues that any legal development can have either therapeutic or anti-therapeutic effects. In other words, it can impact on people’s emotional and psychological wellbeing either positively or negatively. Supporters of therapeutic jurisprudence seek to ensure that the law is a positive social force, promoting better wellbeing.
The approach’s origins are in the US (where the phrase was coined in 1987). It began as a new perspective on mental health law, but since then support for the concept of therapeutic jurisprudence has grown significantly and it is now being applied in a wide variety of legal fields. The “Therapeutic jurisprudence in the mainstream” blog gives a range of examples internationally, from the non-adversarial resolution of civil disputes to new judicial approaches within criminal and family courtrooms. In Scotland, the Glasgow Drug Court is a great example a therapeutic jurisprudence approach in practice. It provides offenders with a regime of treatment and testing to combat drug addiction over an 18 month period, focusing on long-term rehabilitation.
By positioning itself as a form of lens, or field of inquiry, therapeutic jurisprudence can be extremely wide-ranging in its ideas and principles. It draws on insights from various disciplines (psychology and criminology to name a couple) as well as often overlapping with other approaches to law, such as restorative justice and integrative law. Some commentators have criticised this breadth, as well discussing the difficulties that can be involved in defining what is “therapeutic” or “anti-therapeutic”. However, the very flexibility of this approach can also be seen as an advantage, allowing it to be adapted practically in a wide variety of situations.
In terms of legal practice, therapeutic jurisprudence is particularly relevant in two ways. The first way relates to how the legal profession use and apply the law within their work. The approach can be incorporated within the practice of individual legal professionals or even across whole firms or other organisations. For example, by seeking less combative ways to deal with opponents, by applying empathy in communications with clients and by working with psychologists or other professionals to provide a holistic approach to client issues.
The second way therapeutic jurisprudence is relevant to legal practice is the way in which it recognises that the law can also have therapeutic and anti-therapeutic effects on legal actors themselves, including legal professionals (and law students). It therefore shines a necessary spotlight onto the wellbeing of those within the profession and encourages discussion and debate of this traditionally ignored topic.
For those interested in an approach to law which acknowledges and incorporates insights into wellbeing, therapeutic jurisprudence has plenty to offer. . Perhaps, in this time of political, legal and regulatory change, there is the opportunity to challenge the old norms of legal culture and reposition law itself as a therapeutic agent.
Emma Jones, The Open University Law School.
Emma will be hosting a focus group in Dublin on Thursday 22nd February. More info here.
For more information on Therapeutic Jurisprudence in Ireland visit https://irishjurisprudencesociety.org/
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