The law generally takes people at their word. For example, contracts are interpreted based on the objective meaning of the written terms rather than by reference to the parties’ subjective intent. In contrast, psychoanalysis rarely trades in literalisms, instead examining words for their hidden associations, connotations, implications, and ambiguities. This chapter explains how a psychoanalytic perspective on the meaning of words reworks the law’s presumption of transparency. The discussion focuses on the law governing violent threats communicated to therapists but directed at third parties, the so-called Tarasoff rule. Under this rule, when a patient says to her therapist, “I am going to kill him,” the law requires that the therapist take the patient at her word. But while the Tarasoff rule may protect some potential victims, a psychoanalytic perspective suggests that the rule may do more harm than good, in particular by discouraging those individuals who struggle with violent thoughts to seek treatment, thus raising the risk of their resorting to violence. Psychoanalytic insights into interpretive opacity, transference, regression, and acting out illuminate how the law’s pragmatic reliance on the literal meaning of words can undermine the law’s own goals to protect individuals from harm to themselves and others.
Yale Scholarship Online requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books within the service. Public users can however freely search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter.
If you think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.
To troubleshoot, please check our FAQs , and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us.