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Law and the UnconsciousA Psychoanalytic Perspective$
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Anne C. Dailey

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780300188837

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300188837.001.0001

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Violent Threats

Violent Threats

(p.154) Six Violent Threats
Law and the Unconscious

Anne C. Dailey

Yale University Press

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.

Keywords:   Psychoanalysis, Psychology, Unconscious, Law, Freud, Tarasoff, Threats, Therapy, Child abuse, Interpretation

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