Therapeutic Jurisprudence & Empathy

It is widely acknowledged that therapeutic jurisprudence serves as the theoretical foundation for the treatment court model. This perspective “seeks to assess the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic consequences of law and how it is applied. It also seeks to affect legal change designed to increase the former and diminish the latter.” (Winick & Wexler, 2015, p. 479). Treatment court scholars and practitioners recognize that treatment courts stand in stark contrast to traditional criminal courts in how they are structured as well as how they operate. Winick & Wexler (2015) assert that “an important insight of therapeutic jurisprudence is that, how judges and other legal actors play their roles has inevitable consequences for the mental health and psychological well-being of the people with whom they interact.” (p. 481) One strategy for putting therapeutic jurisprudence into practice is through the practice of empathy. Empathy is defined as “the ability to see a situation from someone else’s perspective—combined with the emotional capacity to understand and feel that person’s emotions in that situation.” (Colby, 2012, p. 1945)

Drug Court Key Component #7 & Adult Best Practice Standard #3 highlight the critical role of judges in treatment courts and specifically the interaction between judges and participants during court review hearings. More specifically,

 

Judges…need to understand how to convey empathy, how to recognize and deal with denial, and how to apply principles of behavioral psychology and motivation theory. They need to understand the psychology of procedural justice, which teaches that people appearing in court experience greater satisfaction and comply more willingly with court orders when they are given a sense of voice and validation and treated with dignity and respect. (Winick & Wexler, 2015, p. 482)

 

While judges are integral to the success of any treatment court program, less is written about the specific role of other interdisciplinary team members (e.g. prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, case manager, law enforcement, etc.) in adopting the principles of therapeutic jurisprudence in their work. It is vital for all treatment court team members to practice empathy when interacting with program participants. The below-listed multimedia resources provide some additional insight into how to practice empathy within your work as a treatment court practitioner. According to scholar Jamil Zaki “empathy is like a skill. It’s like a muscle. We can practice it like any other skill and get better at connecting with people.” (Young, 2020)

Developing Good Habits

According to Knottnerus (2005) “. . . daily life is normally characterized by an array of personal and social rituals. Such rituals help create stability to social life while expressing various symbolic meanings that give significance to our actions” (p. 8). Both positive and negative behaviors are part of daily life and when practiced often enough become ritualized. Individuals in recovery often report that certain “people, places, or things” can elicit behavioral responses without conscious awareness or intention. This reality underscores the need for the recovery process and programming to include an emphasis on individuals recognizing negative rituals and replacing them with positive (or prosocial) rituals.

We know from research that this behavioral change must be predicated on a change in attitudes/beliefs, an increase in knowledge regarding the behavior and associated consequences, as well as ample time to practice new behaviors within a structured and supportive environment. Changing ritualized behavior can be a difficult process and feel very foreign no matter how positive the results may be. Researchers, Van de Poel-Knottnerus and Knottnerus (2011), assert that “. . . when patterned, ritualized modes of behavior are severely disrupted, this is a very difficult and problematic situation for human beings” (p. 108). To this end, understanding how ritualized behavior forms, as well as how it can be effectively changed, is central to the work of treatment court practitioners and researchers. Understanding the specific mechanisms by which programs affect behavior change among various target populations, and sub-populations, is crucial to success and sustainability.

We hope the below-listed resources encourage you to take inventory of the ways in which your treatment court program facilitates and supports participants in their work to replace negative habits with positive ones. Also, we hope this information provides you with ideas as to how your program can work to do more in this area. While Dr. Clear’s work is not specific to treatment courts, the ideas are very much applicable to the behavior change process that is central to the treatment court model. The article by Drs. Lanier and DeVall applies Structural Ritualization Theory to adult treatment courts specifically.

The Importance of Social Connectedness

The importance of social connectedness among human beings has been well-documented. Researchers have found physical, emotional, and social benefits for individuals who are and remain connected to others. These same researchers have found profoundly negative outcomes associated with experiencing social isolation.

In these current times, the methods by which individuals connect with each other have taken on multiple forms (e.g., face-to-face, by phone, via cloud-based technology, etc). How is this notion of social connectedness relevant to the treatment court field? It is hoped that the information presented in the multimedia resources featured here will encourage you to examine the ways in which your treatment court program facilitates meaningful social connection between and among participants, team members, and the recovery community through program requirements (e.g., case management sessions, pro-social activities, court review hearings, etc.). It is vital that opportunities for participants to connect with others are maintained.

Welcome

According to Knottnerus (2005) “. . . daily life is normally characterized by an array of personal and social rituals. Such rituals help create stability to social life while expressing various symbolic meanings that give significance to our actions” (p. 8). Both positive and negative behaviors are part of daily life and when practiced often enough become ritualized. Individuals in recovery often report that certain “people, places, or things” can elicit behavioral responses without conscious awareness or intention. This reality underscores the need for the recovery process and programming to include an emphasis on individuals recognizing negative rituals and replacing them with positive (or prosocial) rituals.

We know from research that this behavioral change must be predicated on a change in attitudes/beliefs, an increase in knowledge regarding the behavior and associated consequences, as well as ample time to practice new behaviors within a structured and supportive environment. Changing ritualized behavior can be a difficult process and feel very foreign no matter how positive the results may be. Researchers, Van de Poel-Knottnerus and Knottnerus (2011), assert that “. . . when patterned, ritualized modes of behavior are severely disrupted, this is a very difficult and problematic situation for human beings” (p. 108). To this end, understanding how ritualized behavior forms, as well as how it can be effectively changed, is central to the work of treatment court practitioners and researchers. Understanding the specific mechanisms by which programs affect behavior change among various target populations, and sub-populations, is crucial to success and sustainability.

We hope the below-listed resources encourage you to take inventory of the ways in which your treatment court program facilitates and supports participants in their work to replace negative habits with positive ones. Also, we hope this information provides you with ideas as to how your program can work to do more in this area. While Dr. Clear’s work is not specific to treatment courts, the ideas are very much applicable to the behavior change process that is central to the treatment court model. The article by Drs. Lanier and DeVall applies Structural Ritualization Theory to adult treatment courts specifically.