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)

 

 

Multimedia Resources:

 

Brene’ Brown Empathy (~3 mins)

 

Jamil Zaki How Power Erodes Empathy, and the Steps We Can Take To Rebuild It (10:47 mins.)

 

 

References:

 

Winick, Bruce J. and Wexler, David B. (2015) “Drug Treatment Court: Therapeutic Jurisprudence Applied,” Touro Law Review: Vol. 18 : No. 3 , Article 6. PP. 479-482  https://digitalcommons.tourolaw.edu/lawreview/vol18/iss3/6

 

Colby, Thomas B., “In Defense of Judicial Empathy” (2012). Minnesota Law Review. 422, p. 1945. https://scholarship.law.umn.edu/mlr/422

 

Young, R. (2020, July 09). How Power Erodes Empathy, And The Steps We Can Take To Rebuild It. Retrieved November 25, 2020, from https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2020/07/09/jamil-zaki-empathy-power

 

 

Written by Dr. Kristen DeVall

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