Answer and Rationale for MFT Question on Duty to Warn

By Robin Gluck on August 25, 2017

On Friday we posted the following question on our Tarasoff duty, and today we have the answer and rationale for you!

A 24-year-old woman is mandated to therapy by her probation officer for anger management. The therapist has been meeting with the client for 4 months and is nearing termination. Over the course of treatment, the woman slowly opened up to the therapist about her life, including her past involvement with gang violence and drug use. In the session, she shares that her boyfriend has been very possessive and threatened to hurt a guy he thought she was flirting with. She confesses that he has a gun, has been in jail for assault in the past, and already researched where the man lives. What actions should the therapist take to address the legal and ethical issues presented in this situation?

a. Inform police of the threat and attempt to contact the intended victim.

b. Encourage client to report the boyfriend’s plan to the police and develop a safety plan.

c. Inform client that we must share this information with her probation officer since she is mandated to treatment and could be an accessory to a crime.

d. Inform client she must report the boyfriend’s plan to the police and assess client’s personal safety.

In this question, we are provided with information that is alarming.  There is a clear risk of danger presented by the boyfriend: he has a history of violence, has a weapon, and found where the potential victim resides. And yet, our duty to protect is not triggered. In fact, we cannot notify the police or potential victim without breaching confidentiality.  Let’s look at the answer.


The best answer to this question is B.  Answer A would be correct if the client was the potential perpetrator of violence (in fact, this is exactly what we do when our duty to protect is triggered under Tarasoff).  Answer C is incorrect as well since we are not required to report this information to the client’s probation officer and it is outside our scope of practice to determine whether this would constitute accessory to a crime.  Answer D is very similar to B, but rather than encouraging the client to make a report, it has the therapist forcing the client’s hand. Therapists cannot force clients to make reports; it is ultimately the client's decision.  Answer B best addresses how we would handle this situation both legally and ethically. Legally, we would maintain confidentiality. Ethically, we would encourage the client to report the danger to police, but would not force them to do so. Additionally, we would safety plan with the client to manage their personal safety around this situation.

In moments like these, it's also a good idea to seek legal consultation to ensure you know what your legal obligations are. If you have a supervisor, this would be a situation you would want to consult with them on as well.

Which answer did you choose?  Does the rationale fit with your understanding of Tarasoff and how you would work in the clinical setting? Or did you learn something new with this scenario?  If you have any further questions feel free to check in with a TDC coach. We are here to support you all along the way. And if you came up with the same answer-great job! You are on the right track to getting licensed.

Still, haven’t signed up for an exam preparation program? Our structured, straightforward approach to exam prep will provide you with exactly what you need to pass your social work exam or MFT exam and nothing you don’t. You can learn more about our social work licensing exam prep and more about our MFT licensing exam prep. If you’d like to connect directly with one of our coaches, you can fill out our Connect with a Coach form.

We look forward to helping you PASS your exam with confidence!


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