Law and Ethics Exam Prep: Tarasoff

By Maria Denardo on May 20, 2023

This month, we’re tackling the topic of duty to protect as it relates to the 1976 Tarasoff ruling by the California Supreme Court. If you’re a new therapist and you can’t remember the protocol for Tarasoff situations, you’re not alone. Most associates have little to no professional experience with clients who are a danger to others, which can often lead to confusion around a therapist’s legal responsibilities, particularly on the CA law and ethics exam. And that’s where we come in.

Here are the primary ways the BBS will evaluate your understanding of Tarasoff on the test:  

  • How to assess for danger and levels of risk
  • Specific triggers of Tarasoff
  • Mandated duties when Tarasoff is activated
  • When to assess further versus when to break confidentiality

TDC will cover all this and more in our California MFT and LCSW Law and Ethics Exam Prep programs so you can deepen your legal knowledge and pass with confidence. But first, let’s see how well you do on a FREE law and ethics practice question.

Tarasoff Practice Question:  

During a therapy session, a distraught client reports that they found a concerning letter on their 19-year-old son’s computer. The letter states that he’s going to bring a weapon to his college campus to “show the bullies who’s boss” and “end this once and for all.” The client disclosed that they couldn’t reach their son by phone, and that they were worried about what he might do. How should the therapist manage the legal obligations in this case?

A. Call 911 to report the son’s plan and process it with the client.

B. Create a safety plan, maintain confidentiality, and encourage the client to call 911.

C. Call the police and warn the college campus of the son’s plan.

D. Further assess to determine the level of danger.

(Scroll for answer and rationale.)











If you selected answer B, you’re correct. Tarasoff is only activated when the client threatens physical violence against an identifiable victim or victims. In this case, the person making the threat is not the actual client, but the son of the client. So, the best answer in this set would be to create a safety plan with the client; maintain confidentiality; and encourage the client to call 911.

Let’s take a moment to review the reasons why the other choices are not as strong. Answers A and C are both incorrect since the son is a third party, which makes reporting a breach of client confidentiality. Answer D can be eliminated for the reasons already discussed and because therapists cannot properly conduct a thorough and adequate risk assessment of an unknown person who is not their client.   

MFT & LCSW Exam Preparation:

How did you do on this month’s FREE law and ethics exam prep question? Let us know in the comment section below. If you’re ready for more questions on Tarasoff issues, our MFT and LCSW law and ethics exam prep programs provide everything you need to successfully PASS your exams. The best part? You’ll have access to licensed law and ethics coaches who will be with you every step of the way, providing answers to questions, study tips, time management strategies, and so much more.

If you need to complete the 3-hour law and ethics CE course before the next license registration period, we offer 2 BBS-approved courses that fulfill this requirement. Both courses are 6 hours. You can choose between either. Here is a discount code that will allow you to save on the course: L&E2023

You can access the courses HERE or HERE.

Looking for CE credits? Our BBS-approved continuing education library features a range of easy-to-follow courses from Interpersonal Psychotherapy to Clinical Supervision.


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