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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA prof: Court is therapeutic

    The negative connotations of courtroom proceedings are becoming a little more positive, thanks to a UA professor’s conceptual approach.

    Contrary to popular belief, legal proceedings actually have the potential to be therapeutic, said David B. Wexler, a UA law professor and researcher.

    The theory and practice he helped create, called “”therapeutic jurisprudence,”” is currently being integrated into the curricula of more than 25 universities, including the UA, although there is not yet a course solely devoted to it.


    Oftentimes, we don’t think about the fact that, based on the way we deal with offenders, we could either be creating more harm or good.

    -Dawn Aspacher
    3rd-year law student

    jurisprudence aims to change the way one party is motivated to see the other in a negative light and the way trials proceed, Wexler said.

    “”I saw that the legal system made matters worse,”” he said.

    Wexler’s interest in the topic sparked more than 30 years ago while he was working on a fellowship in mental health law.

    “”I noticed several instances in which law backfired and was rather harmful to people rather than helpful,”” he said.

    Wexler, now the director of the International Network on Therapeutic Jurisprudence, began teaching at the UA in 1967 and co-developed the practice with Bruce Winick, a law professor at the University of Miami.

    “”It’s an interdisciplinary field of legal studies that looks at one dimension of law, mainly its impact on people’s emotional well-being,”” Winick said. “”It uses tools of science to try and reshape law in the way of making it less anti-therapeutic, and, when possible, to make it achieve its therapeutic potential.””

    Law professionals can realize that potential by changing practices and the way they and fellow legal actors play their part with applications such as alternative dispute resolution, client check-ups and creative drafting, he said.

    Dawn Aspacher, a third-year UA law student and a former student of Wexlers’, said she thinks his theory is an alternative way to look at law.

    “”Oftentimes, we don’t think about the fact that, based on the way we deal with offenders, we could either be creating more harm or good,”” Aspacher said. “”I believe in the idea that the law can have either anti-therapeutic or therapeutic effects.””

    Wexler said his theory became popular after its foundation developed in the 1970s and has since continued to receive increased support from the legal field.

    “”It’s been found that judges who run their court this way are regarded with higher trust and confidence by the public,”” he added.

    Kathleen Dostalik, a Tucson lawyer and former student of Wexler’s, said therapeutic jurisprudence influenced the type of practice she went into.

    “”I was struggling in law school with law and the way it … doesn’t take people into consideration,”” she said.

    Dostalik said she decided to go into behavioral health law so she could change the outcome of specific sentences by

    encouraging other legal professionals to consider psychological conditions.

    “”It’s kind of an alternative to the standard system in which we deal with law,”” Dostalik said. “”We can look at a (situation) in a different way, like why it happened and how it happened.””

    Winick said a therapeutic approach takes into account the individual as a whole.

    “”If you’re a lawyer with a more narrow focus, you’re seeing (the client) in a reduced way,”” he said.

    “”If you see them otherwise holistically, as a person with a problem, law can then be practiced with an ethic of care,”” he added.

    The approach is not unlike that of doctors or nurses, whose focus is to help people, Winick said.

    “”It provides a new lens that allows you to look at a different facet of law and come up with ways to make it better,”” he added. “”It’s law with a human face.””

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