Therapeutic jurisprudence in San Juan

I had the privilege of spending three days in San Juan, Puerto Rico, participating in a workshop sponsored by the International Network on Therapeutic Jurisprudence and the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) School of Law. In addition to being treated to the lovely weather and island hospitality, I enjoyed hours of engaging conversations with a marvelous group of scholars and legal educators from around the world.

As I’ve written on numerous occasions, therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) is a theoretical framework that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of the law, legal practice, and legal education. As I see it, TJ’s implicit policy objective is that our laws and legal systems should promote psychologically healthy outcomes whenever feasible. Several years ago I discovered the TJ community as a result of the work I’ve been doing on workplace bullying and employment law & policy generally, and I have found it to be a humane and open-minded “home” for my research, writing, and public education activities.

The workshop was hosted by TJ co-founder and UPR law professor David Wexler, who invited a small group of law professors and scholars from around the world to share their work and ideas in a more informal, workshop-style setting.

Our discussions covered a span of rich and interesting topics. They included criminal justice, sexual violence, personal injury law, family law, legal education, legal scholarship, mental health law, employment law, and human rights.

As I listened to my colleagues and participated in the discussion, I realized how TJ resonates with me in ways that no other legal theory can match. After all, shouldn’t the law and lawyers aspire to prevent disputes, resolve disputes fairly and with minimal rancor, encourage healthy and harmonious relationships in society, and provide people with peace of mind?

In addition to David Wexler and other colleagues from UPR, participants included (in random order) Shelley Kierstead (Canada), Martine Herzog-Evans (France), Erin Mackay (Australia), Daniel Pulcherio Fensterseifer (Brazil), Doron Shultziner (Israel), Hadar Dancig-Rosenberg (Israel), Arno Akkermans (Netherlands), Luz Mary Parra Nino (Columbia), Susan Daicoff (U.S.), Masha Antokolskaia (Netherlands), Michael Jones (U.S.), and Michael Perlin (U.S.).

Also, many thanks to the faculty, administration, staff, and students of the University of Puerto Rico School of Law — especially Dean Vivian Neptune Rivera, Professor Ana Cristina Gómez Pérez, and law student/conference assistant Samira Yassin Hernández — for extending such a warm welcome.


Related post

New podcast: Therapeutic jurisprudence and employment law

TJ website

International Network on Therapeutic Jurisprudence

6 responses

  1. Two words: Divorce law.

    There is nothing therapeutic about it. I have a late-stage chronic illness that is debilitating and I just lost my health insurance two weeks ago in the culmination of an extremely stressful and embittered divorce. I got to keep the house but received nothing else, not even half of his retirement.

    So, after the relentless psychological assault of my bullying boss that ended my 17 yr career with the same nonprofit (and excellent salary and medical benefits), I was then faced with this divorce (and failing health) and repeatedly verbally raped by my now ex-husband’s divorce attorney, right from the start — complete character assassination. Talk about making my PTSD symptoms even worse.

    I do hope that TJ is including divorce law as an area that seriously needs reforming. I have been trying to work my way into some form of activism to address this problem. If you are female with no children, and sick, you are fresh out of luck.

    • Yup, forgot to mention that and added it to the list. Divorce law & family law in general are prime TJ territory.

    • Thank you, David. Finding a dedicated divorce lawyer these days was almost as difficult as trying to find an employment attorney to take on a workplace bullying case (next to impossible). Apparently, the trend is that lawyers have stopped handling divorce cases because they are seen as too stressful and time consuming for them.

  2. “After all, shouldn’t the law and lawyers aspire to prevent disputes, resolve disputes fairly and with minimal rancor, encourage healthy and harmonious relationships in society, and provide people with peace of mind?”


  3. The biggest challenge I see with any kind of preventative program or intervention lies in the difficulty in communicating the projected outcome of failing to act prudently BEFORE symptoms/problems develop or intensify. It is extremely difficult to demonstrate the effectiveness of intervention when the outcome appears to be that “nothing happens”. People prefer to believe that nothing…particularly nothing BAD… happens all by itself. We like to think that the future will be good, and all we have to do is wait for it to arrive. A prudent and therapeutic intervention is too easily dismissed as having done…well, nothing.

    When the future arrives and the predicted not-so-good outcome becomes manifest, we look for someone to blame and often conjure up an explanation that attributes the obviously less than ideal outcome to the sufferer. We sleep better at night having absolved ourselves of playing a role in creating suffering for others. And those who have intervened ineffectively (and made much to-do about it) appear to have done something or been involved in something noteworthy…we have fodder for gossip and news headlines where things have gone wrong.

    Nobody wakes up in the morning feeling fabulous and full of life and immediately wonders “who did this to me!?!?” We believe that to be our rightful and natural state… and expect it to continue indefinitely unless somebody…usually somebody ELSE…does something “wrong”….and then the sufferer becomes a victim.

    On another note, I am fascinated by your use of the words “resonance” and “harmony”. I think that when we recognize a truth…it strikes a chord and plucks our heartstrings. And harmony requires different voices and implies that discordant elements be resolved.

    Hmmm…DIs”chord”ant. Re-“solved”. Perhaps the therapeutic jurisprudence community can orchestrate (or conduct!) more harmonious pieces than are currently being played out in the legal arena!

    It is so encouraging to me to discover convergences with other people with other interests in other places. It gives me hope that my limited perspective and efforts are not the whole picture and we may be closer to making significant progress than is apparent. Thank you.

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