I’m in Vienna, Austria, for the International Congress of Law and Mental Health. This is a biennial, large-scale event, with roughly 1,000 registrants and multiple panels running concurrently throughout the five-day period. The Vienna gathering is appropriately being held at Sigmund Freud University.
For me, the Congress is an opportunity to learn about important intersections between law, public policy, psychology, and mental health on a global scale. It’s also a chance to connect with friends and colleagues within the therapeutic jurisprudence community. Therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ), as I’ve written here before, is a school of legal thought that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of law, legal processes, and legal practice. I originally became associated with the TJ community through my work on workplace bullying and the law. Now the TJ lens substantially frames my perspectives on the law.
With so many participants descending upon a big city (the last three Congresses were held in Amsterdam, Berlin, and New York), this can easily become the type of event where one feels lost in the crowd. However, the International Network on Therapeutic Jurisprudence has organized a “conference within a conference,” a series of panels on various aspects of therapeutic jurisprudence, held over the entire course of the event. While even those who are strongly connected to the TJ community often present at and attend other panels, the dedicated array of TJ-related panels serves as a sort of home base. People become more familiar with names and faces and thus are more likely to forge connections that would be more difficult to make without this ongoing series of panels.
The importance of this global perspective cannot be overemphasized. Compared to many other nations, the U.S. is often somewhat resistant toward integrating psychological perspectives into its laws and legal procedures. American law students discover this right at the beginning of their studies, when they learn how legal doctrines such as criminal law and tort (personal injury) law struggle to find a place for psychology and mental health in assessing key questions such as intent and emotional distress.
It’s also a treat to be able to spend some time exploring Vienna. I have not been here since 1981, when I followed a semester abroad in England with a quick tour through parts of western Europe. There is so much culture and history in this city, starting with the tumultuous 20th century and going way, way back. Of course, Freud and Carl Jung also made their imprints here, so I’m bound to pick up some lessons in psychology as well beyond what I learn at the conference.