Therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) is a multidisciplinary approach to assessing the impact of the law itself on the emotional and psychological experiences of all those who have contact with the legal system. Variously described as a theory, a method, a lens, or a process of analysis, its distinguishing feature is to conceive of the law as a “therapeutic agent.” That agency can cause both therapeutic and antitherapeutic consequences. By investigating and assessing the social, professional, and political contexts in which laws are made and applied, TJ seeks to identify how unintentional harms are caused and suggests ways to remedy them. It also identifies opportunities to enhance psychological strengths and positive emotional experiences to improve legal outcomes. It has commonalities with positive criminology, restorative justice, procedural justice, and other less adversarial approaches within the criminal justice system. Since being founded by David Wexler and Bruce Winick in the 1980s as a project to improve the experiences of those subjected to mental disability law in the United States, the theory and methodology of TJ has evolved, and its influence has expanded to virtually every major legal system and jurisdiction. TJ was at the core of the operating philosophy of the problem-solving court movement, which now operates across nine countries. It is increasingly influential in new approaches to probation and offender treatment models in the United States, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, and in influencing access to justice policies in India and Pakistan. It offers some common conceptual principles for the development of First Nations courts, tribunals, and dispute resolution programs seeking to eradicate systemic, monocultural bias in postcolonial criminal justice systems which tend to lead to intractable, carceral overrepresentation.
TJ is currently undergoing a process of “mainstreaming” across disciplines and internationally. This involves encouraging lawyers and other criminal justice workers outside specialist court and diversion jurisdictions to adopt therapeutic outlooks and practices. So far there have been projects to mainstream TJ principles in police interviewing, risk assessment, diversion, criminal settlement conferences, bail, sentencing, conditional release from custody, and appeals. The sorts of reforms, innovations, and changes in mindsets suggested by TJ work has also sparked resistance and criticism. The latter ranges from constructive concerns about conceptual vagueness, risks of paternalism, and coercion to absolute ideological opposition on the grounds that TJ allegedly advocates for the complete abandonment of the adversarial system and strongarms defendants into surrendering their constitutional and due process rights.