Those working with families in the field of child abuse often find themselves becoming intimately involved with Family Law. Although the involvement may produce confusion and frustration in professionals untrained in the law, it may also help facilitate appropriate and effective treatment of severely disordered families. I believe not only that legal framework can help those working in the mental health field, but also that a psychotherapeutic understanding of individuals, families and groups can aid lawyers steer families more effectively and humanely through the legal process. By the term psychotherapy I mean a body of theoretical and clinical knowledge concerned with looking at people's conflicts, feelings, anxieties and reasons for actions, which includes an understanding of the unconscious processes of the mind. A psychotherapeutic approach cannot provide a substantial basis for legal theory, for the latter is heavily weighted towards the notion of the ‘reasonable’ man, whose unconscious ideas and emotions are significant only if they lead to an intention to act illegally and the carrying out of the illegal act. However, the day-to-day practice of law may perhaps be enriched by a more rigorous attempt to understand human emotions, particularly in the often emotionally painful areas of Family Law. Moreover, I suspect that there are a number of shortcomings in the current complex, sometimes muddled, way that families have to deal with the law, which the proposed new legislation (DHSS, 1987) may not address. A psychotherapeutic understanding of some of the reasons for this muddle as well as of the general issues in this field may have benefits for lawyers, mental health workers and clients.
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