by Michael G. Brock and Samuel Saks; Springfield, Illinois, Charles C Thomas Publisher, 2008, 141 pages, $32.95
Dr. Ash is director, Psychiatry and Law Service, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia.
Many of the contemporary issues this volume addresses center on sexual abuse allegations that are "confirmed" in treatment for suspected abuse. The authors, an attorney and a clinical social worker, write in a lively style, and they don't pull their punches. This is a book with a message: the authors insist that child sexual abuse allegations should be first investigated in a well-conducted forensic interview.
In a series of chapters, the authors condemn the problems that arise in an all-too-common sequence that starts when a parent brings a child to treatment with a suspicion of abuse; this is followed by the therapist who begins treatment for "possible abuse" before determining whether abuse has actually occurred. The therapist hears only one side of the story, attempts to confirm abuse—often through multiple sessions and suggestive questioning—and then, when the child has "confirmed" the abuse, the therapist hands the case—already decided in what the authors aptly term "therapy court"—over to the judicial system. The final chapter addresses the question of whether such treatment should be considered malpractice. Although these problems are familiar to forensic experts who become involved in litigation in such cases, they are much less familiar to many therapists, who would be well advised to read this book before beginning treatment for possible but unsubstantiated abuse.
Other chapters cover introductory material about the roles that mental health professionals play in family courts and issues related to conducting custody evaluations.
The book grew out of a series of the authors' articles in the Detroit Legal News and reflects Michigan law. Michigan has been at the forefront of states in establishing clear legal procedures relevant to mental health litigation involving children, such as spelling out components of the best-interest tests and requiring state evaluators of child abuse to use an approved protocol; the authors rightfully applaud this standardization. There is considerable variation among the states, however, and the authors do not caution the reader that these standards and other practices in Michigan, such as Daubert rules or court-appointed expert witness immunity, do not apply in all jurisdictions.