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Psychiatry and Law for Clinicians, 2nd ed.
Am J Psychiatry 1999;156:965a-966.
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Wallingford, Pa.

by Robert I. Simon, M.D. Washington, D.C., American Psychiatric Press, 1998, 253 pp., $21.95 (paper).

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Psychiatrists engaged in clinical practice in the United States are sojourners in a litigious society. The inescapable task confronting them is to exercise sound professional judgment while remaining within the often vaguely defined boundaries of an ever-shifting legal infrastructure. The precepts of American law, for better or worse, are full of nebulous terms of art that may show small consonance with diagnostic and treatment models commonly employed by clinical psychiatrists. The second edition of Dr. Simon’s Psychiatry and Law for Clinicians is a boon to psychiatrists wishing to practice good medicine and, at the same time, minimize the risk of legal liability.

The 10 chapters that make up this book are suffused with a rich abundance of up-to-date materials pertaining to numerous topics, including the doctor-patient relationship, confidentiality, informed consent, psychiatric treatment, seclusion, involuntary hospitalization, suicidal and potentially violent patients, and therapist-patient sex. Each chapter is bifurcated into a section providing an overview of the law and a section on clinical management of legal issues. Many references are appended to the end of each chapter. Interwoven into the text are a plethora of tables, which often provide pithy and excellent summaries of the textual material.

It is important to understand what this book is and what it is not. It is not for lawyers, and it is not for lay readers. It is intended to help fit clinical psychiatrists with a sturdy coat of armor to ward off blows from the legal system. Although Simon offers a great wealth of prescriptive advice that may help the clinical psychiatrist successfully traverse the mine-ridden legal landscape, his rudimentary exposition of law-psychiatry issues does not eliminate the need for competent legal counsel in potentially litigious clinical situations. Psychiatrists who read this book may be empowered to conduct a superficial examination of the body of law and psychiatry. However, an examination of this nature does not constitute an adequate substitute for a painstaking, highly knowledgeable dissection of pertinent legal appendages by well-trained legal professionals.

Withal, this is a splendid, highly readable book. Clinical psychiatrists who pass over the opportunity presented by this material and later become ensnared in a legal trap may retrospectively regret their omission.




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