Legal schizophrenia and the mental health lawyer: Recent trends in civil commitment litigation

Samuel Jan Brakel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Mental disability law is among the most conflicted fields in American jurisprudence, whose essential adversarial structure has accentuated a natural degree of tension between the interests of the disabled and those of society at large, and created a largely needless division between legal rights and human needs. Practitioners in this field, whether lawyers or mental health services providers, exhibit the deleterious symptoms of this conflicted state of things which range from an indiscriminate hyperactivity to nearcatatonia. This overview of recent developments in commitment‐related litigation traces the persisting conflicts over admission criteria, outpatient treatment alternatives, conditional release, transfer procedures, remedies for inappropriate commitment, and the scope of confidentiality rights. It draws a picture of practitioners who continue to be at the mercy of the law's contradictory pushes and pulls. While a degree of conflict in mental disability law is inevitable, the article suggests that by focusing on the best particular interests of the disabled client, practitioners can do social good and avoid the damage that results when other interests are allowed to dominate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-14
Number of pages12
JournalBehavioral Sciences & the Law
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1988
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Law


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