The Therapeutic Courtroom

"I just signed your death warrant."

Thus spoke Judge Rosemarie Aquilina to Larry Nassar, doctor for the American gymnastics team.  She sentenced him to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexually assaulting seven women.  

Aquilina also allowed many women to make victim-impact statements, as Jill Kilgore pointed out in her magazine article entitled "The Rise of the Victims' Rights Movement":

[N]early a hundred and fifty women spoke of the harm Nassar had done to them in committing crimes for which he had never been charged, delivering heartrending statements, broadcast live, over seven days.  'I can't imagine a punishment great enough for you,' the former gymnast Kamerin Moore told Nassar[.] ...

The women cried, and the Judge cried.

Kilgore wrote the 157 women felt "tremendous catharsis after having the chance to describe their suffering in court."  But, she added, "Aquilina turned her courtroom into a stage.  American justice has been remade."

Yes, American justice is being remade. 

Court proceedings increasingly look and feel like therapy sessions.  Legal proceedings too often don't look much like a forum for determining actual guilt or innocence and for meting out just sentences or exonerations.  That is because, as Kilgore notes, we are living in the "age of Oprah," who put emotional trauma at the center of American popular culture.  The result is that both prosecutor and defender shape "their arguments less on legal claims than on psychological ones."  In fact, during the Oklahoma City bombing trial, "[t]he prosecution insisted that the victims needed to attend the trial for purposes of therapy: 'Part of their recovery depends on their seeing – first hand, if possible – our system of justice at work.' "

There are some serious problems arising from courtroom therapy sessions.

The first involves the "butterfly effect."  When victims' rights become part of or even the most prominent reason for sentencing, just where does the circle of victimization end?  An argument could be made that not only were the 157 women who were molested by Nassar victims, but so also were their families and the entire society in which they live.  It could be argued the entire human race has been victimized, just as the flap of a butterfly's wing in California supposedly causes a hurricane in the Caribbean.

Victims' rights trials are permeating the justice system and turning the courtrooms of America into stage dramas.  The courts are being realigned as moral transgression, and evidence of real guilt is transmogrified into guilt established by emotional testimonies.  The realignment means that the more emotionally devastating the testimony of the victim is, the more supposedly justified a harsh sentence is.  Developing stories of persecution and emotional harm becomes just as important as – if not more important than – forensic evidence.

The next problem with the therapeutic court is that if emotional harm is evidence of guilt in and of itself, why not dispense with the courts altogether?  In fact, the rabid excesses of the current #MeToo hysteria have shown that it's possible to dispense with a formal jury trial altogether while achieving the results hoped for.  Punishment meted out by the court of mob opinion can result in lost jobs and destruction of future opportunities – sometimes a worse sentence than any jury trial  could effectuate.  If enough emotion is conjured, enough people gathered with similar testimony (especially when accompanied by the presence of the oleaginous Gloria Allred), then who can help but conclude that the targeted person absolutely deserves stoning or at least the equivalent?

As Kilgore writes, Scott Sundby, a former prosecutor, "told me that the Nassar sentencing reminded him of Biblical punishments.  'Hey, we all get to pick up a rock and throw it at this person!'

Sundby says that victim-impact evidence has changed how juries think about the death penalty.  In jury rooms, they ask, 'How can we go out and look the mother in the eye unless we give a death penalty?'  Among the achievements of the victims'-rights movement is the fact that victim-impact evidence is no longer much questioned.  Sundby thinks that's because people gave up trying to argue that the courts are wholly rational.  He says, 'The legal system has cried 'Uncle.'

Sundby has a point. 

If emotional trauma suffered by victims can have an impact on determining guilt, why not dispense with legal reasoning, including the evidence and indeed the law?

But most important of all, why stop with therapy in the courtrooms?  What if we made everyone speak and write in gender-neutral language; had bathrooms open to everyone without discriminating between male and female; opened sports to all without regard for sex; changed the Boy Scouts into Scouts; rid society of binary distinctions of human beings; and drove discriminatory bakers, calligraphers, and florists out of business for victimizing us?  What if all of society could be completely retrofitted so no one is ever emotionally harmed, everyone gets a trophy, and no one is ever a victim again?

Isn't that where we're headed – toward making all of society therapeutic?

Ultimately, for the therapeutic society, law is measured by the Richter scale of emotion, with scientific evidence and morality thrown into the dust bin.  Total subjectivity versus objectivity of evidence, freely given and recorded confessions as well as detailed circumstantial evidence, no longer counts. 

As for those who hurt victims?  Punishment by therapy rather than by law could become the norm.  Law could become adjustment therapy, much as it was in the Soviet Union, during which time dissidents who did not buy into the communist ideology were put into psychiatric institutions in order that their thinking be adjusted and their victims exonerated.

But, as C.S. Lewis noted about therapy for a "diseased" mind:

[I]f crime and disease are to be regarded as the same thing, it follows that any state of mind which our masters choose to call 'disease' can be treated as a crime; and compulsorily cured. ... [W]hat is to hinder government from proceeding to 'cure' it?

Lewis concluded that "those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

The result of a transition to a therapeutic society is that perception rather than actual behavior would become the key to condemnation or exoneration.  Only the court of public opinion would matter.  Both science and transcendent moral law would be deserted in favor of emotion as "justice" becomes a matter of mob rule – and then, eventually, judgment by an exclusive elite who know just who the deplorable members of society are.

Like the victims of the USSR show trials, some condemned by the court of public opinion rather than by due process may attempt a period of confession and redemption.

But for the radicals of emotion, a show of contrition is not enough.  The culprits must be reduced to numbing and ineffectual mediocrity, lest they rear their guilty heads in the future.  As John Rappoport writes, in a determination to make law curative therapy, elite punishers resemble those doctors in Soviet Russia who believed that "anyone who opposed such an efficient police power must be mentally disturbed[.] ... [They] were convinced that they were undertaking a humanitarian mission by placing the opponents of the regime in asylums and thereby reducing their aggression[.] ... To reduce the outstanding to mediocrity was always a medical and human duty in a state where mediocrity had the better chance of survival."

No better summary of the results of therapeutic courts and a therapeutic society determined to establish "equality" can be found.

If the current therapeutic trend continues, it will not be long before sentencing for a crime will be simpler than assigning jail time.  All the judge will have to do is hand out a prescription for Haldol.

Fay Voshell holds a M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, which awarded her its prize for excellence in systematic theology.  She is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.  Her thoughts have appeared in many online magazines, including CNS, LifeSiteNews, National Review, Fox News, Russia Insider, and RealClearReligion.  She may be reached at

If you experience technical problems, please write to