The Sell decision: Implications for psychological assessment and treatment

Richard H. Hunter, A. Jocelyn Ritchie, William D. Spaulding

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


This article describes 2 important practice considerations affirmed in the U.S. Supreme Court's Sell v. United States (2002) decision: (a) the importance of providing least restrictive services prior to interventions that violate patients' liberty interests, and (b) contextual and environmental factors may be considered in clinical determinations of dangerousness. The psychological treatment of behavior disorders fall within the purview of least restrictive or intrusive interventions compared with the involuntary administration of psychoactive medications. To legitimately comply with the least restrictive criterion, the provision of psychological services is essential. This long-held criterion is rarely acknowledged today as providers use restricted service arrays and attempt to resolve complex and co-occurring behavior problems with medications and restraints. Less restrictive psychological interventions are required for effective treatment of challenging behaviors. A 2nd significant implication lies in the court's affirmation that it is legitimate to consider contextual factors such as history and current environmental conditions in determining dangerousness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)467-475
Number of pages9
JournalProfessional Psychology: Research and Practice
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2005


  • Functional behavior analysis
  • Involuntary treatment
  • Least restrictive treatment
  • Psychotropic drugs
  • U.S. Supreme Court

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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