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Family Therapy Confidentiality

Posted Nov 04 2010 12:00am

Although there are differing perspectives on how secrets should be handled within the context of family therapy, my personal perspective is that the family should have visibility into the individual sessions.  Essentially, anything said during an individual session is subject to being included in family therapy.  Inherent in this perspective is the assumption that this is fully disclosed and discussed in the process of informed consent, so that all members of the family understand the concept.  This perspective comes with both benefits and with drawbacks.

There are some situations where I suspect an individual would not disclose information in an individual session where they might have otherwise.  An extra marital affair is one such example.  With my personal framework and expectations, the individual may not want to disclose such information with me in individual sessions due to the fact that I would admittedly introduce that subject up in the family session.  The end result is a perpetuation of the secret, and the therapist being “cut out of the loop” on individual secrets.

I believe the benefit is that it adds transparency into the family therapy environment.  I believe a foundation of trust and mutual respect is the foundation on which a family should be built, and as a result, there should be few if any secrets.  One party (the husband, for example) can have confidence in allowing his wife to engage in individual therapy with me because he understands that relevant findings will be brought to the attention of the entire family.  In any case, I would implement this policy because I believe the very act of keeping the secret is an act of collusion.  I agree with the text that this policy is liberating in the respect that it frees me, as a therapist, from being put in the position of keeping a secret of a client participating in conjoint therapy.  I think the situation of having to keep a secret is best avoided entirely with by establishing a framework of transparency from the outset.

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